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UW-Eau Claire Jazz Students
to Perform in China

RELEASED: Oct. 30, 2006

Robert Baca, Sean Carey, Ben Herpel-Dobay, Scott Currier, John Raymond and Jeremy Boettcher

Five UW-Eau Claire student musicians and Robert Baca, UW-Eau Claire director of jazz studies, will perform in China in November. Pictured, from left, are Baca and students Sean Carey, Ben Herpel-Dobay, Scott Currier, John Raymond and Jeremy Boettcher. (UW-Eau Claire photo by Rick Mickelson)

EAU CLAIRE — Five University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire jazz students will perform in China in November as part of Jinan University's centennial celebration.

The jazz students and Robert Baca, director of jazz studies at UW-Eau Claire, will perform during the Nov. 17 opening ceremony of the university's 100-year anniversary celebration and again during a Nov. 18 centennial event. The performances will be broadcast on television throughout southern China. Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich also will give a speech during the celebration, which will include representatives from many of Jinan University's international partners.

"This is a very talented group of musicians who will represent the university and the country extremely well," Baca said of the student ensemble, noting that he chose the students based on their performance ability and their ambassadorship. "All of them are wonderful students, musicians and people."

UW-Eau Claire has had a faculty and student exchange program with the prestigious Jinan University for more than 15 years, said Karl Markgraf, director of the Center for International Education. In 2004, a delegation of 25 representatives from Jinan University visited UW-Eau Claire and brought with them student performers, he said.

"When they invited us to help celebrate their centennial, we thought it would be nice to bring some of our culture to them as they did when they came here," Markgraf said.

The student musicians are music majors Jeremy Boettcher, a senior from Eau Claire; John Raymond, a junior from Golden Valley, Minn.; Ben Herpel-Dobay, a senior from Salem, Ore.; Scott Currier, a senior from Brookfield; and Sean Carey, a senior from Lake Geneva.

A $12,000 gift from an anonymous donor to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation’s Fulfilling the Promise of Excellence campaign will pay the travel expenses for Baca and the students, making it possible for them to participate in the centennial celebration.

"I'm excited to learn more about world music and the ways in which people around the world connect music to culture," Raymond said of the Nov. 10-20 trip. "I'll learn and grow by being surrounded by a culture and a society that's completely new to me. I'm looking forward to learning how to relate to people better, especially those who are vastly different than me."

Baca has taken jazz students to China two other times — once in 1991 and again in 1993. In 1991, the UW-Eau Claire jazz ensemble was the first jazz group to perform in the country after it opened itself to the western world, Baca said.

"Those trips were great but this time I wanted it to be about more than just taking a group to perform," Baca said. "I wanted the students to understand the culture and music of the area."

Toward that end, the five students are enrolled in an independent study course that requires them to learn about Chinese culture and the region in which they will be performing during the November trip, Baca said. Using what they find in their research, the students must write original jazz compositions, which they will perform in China, he said.

"For example, they're identifying folk songs that are specific to a region," Baca said. "They must write a composition that brings characteristics of the culture and folk songs of the area in to it. Instead of just performing, they're creating a wonderful life-changing experience. Music is beauty and it involves culture and life. The jazz compositions will help students get into that culture and express themselves through music."

As part of their research, the students met with the five faculty and five students from Jinan University who are currently teaching and studying at UW-Eau Claire. The students gained insight from them about the region's culture, people, history and music, Baca said.

Given the students' research and their enthusiasm for the project, Baca expects the original jazz compositions to be impressive.

"They're taking a western art form and western instruments and trying to assimilate that with the Chinese culture," Baca said. "Instruments may not be played in a traditional way. For example, maybe instead of playing the keys of a piano, the students may play the strings of the piano to incorporate sounds that are more characteristic to the area."

The students are determined to make the most of the opportunity, Baca said. In addition to the scheduled performances, while in China students also plan to perform in as many clubs and other venues as possible, he said.

"They want to experience all that they can in the time they are there," Baca said.

Raymond said the ensemble is meeting weekly to rehearse in preparation for the trip.

"This is a collective effort — we're trying to prepare our music as best we can so that we can have the most musically rewarding experience possible," Raymond said.

A lifelong music lover, Raymond said he's excited to share the gift of music with people in another part of the world.

"I have firm ideas of how powerful music is and what musicians' roles are to our modern-day culture," Raymond said. "Music has the power to shape a person's character and morals, and I have a tremendous joy in being able to present music to people in hopes of it speaking to their hearts."

UW-Eau Claire has hosted about 60 faculty and students from Jinan, and Jinan has hosted about 30 faculty and students from UW-Eau Claire in the 15 years the institutions have had exchange agreements, Markgraf said. As China's influence on the world economy has grown, the partnerships have become even more important to UW-Eau Claire faculty and students, he said.

Jinan University is located in Guangzhou, the southernmost large city in China, just north of Hong Kong. As Guangzhou was one of the first cities opened to the outside world, it is more modern than many Chinese cities. Guangdong province, where Guangzhou is located, is where most of Chinese's economic reforms are being piloted.

"China is a very dominate and important part of the global economy and power structure," Markgraf said of the university's interest in China. "It's important for us to have good friends there. Our exchange program and our participation in events like the centennial celebration can lead to good relations throughout that part of the world."

As more UW-Eau Claire students have shown an interest in learning about the Chinese language and culture, the university is trying to find ways to expand opportunities for students and faculty there, Markgraf said.

During the November trip, Baca and the students also will perform at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Sichuan, China, where Baca will consult with the Institute's administrators about establishing a music program there. UW-Eau Claire already is developing a study abroad partnership with the Institute, which will allow UW-Eau Claire art students to study there beginning in the summer of 2008.

"We're always looking for new ways to help our students experience a culture that's different from their own," Markgraf said. "Sometimes it's through traditional exchange programs and sometimes it's an experience like the one we're providing the jazz students. These students have been so involved in the jazz program that they couldn't fit study abroad into their schedules. But we're still finding a way to give them a meaningful international experience."

For more information about the China trip, contact Robert Baca at 715-836-4371 or bacarj@uwec.edu, or Karl Markgraf at 715-836-4411 or markgraf@uwec.edu.

-30-

JB

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