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Feb. 24, 2016

Richard Fracker: Immerse Yourself in China Through Music

Feb. 23, 2016

Richard Fracker is professor of voice and chairperson of the vocal arts area at the College of Music.

We're calling it a perfect synthesis.

Not only is 2015-16 the Year of China at MSU, it’s the year that marks the 10th anniversary of the MSU-China Vocal Exchange Program.

Since 2005, American and Chinese voice students have spent time together in both countries performing and learning about each other’s music and cultures. The program involves the College of Music and the Chinese Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and came from an idea forged by two friends: myself and Haijing Fu of the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Over the last decade, more than 100 students from the College of Music have collaborated with their counterparts in China on dynamic performances of Western and Chinese operas. We’ve also explored traditional Chinese music and American song through this non-credit immersion program.

Performances take place at premier opera venues in China, at MSU recital halls and performing art centers and at choral leadership conferences and events across Michigan. Our goal is to foster musical excellence and cultural understanding while also acquainting students with the challenges of international performance and production.

This year, we’re leveraging the energy and excitement of MSU’s Year of China to stage a major event — both here and in China. On the consult of professor of voice and director of MSU Opera Theatre Melanie Helton, we decided to merge our Vocal Exchange Program with our Spring Opera production for this year only.

The result is a two-part program consisting of a traditional Chinese opera as well as an exploration of the theater music of the legendary Leonard Bernstein. The performance of “The Savage Land” and “Bernstein Sings America” will be an astonishing and memorable event for our community as well as for our Chinese counterparts in Beijing.

The exchange will involve 26 dedicated students — 13 from MSU and 13 from the Chinese conservatory. Four College of Music faculty members — myself, professor Helton; director of Choral Programs and associate dean and professor of music David Rayl; and instructor and vocal coach Elden Little — will also be involved.

Faculty members will travel to China on Feb. 28 and be joined by MSU students on March 3. We’ll rehearse for a week, and then perform for three days. Two of the performances will be at the Chinese Conservatory of Music, the third at the National Theatre of China. It's a venue we've never experienced before, and one that is the equivalent to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It's an incredible opportunity for our students and takes our program from the concert level to one of national and international prominence.

After performing in China, students and faculty from MSU and China will come to East Lansing on March 13 for the second half of the exchange. Once here, we’ll begin rehearsing for four performances in Fairchild Theatre on March 23, 25, 26 and 27. Our MSU Symphony Orchestra will provide the instrumental score, led by David Rayl and MSU alumnus Youqing Yang, who is conducting professionally in China.

Just like in China, the 1920’s opera of classical and Chinese folk music will be sung entirely in Chinese. The Bernstein revue will be sung in English and feature pieces from “On the Town,” "Wonderful Town," "West Side Story” and "Trouble in Tahiti." Both shows will include Chinese and MSU students.

While our vocal exchange program is truly an intense undertaking, it is one that unleashes the creative power of diverse viewpoints and contributes to the inclusive culture of our university. Both our faculties and students agree it is a wonderful opportunity to "bring a little bit of home" to the Chinese community here as well as to the American community living and studying in China.

Read more about exploring china through opera and song

Special thanks to our generous donors who have helped make this international student travel experience possible: Doug Jewell, Drs. Lou A. and Roy J. Simon, Barbara Wagner, Loren and Carol Wall.