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Homegrown Plus Premiere: Chinese Hammered Dulcimer with Chao Tian

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Chao Tian, a master of the yángqín, or Chinese hammered dulcimer, as well as a sound designer and visual artist. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Chao Tian’s music reflects her role as a leader of a younger generation of Chinese musicians. She began playing at age 5, and at age 12 she gained entrance to the Affiliated Middle School of the China Conservatory of Music. Later, she attended the conservatory itself, where she obtained a Master’s Degree in Musical Performance in 2010. Chao has performed in over 30 different countries and regions across the globe and collaborated with numerous talented musicians in many groundbreaking projects. Her reputation grew in the United States in 2015, when she was accepted into the prestigious Artist in Residence program at Strathmore Music Center, where she became fascinated by many cultures and expanded her creative imagination. That’s also when we came to know her, and we have watched over the years her collaborations with friends at Strathmore and other venues. She has also participated in AFC programs before, including our 2019 Archive Challenge concert and our old-time music jam!

In addition to performing, Chao has other music-related research interests, including synesthesia in cross-disciplinary collaboration; interplay between visual art and music; applying Chinese musical vocabulary and philosophy to improvisation; and the use of music in conflict resolution and healing. She enjoys working across creative genres and creating multidimensional experiences for audiences.

a man sits behind a drum kit and a woman sits behind a hammered dulcimer.

Tom Teasley and Chao Tian. Photo courtesy of Chao Tian.

For her concert, Chao Tian is joined by Tom Teasley, a multidimensional percussionist, performer, and composer. He crosses the boundaries of solo performance by using instruments from all over the world. He cross-pollinates techniques from diverse traditions and combines ancient percussion with digital technology. Tom and Chao formed the musical duo Dong Xi (“East and West”) in 2018. They use improvisation to create an effective musical dialogue between East and West, and are dedicated to bridging the gap between China and the United States with music. They received the 2019 Washington Area Music Award (Wammie) for Best World Music Group and were nominated for Outstanding Sound Design at the 2020 Helen Hayes Award. By now, I’ll bet you’re ready to see the concert. Watch it in the player below!


[Transcript of Concert]

In the interview, we talked about Chao Tian’s music education and career. We mentioned her early life in Beijing and her career in music schools in China, as well as the different styles of Chinese traditional music. We talked about her particular instrument, the Yangqin, or hammered dulcimer, and its place in Chinese musical styles. We touched on her time in the Artist in Residence Program at Strathmore Music Center in 2018 and its impact on her music. And we talked about her many musical projects, including the Always Folk Ensemble, the project Unheard Sounds, her collaborations with old-time musicians Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, and of course her work with Tom Teasley, who is her partner for this concert. It was a fun conversation for me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it too…find it in the player below!


[Transcript of interview]

After the premiere, you’ll be able to find both these videos with more bibliographic information at this link on the Library of Congress website. You’ll also find them on the Library of Congress YouTube Channel.

Also, make sure to visit Chao Tian’s website, at this link.

Collection Connections

If you enjoyed the concert and interview, check out the Collection Connections below. You’ll find links to archival collections, guides, and other materials related to Chinese music and to the hammered dulcimer.

Event Videos

Chao Tian and Tom Teasley played in the 2019 Archive Challenge Sampler Concert, which you can see at this link.

The hammered dulcimer was probably invented in Persia, and from there went east to China, west to Europe, and eventually all over the world. AFC and the Library of Congress have featured hammered dulcimer in many concerts, presenting Iranian, Arabic, Greek, Armenian, Cambodian, Central European, Jewish, and American music. Find 0ur concert videos and Homegrown Plus blogs that include hammered dulcimer at this link.

Ann Yao has performed twice in AFC’s concert series on the guzheng, and also participated in an oral history interview.  Find all of Ann Yao’s Library of Congress videos at this link.

Bing Xia has also presented guzheng music in our series, and the video is at this link.

Chinese music has also been the topic of Botkin lectures by Nancy Yunhwa Rao, Marjorie Bong-Ray Liu, and others.  Find lectures in the Botkin series on Chinese music at this link.

Chao Tian in a Folklife Today Podcast

In the interview, we mentioned that Chao came to our old-time music jam and played along on “Kumbaya,” with Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer leading. We recorded that song for a podcast. Find the podcast here, along with a picture of the session!

Field Collection Online

This link will take you to Chinese American materials online in the Ethnic Heritage and Language Schools in America Project

Finding Aids and Guides

As a useful first stop, you can visit our guide, American Folklife Center Collections: China at this link.

A more complete cross-collection guide to AFC’s China-related collections as of 2013 is available at this link.

Folklife Today Blogs

“Music and a Mystery to Celebrate the Chinese New Year” presents and discusses recordings of Chinese traditional opera from 1902 and 1903.

Other Blogs from the Library of Congress

Inquiring Minds: Chinese Opera in North America” presents an interview with Nancy Yunhwa Rao, an expert on Chinese opera.

Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For several years, we’ve been presenting the concerts here on the blog with related interviews and links, in the series Homegrown Plus. (Find the whole series here!) For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Pamyua’s Modern Yup’ik Drumsongs

We’re excited to continue the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Pamyua, a trio performing traditional Inuit (Yup’ik) drumsongs from Alaska with a distinct and unique American sound. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore! Together for more than 15 years, Pamyua (pronounced Bum yo-ah) has entertained millions with their fusion of traditional Inuit music and Yup’ik dance performance. Founding members Phillip Blanchett, Stephen Blanchett and Ossie Kairaiuak are from the Yukon/ Kuskokwim River Delta region in southwestern Alaska. Pamyua found national recognition in 2003, winning Record of the Year at the Native American Music Awards, and is now considered a cultural treasure across the circumpolar north. Native People magazine praised their “blizzard of interlocking harmonies” and Alaska magazine rated them “one of the 10 greatest Alaska artists of the millennium.” The group has performed at distinguished events worldwide, including the 25th Anniversary of Greenlandic home rule, which was attended by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and the grand opening of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Ukrainian American Bandura Master Julian Kytasty

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Julian Kytasty, a third generation player of the bandura, a Ukrainian stringed instrument with similarities to the lute and the zither. Julian also sings beautifully and composes for the bandura and other instruments. In this blog you’ll find an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Homegrown Plus: Traditional Dance from American Samoa

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus series with a very special presentation of Samoan dance. In addition to the dance video, the blog features an interview with Eti Eti, one of the members of the dance group. The dance video was created by the Student Association For Fa’asamoa, a program of the Samoan Studies Institute at American Samoa Community College. The Samoan Studies Institute’s mission is to ensure and promote the continuity of Samoan culture, traditions, language, and heritage. Since its inception, SAFF has been active in performing the Siva Samoa (traditional Samoan dance), and in teaching and practicing old Samoan customs. For their Homegrown video, the SAFF dancers performed a 30-minute program of traditional dances in several locales at the college, under the direction of Molitogi Lemana. See the video right here in the blog!

Homegrown Plus Premiere: ‘Ukulele Master Herb Ohta, Jr.

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with international recording artist Herb Ohta, Jr., who is one of today’s most prolific ʻukulele masters. In this blog you’ll find an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore! We’re very excited to present Herb Ohta, Jr. in the series. Influenced by jazz, R&B, Latin and Brazilian music, as well as traditional Hawaiian sounds, he puts his stamp on Hawaiian music by pushing the limits of tone and technique on this beautiful instrument. The son of ʻukulele legend “Ohta-san,” he started playing at the age of three, and began teaching at the age of nine. Based in Honolulu, he shares the music of Hawaiʻi and the beauty of the ʻukulele with people around the world, performing concerts and conducting instructional workshops. As a special treat, Herb asked his good friend Jake Shimabukuro to join him for a medley of traditional Hawaiian songs. Shimabukuro, also a Honolulu native, is one of the most highly acclaimed ʻukulele players in the world, and has collaborated with many great musicians, including Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Loggins, and Amy Mills. He’s never forgotten his roots in Hawaiian music, though, and was kind enough to join Herb in his Homegrown concert.

Homegrown Plus: Vri: Chamber Folk From Wales

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus series with Vrï, a trio from Wales in the U.K., whose members describe their music as ‘chamber-folk.’ The idea of the series is to gather concert videos, video interviews with the musicians, and connections to Library of Congress collections together in one place for our subscribers…so here we go!

Bringing together the experience of Jordan Price Williams (cello, voice) Patrick Rimes (violin, viola, foot percussion, voice) and Aneirin Jones (violin, voice) Vrï plays tunes and songs from the Celtic nations and beyond, attempting to combine the energy of a rowdy pub session with the style and finesse of the Viennese string quartet. They combine high-energy dance music and stately traditional melodies with delicate arrangements, and sing in both Welsh and English.

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Kongero, Swedish Folk’appella

We’re beginning the 2022 Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Kongero, a Swedish vocal group which consists of four women who sing folksongs: Lotta Andersson, Emma Björling, Sofia Hultqvist Kott, and Anna Wikénius. The women of Kongero like to say their music tells tales of life, with moving love songs, dramatic medieval ballads, witty ditties, and spirited dances, all sung in their native Swedish tongue. Traditionally, Swedish songs are usually sung solo. Kongero adds harmonies and arrangements created by the band members. Kongero’s polyphonic music is characterized by tight harmonies, stirring rhythms, and the clarity of their beautiful voices, which bring traditional Swedish folksongs into modern times. Since 2005, Kongero has performed their polyphonic a cappella folk music (which they have dubbed Folk’appella) all over Europe, Asia, and the Americas, singing in concerts and leading workshops in traditional Swedish vocal music and vocal harmonies. In this blog you’ll find videos of the concert and an interview with the singers.

Homegrown Plus: Walter Parks

We’re filling in the Homegrown Plus series with one that got away, our great 2020 concert with Walter Parks, one of the first “Homegrown at Home” concerts. Walter is a consummate guitarist who founded the duo The Nudes before spending more than a decade as the lead guitarist for Woodstock legend Richie Havens. We’re particularly happy to present this concert, which showcased our collections in a unique and compelling way. Walter has done extensive research on our 1944 recordings of Okefenokee Swamp music made by Francis Harper. He has arranged material from the collection for his own performances, including his Homegrown Concert, which is almost entirely made up of material from the collection. If that weren’t enough, Walter made the journey from his current home in St. Louis all the way down to the Chesser homestead, so he could record part of his concert video in the same place where the archival recordings were made. It gives his concert an extraordinary sense of place, and we’re particularly delighted to present it to you here.

Homegrown Plus: Ánnámáret

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus series with our first concert to feature Sami music, performed by the fascinating singer, songwriter, and musician Annamaret. The American Folklife Center was very happy to co-sponsor this concert with our friends at the Embassy of Finland. Annamaret’s project Nieguid duovdagat has earned her some of the top honors available for folk music in Finland, including Folk Music Record of the Year for 2021. For her Homegrown concert, Annamaret performed songs from Nieguid duovdagat, accompanied by the same musicians who featured on the award-winning recording: Ilkka Heinonen, who specializes in folk music on the jouhikko, G-violone and contrabass; and Turkka Inkila, who plays flutes and electronic instruments. In our conversation, I spoke with Annamaret about Sami culture, the Sami’s status as the only Indigenous community in Europe, and the impact of colonialism on Sami life. And, of course, we spoke about Sami music, including yoik, and her own career as a musician and cultural advocate. Watch both the concert and the interview in this blog post, and find links to some further Sami resources you can explore.

Homegrown Plus: Kardemimmit

Welcome back to the Homegrown Plus series, in which we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re continuing the series with one of Finland’s favorite folk bands, Kardemimmit. The American Folklife Center was very happy to co-sponsor this concert with our friends at the Embassy of Finland. Kardemimmit is a quartet consisting of Maija Pokela, Jutta Rahmel, Anna Wegelius, and Leeni Wegelius, four women who sing and play kantele. The kantele is a zither or plucked psaltery, and is the national instrument of Finland. Kardemimmit is considered a pioneering kantele band. The singing and playing in their excellent concert video have a strong foundation in Finnish, Eastern European, and Scandinavian traditions. In our conversation, I spoke with Anna and Leeni Wegelius about Finnish traditional music, the education system in Finland and its support of music, the importance of the kantele, the history of Kardemimmit, and their surprising connection to…The Spice Girls. Enjoy the concert and the interview, plus links to some further Finnish resources you can explore, all in this blog post, published on the anniversary of the concert premiere!