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.

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