Over the course of the school year, there are three main breaks: Thanksgiving, winter, and the longest of them all – spring break. It’s something that you spend most of the back half of winter term counting down to, and then there it is – twenty-five days of rest and glory, a well-deserved break from the fast, frantic pace of Groton life. But this spring break, I decided to spend an extra two weeks of my precious break with Groton, when I signed up for the Global Education (GEO) China Jazz Band trip. The trip literally combined two of the things I love the most – music and China, my home country. I would be able to perform six times with my jazz band in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Hong Kong, while also experiencing China from a tourist’s perspective for the first time.
And overall, the trip was great. One of the benefits was how I was able to know a lot of my bandmates way better than before. Just to be able to interact and travel with them in a setting other than Groton was awesome, and by the end of the two weeks, we’d developed inside jokes, shared lots of laughs, eaten tons of wacky food, done a fair amount of bargaining on the streets, played endless rounds of games on long bus rides, and formed bonds that went beyond just playing in the same band.
Besides that, there was also the great benefit of exchanging cultures. Jazz is not widely known in China, and many hadn’t even heard of jazz before we performed. So there was something truly special about introducing an entirely new genre and style of music to so many people. Hearing the audiences clap and getting them up to dance and interact and experience a whole new type of music really made performing worth it. And they also showed us parts of their cultures too. We learned a lot about the histories of each school and their cities, as well as heard a lot of traditional Chinese music and even Tibetan music and dance at one of the stops. I had been exposed to this music before, but I’d never been particularly captivated by it until I heard students of my own age perform it in front of me.
The best cultural exchanges, however, were when we all worked together. In the Jin Ze Art Centre in Shanghai, for example, we joined in a spontaneous dance circle that several of the Tibetan monks there had started. And in Hong Kong, we collaborated with student musicians at one of the schools there to play several of our songs, culminating in a joint performance that I think brought a lot of value to both sides.
All in all, although the trip took place in my own country, which I’ve lived in for almost ten years and have traveled through countless times, it brought tons of brand new experiences because I was experiencing China, as I said before, through the perspective of a foreigner. I got to see parts of China that demonstrated just how special the people and the culture there are, and also just how incredible it is when two vastly different cultures, the Groton jazz band and musicians from many different parts of China, come together to share and enjoy the spirit of music.