Feature Articles - "Our Trip to China", Mary Mancini and Mario Tacca
Cotati Accordion Festival by Len Wallace

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Our Trip To China ...May 27 to June 11, 1999 - Mary Mancini & Mario Tacca

It has now been over a month since we returned from our trip to China and the warm memories remain strong and will be with us forever.

When we were invited to perform in China as ambassadors of the US, we indeed considered it an honor. The International Festival of the Arts, the first festival of its kind in China, brought together performers from twenty countries! The mission was to bring beauty, meaning and hope to the people of China. Mission accomplished! We want to share with you some of our experiences.

After thirty-six hours of travel, including four stop-overs, one of which included overnight orientation and briefing in Chiang Mai, Thailand, we were warmly greeted at the airport in Kunming by TV crews, journalists, reporters, and most importantly, students from the Arts Institute dressed in their native costumes, playing their native instruments and singing "Welcome, Welcome.!" Immediately our hearts were touched by this extraordinary display of hospitality. When we reached the beautiful New Era Hotel, again we were honored by the entire hotel staff awaiting us outside as we entered. Needless to say, we were, as all the artists , exhausted from the many hours of travel. However, we had one hour till dinner and then the students of the Yunnan Arts Institute had prepared a two hour welcome concert. We were overwhelmed with the variety of music, dance and drama that they presented.

Some notes of interest before we go on - There were 270 of us in total, participating in the International Festival of the Arts. The city of Kunming sits 6200 feet above sea level and has a population of 4.8 million people and is part of the Yunnan province which has a population of 40 million. Kunming is also called "The City of Eternal Spring," having spring like temperatures year round. It is in continuous growth, with much construction going on . While we were there, EXPO '99 was in progress and the city was adorned with flowers for the Horticulture Festival.

Our first day included a lengthy rehearsal for the two of us with the Kunming 80 piece Symphony Orchestra for the opening Gala evening. We had sent the music over one month prior and were pleased not only with the level of musicianship, but with their wonderful attitudes and eagerness to perform at the highest level.

Mario: Since the ancestor of the Accordion, the Cheng, originated in China, it was great to see that the Accordion is the number one instrument. The day of the opening Gala was International Childrens' Day. To celebrate the importance of this day, I opened the Gala with one hundred children, ages seven to twelve, playing "Radetsky March" by J. Strauss! The children were well disciplined, well prepared, well rehearsed, and only a short rehearsal was needed. I made a couple of changes in the interpretation of the piece, and they responded and adjusted to the changes instantly. All of the children played Chinese-made accordions. The quality and the sound of the instruments are good.

Mary: For the opening gala, I performed a fifteen minute medley of Broadway songs, including excerpts from "My Fair Lady," "Cats," "Phantom of the Opera," and "Sound of Music." Needless to say, it was a magic moment performing with the 80 piece Kunming Symphony Orchestra. And in addition, they were joined by the 60 member Canadian Choir. Mario then joined the orchestra to play the famous "Czardas," a special accordion and orchestra arrangement. We received an overwhelming warm response from the audience.

We were amazed at what happened after each and every performance, beginning with the opening Gala. All of the Ministers of Culture, Ministers of State and other dignitaries, along with officials of the IFA, came up on stage, where the performers were gathered to bow, shake our hands, and give personal thanks to each of us for coming and giving of our talents for the people of China. While this was going on, all was documented by TV cameras, journalists and photographers.

Mario & Mary: Our Workshops and Master Classes and Other Performances The students of the Arts Institute were most enthusiastic when we gave - 3 - a Musical Theatre Workshop with composer/arranger Vince Corozine. It was filled with excerpts from several Broadway shows, information on drama, comedy, and all that might interest the college level student about Musical Theatre. That same day, we gave a concert at the Arts Institute. There was standing room only, with the crowds of students and others standing outside listening to the music. We performed a variety of music, ranging from the classics to broadway, ethnic, sacred and opera. The most overwhelming and exciting moment came when we began the music to a famous Chinese Folk Song, "The Flowing Creek." They cheered and applauded through the entire song! They were thrilled that we would learn a Chinese song for them and were curious how "Mary learned to sing Chinese!" So I explained to them that I had studied with an instructor at the Chinese Institute in New York. Chinese, once one learns the "tonality" of the language, is quite musical in itself.

Each of us were part of two International Concert Evenings. Again, the music consisted of a repertoire of well known International favorites.

We might interject at this point, that there were many adjustments to be made within the Chinese culture. The food was very different and very interesting! Beautiful buffets were provided for us at the hotel, consisting of typical Chinese cooking and some western food for those of us not so adventurous! We must admit, we missed our "home cooking!"

After each performance was a banquet of some sort. We all gathered to partake of the food carefully prepared for us - from soup to nuts, literally! Being the month of June, we did experience some monsoon winds and rain on two or three evenings - streets were flooded, but all passed quickly.

Mario: My first workshop was for the students at the Arts Institute. There was standing room only, with TV cameras present and lasted three and one half hours! The students were anxious to get as much information as they could. I might add that we had excellent interpreters with us at all times during the Festival. At the end of the workshop, a few students performed for me. They wanted me to critique them on their performance. The levels were varied from second year students to advanced. Their playing was generally good, but mostly too technical.

The second workshop, for students ages seven to fifteen, was an amazing experience. It was difficult for me to imagine that these children would be attentive for a period of two and one half hours! But they were ,and were very attentive and focused. They actually corrected the interpreter on some of the technical and musical terms with regard to the accordion . Three children had prepared a piece to play for me. They all had good potential and I believe that they will do very well in the future. Of course, as with all the performances and workshops, each concluded with a one hour session of photo taking and autograph signing. It was wonderful and very refreshing to see their enthusiasm.

Mary:I was very enthusiastic about having the opportunity to perform with Song Yang, one of the leading tenors in China. Mario and I were asked to choose a song which we felt was fitting to close the festival. The song we chose was "Amigos Para Siempre," friends for life, which was the theme song for the Olympics in Barcelona. We would be performing this piece with the Kunming Symphony and I also decided that I would like to "sign" the song in American Sign Language. I was fortunate to find, through Dr. Salvatore Febbraio, Joy Indomenico, a wonderful signing instructor, with whom I studied before our trip. It was a great experience, with which I hope to continue. It truly is another "language" - spoken from the heart - and the audiences received the message.

After singing the Chinese song at several performances, I was asked to learn a second Chinese song to sing with Song Yang for the TV production, to be taped at the end of the festival. This TV production would involve some of the performing artists, giving excerpts of their performances for worldwide viewing. Good study habits are a must!!! I had twenty four hours to: learn the song, study the interpretation, write one chorus in English, for which we were given - 5 - the literal translation, and Mario and I wrote the words "poetically" to fit the music for the song "We Sing the Same Song." The next day, we recorded the song with Orchestral tracks and Mario adding some beautiful accordion sounds. The experience gave us an opportunity to compare differences between recording here in the US and recording in China. Their equipment is very adequate, although not all digital.

Mary & Mario: The closing Gala included the Kunming Symphony Orchestra with Irmgard Baerg, Pianist, performing the Mennonite Piano Concerto. They were joined by the Consort Caritatis, the sixty member choir from Canada and the sixty member Kunming Symphony Orchestra Choir. The Yi Minority Folk Dance Group gave a memorable performance as did "Broken Walls"/Native Warriors, native American Indians from five tribes, "Khanyisa," an instrumental, singing and dancing group from South Africa, and then Song Yang and I closed with the symphony, singing "Amigos Para Siempre." As with all of the performances, the entire cast came on-stage and the dignitaries of the province, along with the Colin Harbinson, president of IFA and other officials came up to shake the hands of the artists and express their thanks and appreciation. And then came the photo sessions and autograph sessions, which could last up to forty five minutes. The enthusiasm and appreciation of the Chinese people will be long remembered.

After the Gala, we were brought to a beautiful hotel, where a large reception awaited us. Food, desserts, music provided by "B. Connected" - a jazz group that had performed in the Festival. Honorary plaques were presented by the Chinese government to Colin Harbinson and other IFA officials.

TV PRODUCTION : Another highlight for us was our participation in the TV production featuring some of the artists performing excerpts from their performances. We were well rehearsed the day prior to. This was another wonderful opportunity for us to gather with the other artists and while each of us performed, the others - 6 - cheered us on in the TV monitor room. The TV set was extremely colorful and the production itself, to be viewed around the world, was of the highest caliber. There were many emotional moments experienced by all of us gathered together with the Chinese to share our talents. While I sang the Chinese song, The Flowing Creek, two young students from the Arts Institute performed an improvisational dance with me on stage. We took our bows, left the stage, and embraced, knowing how blessed we were to be able to have this moment to exchange our artistic talents. The Production ended with Song Yang and myself singing "We Sing the Same Song" in Chinese and English. Everyone was delighted - all the artists came on stage and we were showered with miles of colorful silly string!! - What fun!! We were ushered off to a great banquet once again with every kind of delicacy you could imagine - quail wings, chicken feet, rice soup and the more common dishes of chicken and rice and much more.

Closing Thoughts: There are many more events and situations that we recall with fond memories. The Vice-Governor's banquet, where we were treated as royalty - literally wined and dined - special moments shopping with our interpreters for souvenirs - the time when we parted with the other artists or the excitement exchanging our CD's - our photo session in the hotel lobby, requested by the management and us breaking into "O Sole Mio" and all the Chinese applauding in the lobby!

We felt extremely sad as we prepared to leave the many beautiful people we had met during our stay in Kunming. But all of the memorable moments we experienced there will remain in our hearts forever. We came back with the knowledge that our mission had been accomplished - to bring beauty, meaning and hope to the Chinese people. Their appreciation for what we brought to them, along with all the other participating artists, was obvious in their response and the smiles on their faces. We will remember the beautiful people of Kunming forever. Our sincerest thanks to Colin Harbinson, President of the International Festival of the Arts, Ontario, Canada, and to all of our loyal supporters who helped us to make this opportunity a reality.