Tag Archives: Beijing

NEXUS WORLD TOUR – 1984 – A DIARY, Part 5. Meeting drummers, Concert, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Garden of Bells.

May 8 6:15 AM

The weather has turned hot and humid, 33°C.  Our interpreter’s name is Kwang Chao.  Better late than never. Everyone loves to talk.  A slight question or suggestion usually produces a rather lengthy discussion–an opportunity for everyone to join in

A couple of days ago Russell was sitting in front of our hotel and 2 young students from Hong Kong asked if they could practice their English with him. During their talk it came up that we were playing a concert that night and the girls wanted to know where we were playing and how they could get there by bus. Russ pulled out his English map and found the Cultural Palace and the hotel. Next he had to get the name of the Cultural Palace in Mandarin. The girls spoke only Cantonese. I joined the scene about this time and then our publicist’s, Mr. Harr came out of the hotel. We signaled him to come over but he could not converse with the girls nor us and our fingers pointing at the Cultural Palace were no help. Kwang Chao joined us and soon one of the hotel doorman. Now we were 7. Russ started laughing. I felt glad for him. He needs one of these at least every day. Finally Kwang Chao turned to me and asked ” Why do you want to take a public bus to the hotel?” Russell fell out at that line and explained the situation. Kwang Chao called over the cab driver and a couple of his buddies came along. Our bus driver came out of  the hotel and joined in and I think a couple of passersby attracted by the crowd. By this time we had been pushed aside, Russell’s map was confiscated and 6 or 8 conversations were going on at once.  The girls from Hong Kong were giggling. Russ was wiping his eyes and John came over to ask, “What’s going on?” Russ said, ” I was just sitting here minding my own business.” It took about 15 min. to clear up and then Kwang Chao gave the girls some tickets to our concert and we all dispersed – everyone in good spirits. None of the Chinese could figure out which bus the girls should take. They came to the concert. Front row seats.

The meeting with the drummers was a lot of fun. There were perhaps 30 players there. The event was videotaped by Beijing TV. First a welcoming speech by the conductor of the Central Beijing Symphony. We were seated on stage. Chairs were arranged on either side of the stage facing each other towards the center. Each drummer was introduced to us and we shook hands and took our seats. First a player, whom I took to be a student, played Morris Goldberg’s Simple Simon March on snare drum. Very tight in the arms -grace notes for flams too loud and tight. Before he played we were asked to give suggestions but when he finished he simply left and a man in his 50s or 60s played a solo he had written for a large tunable rotary Chinese tom-tom. The drum was tuned by rotating the entire drum on the central rod running up the center. He was accompanied by an elderly man playing a small temple block held on his lap and a pair of bones in the other hand. A nice piece.

Next, a student xylophone player with tremendous technique and very expressive. He played a Hungarian fantasy and a piece by his teacher called Rondo. A young drummer playing 5 tom-toms with timpani hoops and tuning screws. Very fluid technique, impressive stroke-a real drummer. An older man played the ancient Chinese bells- a piece called The Stream – evidently just a fragment of a longer piece, the rest of which has been lost. Not much happened. It only lasted for a minute and the Chinese people started talking almost as soon as he began to play. (note: No respect for the ancient music. It was too abstract, lacked the crash, bang up-tempo of dragon dances. I wish there’ been a discussion of the work.) Four percussionists from the opera played a couple of pieces that really cooked. A small drum, small gong, cymbals and a larger gong.

We played the rope drums, a couple of rags and an African piece. Questions were asked about the xylophone and marimba and I spoke briefly about rudiments. We got a nice buzz from a number of the musicians and the morning was a great experience.

The student snare drummer asked me to critique his playing and soon his teacher and 20 others were crowded around us. I explained how I thought flams should be played and how a more relaxed arm and wrist could help achieve the proper sound without binding his drum head. I felt his teacher was somewhat upset over my critique but I had stepped in so far that returning would be as difficult as go oer.  When I demonstrated his sound and mine there was an immediate response of understanding from the bystanders. The student improved but he has a natural tightness which inhibits him. The tom-tom soloist suddenly picked up a pair of sticks and simply wedged the student away from the drum and played a series of perfect flams. I nodded my approval and felt an embarrassment from the student and his teacher. The student turned out to be a professional-a percussionist for the Beijing Symphony. Still a worthwhile experience. We set up for the concert and came back to the hotel for lunch.

I have a different feeling backstage before the concert. I’ve had enough of the worrying about our audience and their response to our programs. The concert feels different, I feel different from the beginning.  A very loose, strong performance of Birds. Raintree is in a groove from the 1st note and I get pissed off at a couple of people coming in late and making noise like they’re shuffling into a subway. I glare at them and the change is palpable. The first 2 or 3 rows of people clam up like a blanket has been thrown over them. I’ve made my point but I keep glaring just because I feel good doing it. The rest of the program just cooks along and there are bravos at the end. In the front row are some of the drummers from the morning session and the lady from Guyana with a tape recorder and a friend. I feel good packing up. I feel like I’ve won a game – pulled it out in the 3rd frame. Everyone is in a good mood and in the morning we began our sightseeing.

May 9 – 6:45AM

A very tiring day- hot weather and a lot of walking. Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace. Buddhas, Tantric Art, drums, green, blue, purple, gold painted buildings and throngs – hordes of tourists. Wang Chao, unable to allow us to linger over some point of interest for fear of losing us and not keeping up with the schedule. Smilingly, she tells us at the Temple of Heaven that the 2 structures on either side of the square are craft shops and we can have 10 minutes to visit.  Not long after, Bob and I  linger over a tree from the Ming dynasty – an incredible pine with the most grotesquely beautiful trunk and limbs.  We have just begun to check it out when John comes back to admonish us for holding things up. Kwang Chao doing her job is giving a running narrative while we dodge bodies–try to hear and end up seeing very little. I would love to stop and check out the tile-brick and lacquer work but the group is already moving forward. There are pockets of resistance but eventually we are going to be reduced to the flock of sheep being inexorably led through pens, our noses for ever forward, our minds on hold and we know it. My legs get heavier.

At the Taoist monastery Kwang says we have one hour. Now I can roam. After entering the grounds, I see a circle of people surrounding a large bronze pot filled with water. If you can float a 1 or 2 fen coin on the water supposedly you will have good luck and a long life. There are 1 or 2 coins bobbing on the surface and 100 or so coins at the bottom. Some people float their coins and immediately push them below the surface with their finger. A lady standing next to me begins to blow the surface behind my coin. I look at her and we smile. I’ve seen others do that to their own coin and I wonder if they are trying to float the coins to the center of the bowl. If the coin falls in the center is luck compounded? I wait my turn and my coin floats – floats for so long that I eventually leave before seeing it drop. Did it ever drop?

We had lunch at the Summer Palace in “The listening to Orioles” pavilion. A quiet elegance refuge for moneyed people. Just outside are two dummies made up as Emperor and Empress. They have 2 chairs between them and nearby a clothes rack with Imperial gowns and headdresses for rent. For a few yuan you can have your picture taken between the dummies. A large group of French and German tourists with camera overkill are hooting and waiting their turn. We thought about having a Nexus portrait taken but we have to wait too long. Some of us are dreading the climb to the pavilions on the hill above the lake. Couldn’t we go home now? Russell’s bored, Bill has taken 48 pictures, I’m clomping along trying to get 1 foot in front of the other. Incredible: we’ve all been aware of the fact that we have been moving farther and farther away from the bus and suddenly we see it waiting for us around the curve. We “Shawn-lay Bah” – a catch phrase we have come to use more and more.

As we are leaving, the bus driver asks if we would like to see the largest bell in China. Now we’re getting somewhere! It doesn’t begin auspiciously. The bus turns into a tiny road between low China housing but we turn a corner and there is a temple. When we pass through the gate there are 30 or 40 bells resting on concrete blocks in a courtyard-all sizes some, beautifully inscribed, one huge about 16 feet tall.  We pass through another gate and The Bell awaits us in a pavilion. It is huge and hanging. Perhaps 40 feet tall? But as interesting are the characters -tiny Chinese characters cast over the entire surface. We go through a little gate, down a few steps and stand under the bell- our whole group can easily stand within its circumference. Law decrees ringing the bell once a year at Spring Festival. Rumor has it that all of Beijing can hear it.

In a small building near the Temple is a bronze bowl filled with water-about the size of the wash basin. It has a handle on either side of the top rim. By wetting your hands and rubbing hard enough the bowl begins to vibrate and produces a beautiful low bell-like tone. This vibration makes the water in the bowl throw up showers and tiny droplets. Everyone has a go at it and only our bus driver is unable to make it work.

Garden of Bells, Beijing. l to r: Robin, Bill, Russell, Bob and John.

Garden of Bells, Beijing. l to r: Robin, Bill, Russell, Bob and John.

Outside again in the bell yard we have another picture taken. We make it back to the hotel and have about 40 min. before leaving for David Rose’s home and his reception. Most of the people we’ve met in Beijing are there and it is a typical standup–rap time–throw a few drinks down. Some young guys in military uniforms are obviously pumping me for info that leans towards the political. The Chinese leave and Mr. and Mrs. Rose treat us to a light buffet dinner. It is so nice to sit in comfortable couches and chairs. Rugs on the floor and a pasta dinner with a Thorins 1979 Moulin a Vent. Coffee with cream and Drambuie. Mr. Rose brings out his rugs. He had taken them up for the reception and we have a lovely, comfortable, spirit rejuvenating 2 hours of conversation. His children are the same age as mine ( Dorothy and Bryce), so we discuss those problems and pleasures.

We discuss China, its people and philosophies and touch briefly on Russia. Every winter the winds from the Gobi howl southward, depositing dirt everywhere. Even damp cloths around windows and doors cannot protect homes and cleaning must take place inside every day. I was told Mao considered grass yards decadent and ordered their removal. Someone else said the denuding killed disease bearing bugs.

Cultural exchanges–why? Words are bandied about. We are all blown in the wind–different shades of pale. We wouldn’t be here except for a political decision. Nexus gets to play a series of concerts–try new music–get the juices flowing again. Out of 1 billion Chinese 8000 hear us play. Smoothing the way for the high rollers? David Rose agrees with Michael’s (Craden) statement from Tokyo 6 or so years ago, “It’s a living” and adds “It’s fun.”


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NEXUS WORLD TOUR – 1984 – A DIARY, Part 4. 2nd Beijing Concert

May 7–5:50 AM

An interesting change of mood at our rehearsal this morning. The lights stay on and there is quiet while we practice. During our set up and breaks, the stage crew and visitors ask us about our instruments and provide information about the Chinese instruments, details of which we were not aware.

After lunch, I slept until our 5:30 PM bus to the hall. Concerts are at 7:15 PM. During my siesta some of the group visited a music store.  Bob bought some thin gongs and Bill purchased a keyboard string instrument. The keys are numbered 1 to 12 and you pluck the strings at one end. Very much like an autoharp but “twangier”. About 15 inches long it has a sopranino sound.

The concert begins with what is called Revolutionary Drumming. We now have four large rope field drums and bass drum. Because of the resonance of the hall the sound is huge and all the low partials come out. We play Palta and then in improv. It’s good to improvise again. The last time was Cardiff in Wales over a year ago? They are listening–polite applause but when we come back for the 2nd half a lot of people have left. Bob’s Tabla playing was good as was the performance. A lot of good things happened in the improv. Something beautifully strange and the communication in the group was good. I felt comfortable playing my C’hang or C’hung depending on dialect. (Note – My C’hang was purchased in Hong Kong. It is small, very light and has 19 wire strings, each supported by a movable bridge, the sound board is curved Koto like and the wire strings are tightened with a T shaped tuning key.)

A conservatory teacher was at our rehearsal with his son and I asked if it would be all right for me to play this ancient instrument my way. When I bowed the instrument he very seriously said,  “this is a new way, a creation”. It is proper for you to play this way. I stressed again that I played no melodies but used it purely for sound purposes. He assured me that it was all right. Another man hearing the bow asked if my intention was to make the sound of wind.

At intermission, a stunning woman from Vienna came backstage to ask for literature on the group. She said she had never heard a Chinese audience so quiet, following a tone to its very end. She almost refused to come when a friend offered her a ticket. She said she would never have forgiven herself if she later heard what are concert was like.

Most of the people who stay for the 2nd half are young. The hall still looks full because the audience is everywhere but there are lots of empty seats scattered about. “Music for Pieces of Wood” is well received. I also believe the African double bell piece was appreciated. Mbira enthralls them and when Bob shows the instrument to the audience after the performance, there is extra applause. Now, “Clos de Vougeot”. We smile knowingly to each other. The rehearsal was very good a great Hall for the piece. Bill sent out front and said the piece never sounded better. All the voices can be heard clearly. One problem with the piece is the blend. Sometimes on stage it is difficult for me to hear the other marimba. It is a fantastic performance. There is almost absolute silence during the performance and we moved as one. The last cadenza is really a dream world. The piece is well received.

The Rags cook along and the joint is starting to jump, relatively speaking. When we play the Chinese piece the audience begins to clap after the 1st measure. Rhythmic applause, a lot of smiling faces that disperse quickly. All we can do is do what we do, Scooby-Doo.

(Today we have a workshop.) A large group of girls from Australia are staying on our hotel floor. It is 6:45 AM and their chaperone goes down our hall knocking on each door. Knock, knock, knock, knock, “Getting up time” unquote.” Knock, knock, knock, “Getting up time. Patty are you awake?”,

The ubiquitous Mr. Wa. Stage manager? His own 4 door Japanese sedan and driver. Nicely tailored Western sport jackets–leather attache case. Today he moved a music stand for us. Otherwise it is difficult to know his function. No doubts about his authority. Kwang Chao was born in Hong Kong.

In a couple of hours we go to the hall to meet about 60 professional drummers who have been gathered to play for us. Sixty? National radio taped our concert last night. So too a fellow traveler. Heard a little bit of the rudimental drumming. Strong and together!


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NEXUS WORLD TOUR – 1984 – A DIARY, Part 1. Adventures flying from Toronto to Beujing.


Although “world”  is hyperbole, we did slog many a mile to perform in countries east and west. I decided beforehand to keep a diary which given the length the tour, became two diaries. I purchased one in Tokyo called “UNIVERSAL TAPE OF UNIVERSAL” a typical example of 1984 contemporary Japanese advert-speak.

The first part of the tour included Beijing and Shanghai China, Seoul, Korea  and Tokyo,Japan.

When my wife decided to type these diaries for my web site, she convinced me to leave the entries as I had originally written them. I wrote the diaries before lap top computers in cursive script and ball point pens, late at night or very early in the morning. The entries were often spur of the moment jottings by a jet lagged stranger in a strange land who was trying to get things down before memories fled. Thus there are errors in grammar, tense, punctuation, etc.  Never-the-less, their lack of literary distinction contains a certain frisson and immediacy. Further posts will be made as the remaining 270 pages are typed.

NEXUS World Tour  May – July 1984

Nexus members: Bob Becker, Bill Cahn, Robin Engelman, Russell Hartenberger, John Wyre.

And two fellow travellers, Jean Donelson and Joanne Todd.

May 4, 1984    Toronto to Beijing via Japan  3:30 AM

Bill and I sat together for 14 1/2 hours discussing politics of financing symphony orchestras and personnel problems. He is concerned that the Rochester Philharmonic will lose Zinman and be unable to replace him with quality talent. He is concerned that this will be the end of any potential worthwhile musical experience for him and he is wondering what he will do when this way of musical life becomes a reality for him. (P. S. The R.P.O. has lost Zinman.)

Narita is a welcome change to Haneda.  Is Japan more American now than it was 10 years ago? Lots of English on TV ads.  Crowds more demonstrative, The Narita Prince is an American style hotel–big rooms. My feet, from midsole to my toes were swollen like blowfish. They looked like overweight fatty women. They were hot and itchy. It took hours for the swelling to subside. This is the 1st time this has happened. I went to bed and slept at 6:30 PM Tokyo time–woke up at 3:30AM. Swelling down. I will have to stand and walk more when faced with hours of confinement.

I ordered coffee 40 minutes ago. Should I call again? I am in a foreign country. I called–he sounded slightly alarmed. I think he forgot. Just as I placed the period at the end of ” forgot” the coffee arrived–less than 1 min. from my call.  ¥495. In Vancouver I got ¥176 for one Canadian dollar. No I think one US dollar. I found my receipt. I received ¥16,000 for $94.70 Canadian. Is that ¥160 per Canadian dollar? Or $3.10 roughly for 2 cups of room service coffee?

Well, in a few hours we take Japan Airlines to Beijing. We arrive at 11:55 AM. Tonight in Beijing, a banquet. Russ asked if I would wear my new suit to the banquet. I expressed some concern about that. I’ll probably be eating food in unfamiliar ways and might spill something on it.  He laughed and mentioned the extra care one always takes with the new automobile.

When I arrived at my room the first thing I did was turn on the TV. I was looking for the baseball game that was being shown in the Narita airport when we arrived. No game. Saw some volleyball between Fuji film team and another team with only Japanese characters on their shirts.  The latter team won. During the closing ceremonies I heard Olympics mentioned. Perhaps this tournament was to pick  Japan’s Olympic team and the audience cheered in rhythm to a big drum when points were scored. Lots of young girls giggling over certain players. Switched channels and found a golf tournament – somewhere beside the ocean. Watched some fairly decent swings – many not so balanced. Then Isao Aoki came on. Saw him make par after a rather poor bunker shot  – dropped a 40 foot putt.  Seemed like an interesting course. Not tight, but very hilly. Not green and overly landscaped like some of our Architectural Digest’s courses but lovely, high above the ocean. The Japanese are crazy for golf.  I wonder how many actually get to leave the massive practice ranges in urban centers for a round of golf on a real course.

Read a chapter in ‘The World of Golf BBC” about William St. Clair of Roslin. I knew he was a grand master Mason from reading about the Holy Grail but I was astounded to learn he was a four-time winner of the Silver Club presented by the city of Edinburgh – the 1st golf trophy, and was Captain of the Royal Company of Edinburgh golfers during the 1760s. One of my favorite pieces of music is the “Roslin Castle Dead March”. His connection with the Masons led to a contemporary belief that he gained his skill at golf from witchcraft. Bill believed that Mozart was criticized by the Masons for divulging its secrets in the “Magic Flute” but could not give me a synopsis of the story. I’ll have to look that up when I get home. Scottish mysticism–masonry–golf–Magic Flute–Debussy –the holy Grail–Rosicrucians–Crusades–Roslin Castle–Japan–China–South Korea–currency exchange, a niblick to the forehead!

May 4 3:00PM Beijing

I noticed this morning that Narita airport is an armed camp. Chain like fences topped with barbed wire, armed guards standing at intervals of 200 or 300 yards on the side of the approach roads behind riot shields that extend upwards from the ground to a height of the Japanese man’s navel.  The highways that cross over the airport grounds also have fences. * (The farmers rioted when they learned so much land was being used for the airport,

I saw one woman in a kimono but everyone else in Western dress. Perhaps Narita caters to a more worldly group of travelers. With pleasure I inspected the windows of restaurants with their plastic representations of cuisine offered.

Window display, Tokyo coffee shop circa 1969.

Window display, Tokyo coffee shop circa 1969.

My daughter, Dorothy had asked me to price Nikon cameras and the Nikon F3T with 36–70 mm lens was ¥300,000. Perhaps the days of bargaining camera prices for the tourists are over.

We had a very fine flight of 4 hours to Beijing on JAL. Boned breast of chicken and mushroom sauce–tiny pea pods with the peas still inside–soba noodles with shrimp – sushi–a bottle of barely good Bordeaux red–coffee and custard pudding.  Guy St. Jacques from the Canadian Embassy met us at the airport. Young, handsome, polite, brief and to the point. Suit and leather briefcase. After immigration, met our stage manager Mr. Wa.  I liked him immediately –  my height–broad build–clear gaze.  A man used to work and confident. He is most important to us and it is fortunate I like him. (And he likes us!)

Our translator is a young girl with a smile. (Kwang Chao)  I must pause here to say that I had the television set on in my room while writing–a math class, in Chinese of course. The program has just ended and the music played while the test pattern is showing is Suppe’s  “LIght Cavalry Overture”. Now they are playing an excerpt from “Hansel and Gretel” by Humperdinck.

The drive to our hotel was about 40 minutes. Interesting experience. The world’s largest square. When I get the names right I’llget back to those points. We have tours arranged for the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace, the Ming tombs and Forbidden City.  Our hotel is funky but not as bad as anticipated. There is a banquet tonight at another hotel and John has memorized a short speech in Chinese. He tried it out on us at lunch and even with our breakups he did a noble job. John has been here for 2 days and has eaten all his meals alone. He asked our translator if she would join him but she said she could not. Our lunch was very good–fish in black bean sauce–Chinese pieces in honey garlic–spicy clear soup with greens. Pieces of pork with tiny mushrooms and 2 varieties of beer, both very smooth and light. Most of the group has gone for a walk. I stayed in my room to write and rest. I want to bath and put on clean clothes for the welcoming banquet.


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