SFCM Builds Bridges in Asia
SFCM has been building bridges on an international scale for decades. In 1981, the Conservatory welcomed five students from China in a cultural exchange that began a relationship with Asia that continues this day. Students from Asia comprise nearly 30% of the Conservatory’s student body. This is in part due to SFCM’s deeply rooted relationships in Asia and its continued annual presence at schools and conferences across the continent.
This past October, a delegation from SFCM’s Technology and Applied Composition (TAC) department traveled to Shanghai to take part in Electronic Music Week, held alongside the International Computer Music Conference. Both conferences featured performances by students and faculty from some of world’s most renowned music schools, in addition to presentations and lectures.
Faculty members Yoshikazu Nagai and Jean-Michel Fonteneau also traveled to Shanghai in November as visiting professors at the Shanghai Music Middle School, an institution affiliated with the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. As artists in the distinguished master class series, both Nagai and Fonteneau worked with students in expansive capacities.
“This experience was educational on so many levels,” says MaryClare Brzytwa, executive director of SFCM’s TAC program. “We spent weeks rehearsing and collaborating leading up to the trip. Not only were the TAC students expected to prepare and deliver high-quality, original musical performances involving music technology, but they were also responsible for the technical preparation and implementation—no small feat when traveling abroad!”
Hosted by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, this was the institution’s sixth Electronic Music Week. (It was also the 43rd year of International Computer Music Conference.) These two conferences joining together this year offered attendees more perspectives on electronic music and its applications in everything from industry jobs that involve sound design and composition to academia.
Molly Monahan ’20, a student from the SFCM delegation, described the week as one of the most fruitful experiences she’s had in the TAC program thus far. “My biggest takeaway was experiencing the culture and seeing the similarities and differences, being in a country on the other side of the world. They’re all still musicians—electronic musicians—doing the same thing we’re doing,” she says. “It was a good learning experience, too, just being in that environment.”
Monahan also got some ideas for her own compositional pursuits at the conferences. “A lot of the concerts we went to dealt with live electronics and more live processing. I’d like to incorporate that more … Now I’m really wanting to write something for live electronics.”
“The Shanghai trip was a fantastic experience,” says Jana Ma ’19. “I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to perform overseas with my peers as well as create and share memories with my professors and friends in a foreign country. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience being able to have a bond with everyone in the TAC department musically and personally, creating a very warm environment at SFCM.”
“I was so proud of the professionalism, positivity, and quality of their work,” reflects Brzytwa. “We made a big impact and also learned a great deal from the other music tech departments from around the world who participated in the festival.”
Nagai felt his and Fonteneau’s separate trip was also extra special this year. “This was not just a simple sequence of master classes, but had the feel of a mini-festival built around our visit,” says Nagai. “Being able to share my perspectives about our art with these young artists and seeing transformations happen right before our eyes was a real joy.”
This trip also wasn’t just about teaching music. These appointments herald an important partnership between SFCM and the Shanghai Conservatory, and serve as exemplars of the fruitful collaborations between Eastern and Western traditions.
“We were acting not only as representatives of our respective instruments, or even affiliated schools, but were treated as ambassadors of Western Music,” says Nagai. “The implications of these faculty appointments transcended politics … The spirit of inclusiveness, rather than exclusiveness, was alive and well on this trip.”
Upon arriving at the school, the administration welcomed both Nagai and Fonteneau, sitting down with them for dinner to discuss how both institutions can work together to further the reach of music across cultures and geographic divides.
“It was an absolute display of generosity and genuine interest in what we had to contribute to their school as well as establishing a personal relationship with us,” says Fonteneau.
In addition to their trip to Shanghai, Nagai and Fonteneau also traveled to South Korea for several days just prior.
“Between the two of us, we forged new contacts with important colleagues and administration, hosted an alumni dinner, and taught students from the very top schools—both pre-college and at the university level in private lessons and in master classes,” says Nagai. “These included Seoul Arts High School, Seoul National University, and Korean National Arts University and its pre-college, amongst others.”
“I feel very proud to have represented our school in some of the most important schools in Asia and to have been able to contribute in such a meaningful way,” says Fonteneau. “Because of their already-high-level of musicianship and talent, the 20-some students that I taught during this tour have been able to quickly expand their awareness as musicians. The results were immediate and inspiring for them and for me!”
These recruitment travel trips not only help to introduce SFCM to a large number of prospective international students, they serve as a form of musical diplomacy, opening doors previously shut and building a community on global ideals.
And while these new partnerships define SFCM’s attitude to international collaboration, the institution’s decades-old relationship with Asia will be on display this season. To celebrate the Conservatory’s centennial, the original Shanghai contingent from 1981 will come back to SFCM to perform together as a quintet.