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Building bridges with music: UW Wind Ensemble

For Professor Timothy Salzman, “music is a universal language”. As director of the UW Wind Ensemble, he delights in helping students perfect their playing. But even more so, in using music as a pathway for connecting students with new people and experiences. Over spring break, he brought the entire 56-member UW Wind Ensemble on an unforgettable trip to China. Their packed itinerary included opportunities for hands-on learning at every turn.

The Wind Ensemble’s journey began in the city of Chengdu. Hosted graciously by partners at Sichuan University, the students played two concerts, one with an audience of 3000. Most audience members had little prior exposure to their craft. “Wind ensemble music is pretty new to most people in China,” shares Professor Salzman. “People were just taking it in.”

UW students teach kids at a "master class"
UW students teach kids at a “master class”

Moving on to the cities of Xi’an and Beijing, UW students conducted several intensive music classes for local music students, “from little kids through college age”, and played several more concerts for audiences verging on 2000 people. Performing at Tsinghua University’s spectacular concert hall was a particular highlight.

This trip to China marked a first trip outside the country for many of the musicians, including UW junior and trumpeter Jason Kissinger. The Spokane native also has Diabetes, and he was understandably concerned about successfully managing his health needs during the trip. The UW Global Travel Security Manager helped Jason plan ahead for his health needs and understand local resources before departure. And Jason stayed healthy during the trip with the support of Professor Salzman and his fellow students.

Jason Kissinger
Jason at the Great Wall

“Traveling internationally for the first time with all of the logistics associated with Diabetes was a success because of your support throughout it all,” Jason wrote to his classmates. “This was a trip of a lifetime. It has given me the confidence to have more life changing experiences in the future, and I’m excited for the world that’s out there.”

UW American Mandarin speakers and international students like doctoral student and pianist Kay Yeh helped the trip run smoothly by acting as cultural ambassadors and translators. At the Beijing airport, Kay saved the day by letting the security guard know about the insulin pump attached to Jason’s leg, which was vital for managing his Diabetes and could have been damaged during a security pat-down.

At each concert, a Mandarin-speaking student joined Professor Salzman at the podium to introduce the musical selections. To a packed audience in at Tsinghua University in Beijing, they shared his belief about music. “Music is the universal language of peace that we can all understand,” Professor Salzman announced through the student translator. “I hope our countries will be friends forever.” The crowd responded with enthusiastic applause.

Professor Salzman and students after a performance
Professor Salzman and students after a performance

This study and performance trip to China was a transformative experience for each member of the UW Wind Ensemble, as musicians and as students. Study abroad gave Jason new confidence to explore, whether his next trip is across the state or around the world. “After travelling [to China], I can truly say that the world is waiting for you. We can always look at pictures, but being physically present throws you onto a whole new level of understanding. Don’t be afraid to take those chances and experience the world!”

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