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Let's put on a show-in China

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

When Ron and Louise Talley visited China in 1998, they were tourists seeing the sites. When they returned in 2004, it was to see friends –– and host a concert.

Being associated with a concert isn’t something new for the Talleys. They are strong supporters of the Federal Way Symphony, and Ron is its treasurer.

But the Talleys were in unchartered territory when they helped put on a concert of professional musicians and singers from Beijing performing before several thousand in a village where about 800 people live.

First, a little history.

The couple’s initial visit in China in 1998 was for two weeks as part of a tour group. At the end of that, they booked an additional three and a half weeks with a guide, who took them to Pi Gang in Hebei Province –– about two hours southeast from Beijing –– where his wife’s family lived.

The Talleys were the first Westerners to visit the village. Children would peek their heads around corners and run as the Talleys walked down the main road, which was a dirt path the village goats used.

There was one of everything: One satellite dish on a roof, one main road, one store the size of a large closet and one electric bulb in each home. No cars.

The Talleys visited the two-room schoolhouse. They enjoyed the time, made friends with the villagers and asked their guide, Jing, if they could do anything to help the community. But nothing ever jelled, Louise Talley said.

Three years later, they returned and spent almost six weeks touring the country and spending time with their new friends. They visited again in 2001, and at that time one man, an avid reader, told the Talleys of his wish to have a library in the village.

That made an impression on them and they asked their guide if he could help. He agreed. The following school year, the Talleys supplied the money to buy paper, pens, pencils and books for the 80 children in school. They also gave money to buy wood and other supplies to build a large bookcase that is in a family’s home but the villagers –– especially the children –– all use. The total cost was $350. Last fall it had almost 1,000 books.

The fall of 2003 came and Louise was thinking of another project to help the village. They were talking with Cathy Franklin and Carrol Clemens, who work with the Federal Way Symphony, when one suggested music lessons.

Maybe there are some little Mozarts out there, someone said. But lessons wouldn’t be practical.

Then Ron Talley thought bringing the music to the village was what they should do. He said a lot of credit for making their concert a reality goes to their guide, Jing, and his wife who live in Beijing. They knew a lot of people in the city’s music society and asked them to perform. Many said they would.

The Talleys raised the $1,000 from the Federal Way Noon Kiwanis Club that the symphony needed to pay the performers, provide transportation to and from the village and food.

And then things started getting complicated. When the Talleys decided to put on a concert, they figured the 800 villagers would attend. They were correct. But they didn’t expect the 3,000 to 5,000 people the village leaders said were planning to show up from neighboring communities. It was also at this time that Jing’s idea of having a sound system –– which had originally been passed over –– was a good idea. He managed to cobble together two primitive sound systems that were taxed by the crowd and performers.

While the 30-member choir and eight instrumentalists were coming, the two singers who had been asked to perform had schedule conflicts. Jing called his wife in Beijing and she called two nationally known performers who agreed at the last moment to sing.

On a Saturday, the day of the performance, the village was already getting crowded. There were about 2,000 people at noon and more coming in on trucks for the evening event. The locals had built a small stage, complete with a dressing room for the musicians. Louise said many of the village women greeted their Western friends and the visiting musicians with fan dances and singing.

By nightfall, when the performance was going to start, the audience had taken all the space in front of the stage. People were sitting on walls in front of homes, standing on roofs and perching in trees.

Every moth in the area also came, attracted by the stage lights. “It looked like it was snowing at times,” Louise said. But none of the performers complained as they sang and played to the crowd.

All the music but one piece was Chinese. The tenor sang “La Traviata,” which Ron recognized. The musicians played mostly Chinese instruments, including the erhu –– a two-stringed instrument which is the equivalent of a violin –– and the flute-like pipa.

To hear the Talleys talk, the experience was more than just a concert. They are planning their next trip to China for 2007 for eight weeks and plan to take some of the time to teach English.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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