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Meet Chi-Sun Chan of A Cross Culture Independent Musician

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chi-Sun Chan.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Chi-Sun. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’m a tuba player and graduated from Boston University with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in brass performance. Basically, I am a western classical musician. When I was young I performed with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and concert tour to Japan and Taiwan with my brass quintet. I came to the United States in 1993 to pursue my master and doctor degrees.

During the time of my study in the United States, I have had great opportunities to perform at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall (Boston), and Kennedy Center. I never thought I would become a Chinese music ensemble conductor until a concert in 2002. During that time, my wife is a professional Chinese musician who plays guzheng and guqin.

She supposed to perform a solo guzheng piece accompanied by the GBCCA Chinese Music Ensemble. Due to the leak of players, the then conductor of the ensemble had to be part of the ensemble, so they needed another person to conduct the ensemble.

When I was in Hong Kong I was a brass instructor and school band conductor, so conducting is no stranger to me. My wife asked me to help so I gave them coaching and conducted the piece in the performance. The piece went well in the concert and I thought that was it.

After the concert, which I think it also served as an audition, the director of the ensemble, Tai-Chun Pan asked me if I wanted to become their conductor. At first, I was hesitating about the idea as I didn’t know much about Chinese music but with the encouragement from my wife and Tai Chun, I took up the position.

After being a conductor of a Chinese music ensemble, I found the Chinese percussion really fascinated me so in 2012, I found the Boston Synchrony Chinese Percussion Ensemble. Unlike any other Chinese music ensembles, the Synchrony focuses on Chinese percussion, which is a unique genre of Chinese music but not that popular in the greater Boston area.

Typically, people’s image about Chinese percussion is always associated with either lion dance or Kung Fu but our ensemble provides purely Chinese drum music that doesn’t serve for the lion dance or play as background music while people doing Kung Fu performance.

We have participated serval times in “Youth Poetry in Silk and Bamboo”, an Annual Chinese Music Instrument Audition and Concert, and each time we have got selected to perform in the final concert. We have performed for the Boston First Night as well as Chinese New Year celebration performance by companies and other associations. Now I teach young and adult students of Chinese drumming which I have never thought of it before.

Last year I became the music director and conductor of the First Corps of Cadets Band, also known as the Brookline Community Band. Although the band has a history that dated back to the 18th century the band is still growing. The band consists of players from a different background; from college students to young and retired professionals.

But we all bounce together by our passion, the passion for music. We give performances to nursing and retirement homes, the Brookline Rotary Club’s Annual Pancake Breakfast, and even at the Boston Marathon!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As the founder of the Boston Synchrony Chinese Percussion Ensemble
When I was in school I never learned Chinese percussion meaning that at first, I had no knowledge about Chinese percussion or whatsoever.

After I became the conductor of the GBCCA Chinese Music Ensemble a local Yangqin and Chinese percussion master, Mr. Zhentian Zhang who introduced me the Chinese percussion. After that, I started to take lessons with him on a regular basis for many years before I found the Synchrony in 2012.

Mr. Zhang is such a great teacher that he has opened my eyes to the world of Chinese percussion music and taught me a lot of drumming techniques. I love Chinese percussion and will keep on learning it so that I can teach what I’ve learned to my students!

As a Chinese Music Ensemble Conductor
Chinese music uses numbered musical notation (or cipher system) whereas western music uses the staff musical notation therefore when I first took up the position I looked at the full score I had a hard time figured out what notes they were playing.

As more practices have applied and experiences have learned this is not a problem anymore. I also learned the character of each instrument and their limit so that I won’t make nonsense requests.

As the conductor of the Brookline Community Band
I have had band conducting experience and been playing with the band all my life so being a band conductor is not a big challenge. However, I do facing the challenge of the current condition of the band such as finding a better and hopefully a permanent place for rehearsals and to store our music.

Currently, we rehearse in a band room of an elementary school in Brookline and our music is stored in the basement of the school along with other school stuff. The school is generous to let us use the place, but as the band is getting bigger it is small for us to use. If we can find a larger and permanent place for the band, we can start to get more percussion instruments such as the timpani.

Please tell us about A Cross Culture Independent Musician.
I am an independent musician that play in different roles and cross-cultural in the greater Boston area. I am a conductor and music director of the GBCCA Chinese Music Ensemble and Brookline Community Band, a founder of the Boston Synchrony Chinese Percussion Ensemble, a freelance tuba player, and a Chinese drum teacher.

Besides regular concerts I have done some special performances with my groups such as playing the national anthem for Boston Celtics, presented a program for TEDxBoston, performed for the Dragon Boat Festival and Boston First Night, and in a few weeks, playing for the Boston Marathon.

Besides all that I have given guest music lectures to different institutions such as Harvard University, Boston University, Berklee College of Music, Wellesley College, and the University of Kentucky. I love to share my music experience with people and teach my students what I’ve learned. I enjoy being in Boston, a diverse city that has great history and cultures!

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My family was poor and eight of us lived together in a tiny place. When my mom went to work she would take my sisters and I with her. My mom helped to collect trash in a luxury community where we would play in the lobby of the building while my mom was at work.

We liked to play there because it was so spacious when compared to our tiny house. Occasionally the residents in the community would let us play in their house which was an eye-opener to us because their house was so big that even the kitchen was big enough for us to play hide-and-seek! Even today my sisters and I still remember that.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Shin-Yi Yang, John Tsou, Laura Finkelstein

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1 Comment

  1. Laura Finkelstein

    April 21, 2018 at 11:38 am

    Just for your own information, the 2nd photo down (Sun with his tuba and red flower in his lapel) is one that I took of him at a Concord Band “Holiday Pops” concert (in Dec.) a few years ago. (Shin-Yi Yang and John Tsou took some of the other photos, but the 2nd one down is mine (just re: Image Credit)). Laura Finkelstein

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