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Anticipation builds for China trip

By Michael Haithcock

Sixteen weeks ago the Symphony Band assembled for the first rehearsal of the winter term.  The process of auditions to select the players for the China Tour had been completed nine weeks prior.  The waiting between the end of the auditions and the first rehearsal was a difficult period for me.

As the conductor (photo right),  I was excited about the potential of the ensemble and the repertoire outlined for the term as well as the tour.  Finally, on January 5, 2011 the process of actually building this specific version of  the Symphony Band began.  Although May 1st  seemed very distant at the time,  the weeks have passed fruitfully as the concerts presented during the winter term have been wonderful performances filled with composer and cultural interactions.

The  ensuing cultural lab sessions have opened our collective eyes as to what we can expect on the tour.  All this “learning” has been processed into thirteen weeks (Jan. 5-April 11) and the last three weeks have been “dark” as students completed their end of the term responsibilities.  I am even more excited and anxious to resume rehearsing on May 1st than I was at the beginning of the term as these rehearsals mean all the planning, hard work, and WAITING to make this tour a reality will be over.

While waiting, my gratitude for so many individuals has continued to grow.  We have been fortunate to have a great leadership team within the School of Music, Theatre and Dance.

Dean Christopher Kendall rallied support for the project from the central administration.  The idea would never have gained traction without his foresight and wisdom.

The school’s Chief Administrative Officer, Kevin Geralds, has spent hours on the details of the budget.

Rachel Francisco has been three-steps ahead on everything since agreeing to be the tour director eighteen months ago.

Emily Avers, David Aderente, and John Pasquale have been diligent in planning the many logistical details with Rachel to insure our instruments and equipment have a safe journey and smooth transport.  We are taking sixty eight percussion instruments with us to China, all shipped by a professional touring company after a major packing activity last Monday night. Two harps and two double basses were also shipped ahead.  That is a lot of equipment!

Faculty colleague, Lydia Qu, has assisted with translating program notes and offering valuable insights about her home country.  We are glad she will meet us there!

Professor Mark Clague has organized the documentation and communication activities of the tour and we have already benefitted enormously from his work. Each individual’s contribution to the enterprise and the experience has been invaluable.

100 Senior Vice Provost Lester MontsNo matter how hard we all have worked, we are most indebted to Senior Vice-Provost Lester Monts.  His experiences in China and his knowledge of the university have created the threads necessary to bring everything into focus and to fruition.  We will always owe Dr. Monts our sincere gratitude for the opportunity he has crafted on our behalf.  We are also indebted to Dr. Louis Yen, whose experience and knowledge of his native country have been an invaluable resource in our planning.

Many have inquired over the past few months how all of the various facets of this tour have been managed.  From my perspective, the only way I could think about something so extensive was to break the process into phases:

  • Phase 1:  Introduction of Concept (August 2008)
  • Phase 2:  Communicating the Concept and Gaining Presidential Approval (August 2008-November 2009)
  • Phase 3:  Planning the Strategy for Musical and Cultural Exchange (November 2009 to departure)
  • Phase 4:  Developing Financial and Calendar Models for Success (January 2010 to departure)
  • Phase 5:  Informing Students of the Opportunity and Commitment (August-October 2010)
  • Phase 6:  The Audition Process (Sept 12-Oct. 30, 2010)
  • Phase 7:  Communicating Details and Dreams with selected students (November 1, 2010 until there are no more details or dreams)
  • Phase 8:  The “Made in Michigan” Recording Project (Began on November 7, 2010 until all editing and post-production is complete)
  • Phase 9:  The Winter Term concert schedule  (January-April 2011)
  • Phase 10: The cultural lab sessions (January 9-May 1, 2011)
  • Phase 11: Regroup Rehearsals and Ann Arbor “bon voyage” concert on May 5th (May 1-6, 2011)
  • Phase 12: The performances and related experiences in China (May 7-28, 2011)
  • Phase 13: The LA Disney Hall concert and related experience with the Youth Orchestras of Los Angeles, all sponsored by the LA Philharmonic, (May 28-29, 2011)
  • Phase 14: Documenting the experience for purposes of publicity and posterity (underway and ongoing)

These fourteen phases allowed me to break the massive project into smaller units.  Within each unit there has been multiple layers and many people lending their expertise and assistance. This strategy allowed me to at least track and make progress in my responsibilities for each area without being overwhelmed by the magnitude of everything at one time.  It has been an incredible experience to navigate a project of this scope and it has been gratifying to have so many generous “hands on the wheel”.

There is one more phase, and it is perhaps the most important one of all:

  • Phase 15: The rest of our life:  how does this experience open our mind and heart to the future? (To be determined)

In all stages of our work, this phase has been at the forefront of our thinking.  We intend to play great concerts, that is what we do!  Beyond those expectations, what are our dreams for the impact of the tour on each participant.  Much of our dialogue and strategy has centered around these dreams.  We have high hopes that our dreams will be richly fulfilled!

For me,  the waiting has been almost three years since the initiation of phase 1. The opportunities within the final phases have been very exciting to dream about.  Phase 11 begins on Sunday, May 1st, and our journey will soon be here. Phase 11-14, no more waiting!  Phase 15?  Wait and see!