New World Symphony

17.10.2011 § Leave a comment

I remember when my older boy Leo was in high school; he would have his string quartet practice at our house. Leo invested in a bunch of Antonín Dvořák’s string quartet sheet music, and the quartet played gigs throughout their senior year. The sheet music was expensive, and they had just earned enough to cover the investment when they split up to go to college.

It just so happened that I had to remodel my house during my sons’ adolescent years, and I built a light maple floored room with a 14-foot pitched ceiling. The room reflected sound so well when it was completed that the boys used to call it the Echo Room. However, the room provided a good venue for their music practices and I got to listen to live music. They were no professionals, but they were good enough for my amateur ears. I enjoyed those pieces and was pleased to discover and learn more about Dvořák. Before, I had only known of his symphony no. 9, the New World Symphony.

It is hard to bear the melancholy whenever the theme from the largo comes in. Dvořák was very interested in America, and yet he was so home sick for his Bohemian hometown when he was in Iowa that he left and never returned. How different a story from most of the immigrants who come to America and find America to be such a land of plenty and happiness. When I was driving in Raleigh, NC, the other day right after my trip to China, I saw and sensed the vast land of lush vegetations, splendid sky and fresh, sweet air. I awed at how rich a country America is and how fortunate American people are compared to my ancestral homeland, China.

I never got to see China when I was growing up, but I read and wrote everything in Chinese, including poetries, histories and geography. I heard stories from my parents about the lives of the peasants where they had come from, people who had no fortune and ate sweet potatoes year round instead of rice. Still, I had such an image of the beautiful lofty mountains, long rivers, simple towns and innocent country people of China. As I grew older, I became hesitant to go to China to see it in person for fear that my beautiful image would be broken. The more horror stories I heard about how terrible the place was, the more I hesitated, until finally I had to go to China for business, and I went.

Great Wall in October

The Great Wall during October Chinese Independent Day Holiday, October 2011

China is a large country but it also has a large population. For a person who enjoys some space and tranquility, it is a difficult place to find any in a city, or even in a nearby suburb. The tourist-worthy areas are always sardined with people, except in extreme weather. The countryside towns are lined with coarsely made cement buildings furnished with tawdry materials. At night, the rural towns are bombarded by deafening music flowing out from both the expensive clubs and little variety stores. Where was that simple little town I had in my mind? My father’s relatives spoke loudly, were ill-mannered with plenty of foul languages. I felt no connection with them.

Chinese Independence Holiday Image

Forbidden Palace during October Chinese Independent Day Holiday. 460,000 visitors in five days, October 2011

This past trip was one of many trips I have made to China. It made me all the more appreciative for the spacious environment I have enjoyed so far in the US. I cannot be too naïve about how things are happening around here, but nonetheless, I have to think really hard not to feel fortunate that I live in such a pure land.

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