The Shen Yun Performing Arts Organization is a company of dancers, musicians, and composers who travel the world sharing a tradition of Chinese culture that dates back hundreds of years. It’s built around an age old form of meditation and self-improvement rooted in Buddhism (called Falun Dafa) that was outlaws in mainland China in the early 1990s. The communist fist in that country is described (by these performers) to both heavily censor the arts, as well as to physically punish those who resist their government. Last week I was afforded the honor of being given one of these $200 tickets to see their show at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles.
The show was in a word, breath-taking, and the music and dance intertwined to tell stories from Chinese legend and reality. One of those stories, entitled “The Choice”, told the story of a young student who was saved by the Chinese government from a group of vandals. He joins the group, but is later stuck with the obstacle of punishing one of his long lost friends who is practicing Falun Dafa at her local university. He makes the choice to protect her, instead of going along with the status quo, and the story ends well for them, despite the iron fist the threatens to crush them at any moment.
Shen Yun, as well as performing in Los Angeles last week, held auditions for orchestra members, and I decided to participate. The audition was designed (in my opinion) to see what musicians could do “on their feet”, as we were not asked to bring anything prepared to the audition. At our surprise, we were asked to play very specific things once we arrived. Luckily, I’m pretty good at memorization, so I had the Mozart Bassoon Concerto, as well as a number of orchestral excerpts in my back pocket. To my surprise, I was offered a position in the group, and was invited to join the company – immediately.
A lot like the young Chinese student, I was stuck with an obstacle. Do I agree to the terms, leaving behind everything I’ve done here (considering that a full-time career in music is hard to come by and that’s what I’m in school for) or decline and finish what I’ve started. The choice was hard to make; I could hardly sleep or think about anything. Upon asking the opinion of friends, the verdict was 50/50, so that didn’t make it any easier for me. I talked with my current teacher (Judith Farmer) and she said, in essence, that “you’ve been successful thus far, and it won’t be your last chance at doing what you want for a living”.
So what did I decide? It’s difficult to make it black and white, considering everything that was at stake on both sides. Before moving to Los Angeles, being a graduate student at such a great school was only a pipe dream. I’ve worked hard to establish myself as a freelancer here, and I feel that I would forever regret not completing that dream. Musician’s are typically divorced, on their second spouses, single, or married to other musicians. With Andy being a teacher, being on the road 6 months of each year would be detrimental to our relationship, and I don’t want to be a part of the status quo that hangs over of the head of people in this industry through the former. That “iron fist” of not getting another opportunity like this will always be there, but I think, ultimately, I made the right choice.
The student in the story told by the Shen Yun Performing Arts Organization chose people over ideals. Despite what we may fear concerning the future, we all should, I think, be in the habit of putting people first, whether it’s friends you can’t wait to go back home to see, a significant other who you would make great sacrifices for, or your own dreams that you worked so hard for and must be loyal to.