Music is everywhere. Soundtracks for movies. Happy songs. Sad songs. Cheer songs at sporting events. Soaring symphonies. Amazing concertos. Drummers banging on kitchen tables. Children’s songs. Commercials. Video games. Ipods. Ring-tones. Rides at DisneyWorld (see, now you have that song stuck in your head forever and I didn’t even have to say which ride, did I!?! Bwaah-ha-ha)
Living in a house full of classically and not-so-classically trained musicians, we have more than our share.
Music evokes more emotion than any other human creation. We remember where we were when we heard our first Beatles song. Or the instrument we wanted to play. Certain songs turn on the faucets for me, sending chills down my spine and tears down my cheeks. Elton’s Your Song, Debussy’s Clare du Lune, The Battle Hymn of the Bulldawg Nation, Mozart’s Lacrimosa, Beethoven’s Ode of Joy, Berlioz’s The Shepherd’s Farewell to the Holy Family, so, so many I’ve performed. I embarrass my children a lot. Especially the one with the Music Performance degree.
Some people are immune to the nuances of music. Discarded as unuseful, like the old language of flowers, music has no meaning to them. For example, take the current administration.
During last week’s lavish state visit by the leader of Communist China, Obama had no problems dropping hundreds of dollars just on the wine, but couldn’t be bothered with what might actually be on the musical program.
How to evaluate the results of last week’s China-U.S. summit in Washington? Improbably, the key for the entire event may lie in what is usually the least memorable portion of these carefully choreographed occasions: the cultural program at the concluding state banquet.
During the dinner’s musical interlude and following a duet with American jazz musician Herbie Hancock, Chinese pianist Lang Lang treated the assembled dignitaries to a solo of what he described as “a Chinese song: ‘My Motherland.’”
The Chinese delegation was clearly delighted: Chinese President and Communist Party chief Hu Jintao, stone-faced for many of his other photo ops in Washington, beamed with pleasure upon hearing the melody and embraced Lang Lang at the song’s conclusion. President Obama, for his part, amiably praised Lang Lang for his performance and described the event as “an extraordinary evening.”
Even the supposed Asian experts on the National Security Council did not recognize the melody, or the potential of damage by the implied insult. Yet another example of clueless-trickle-down.
“My Motherland” is still famous in China; indeed, it is well-known to practically every Chinese adult to this very day. Unfortunately, this political anthem and its significance were evidently unknown to the many members of the administration’s China team—the secretary and deputy secretary of State, the assistant secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, and the National Security Council’s top two Asia experts—who were on hand at the state dinner and heard this serenade. Clueless about the nature of the insult, they did not know to warn the president that he would embarrass himself and his country by not only sitting through the song, but by congratulating Lang Lang for it afterward.
Although Americans are often tone-deaf to cadences of symbolism in international relations, the Chinese are not. And for Chinese audiences, the symbolism of performing “My Motherland” to a host of uncomprehending barbarians in the White House itself hardly required explanation. This was a triumph of sorts for a newly assertive, and more nakedly anti-American, strain in Chinese foreign policy. The episode has reportedly already gone viral over the Chinese Internet, where the buzz on this crude and deliberate snub is overwhelmingly and enthusiastically positive. Hu can thus return home confident his visit to America will widely be regarded as a success domestically— for reasons his American counterparts do not yet seem to comprehend. [Emphasis - Admin]
As for this musician, you can count that I will never, EVER buy a ticket to a Lang Lang concert. As for the rest of them; I can see 2012 from my house.