By Sarah M. RivetteMay 17, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 17, 2011) -- The differences between the two bands were noticeable - the uniforms, the language, the culture. One group was all officers, and the other, all enlisted personnel.
But they had a common purpose and found common ground May 16, 2011, during a joint performance that brought the U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own" and the Military Band of the People's Liberation Army of China together on the stage of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
In the first of four concerts scheduled this week, the two military bands emphasized what they had in common instead of what differences they may have.
"I just really hope that we can form a more personal relationship," said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, before the concert at the Kennedy Center.
"My experience from the last 10 years with countries in south Asia suggests that real conversation only begins when you have a relationship, and we don't have a relationship now," Dempsey said. "I think that step one is building that relationship and step two is getting a better understanding of each other."
The 85-person Chinese delegation arrived in Washington, D.C., for rehearsal May 12, 2011, and will perform additional joint concerts in Philadelphia, Pa., May 19; in New York City at the United Nations, May 20; and at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, May 21. The Chinese band will also play an individual concert at Brucker Hall on Joint Base Meyer-Henderson Hall, Va., May 17.
"All the members of the PLA Band are extremely happy to have the opportunity to visit the United States and we have long looked forward to this visit," Senior Col. Yu Hai, the Chinese band director, said through an interpreter. "We hope this cooperation and the joint concerts can be a milestone between the two military bands and between our two militaries."
The concert series was first conceived of in 2010 under former Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. He wanted the band exchange to be just one of many military-to-military exchanges that would build cooperation and understanding between the two armies and countries.
That was echoed by the U.S. Soldiers about to perform with the Chinese.
"It may be that our piece of this military-to-military exchange will serve as some sort of example to the public and the leaders of these countries that you have to start somewhere," said Maj. Dwayne Milburn, director of the Army Chorus. "The fact that we can get ourselves together and communicate in the common language of music is a starting place."
The concerts also present the opportunity to see how the Chinese musicians interpret and play traditional western concert music as they play in unique venues like Lincoln Center and the United Nations. In addition, members of the U.S. Army Band said they hope the partnership will give them more exposure to traditional Chinese music.
"I'm very excited to play their music for the same reason I am excited to be exposed to the raw Chinese culture," said Staff Sgt. Eric Seay, string player in the U.S. Army Band. "Music is as old as man, and China has been making music Chinese-style for a long time. Even though we are playing arguably western music, I hope there are some interesting Chinese harmonies that I might not otherwise be exposed to."
The joint performances coincided with the visit of Gen. Chen Bingde, the chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army of China. Bingde will tour several American military installations to watch training exercises the week of May 16.