It's not everyday that the Kent State University Chorale has the opportunity to sing in languages including Taiwanese and Mandarin.
As a part of its spring 2013 U.S. tour, the Orchid Ensemble will team up with choirs from Kent State University and KSU Stark on Saturday, giving audiences an experiential performance as diverse as the ensemble's members.
Based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, the 15-year-old ensemble is made up of Lan Tung, of Taiwan and Canada, on the erhu or Chinese violin, Yu-Chen Wang, of Taiwan and the U.S., on the zheng or Chinese zither and Jonathan Bernard, of Canada, on marimba and percussion.
"Vancouver itself is a very culturally diverse environment with artists from all over the world," Bernard said. "It's a real hot bed for intercultural music. We've really grown out of this environment."
Bernard said the trio was encouraged by a group of chorale directors to work with western choirs.
"The directors were really interested in doing something with us in the future," Bernard said. "This inspired us to think seriously that this would also be of interest to chorale directors and choirs all over the place to be able to explore Asian languages and different Asian musical styles in a experiential, collaborative setting."
The trio tours all over the world and performs solo, duet and trio concerts, but for a number of years they have done what they call chorale collaboration.
"We felt that our instruments naturally mix well with voices and we went on to create a whole set of music that can be performed with a choir," Bernard said. "It is very stylistically diverse with some original pieces and some traditional pieces."
Orchid Ensemble incorporates languages such as Hebrew, Taiwanese, Mandarin and even English in their music.
"The challenge for the performer is always to dig deep into the music that he or she is performing," Bernard said. "In the case of a singer, language is a big part of what they do and if the language is new to them they have to dig deep and get into the details of the language."
Bernard said learning the language is sometimes a challenge for students.
"When we work with the students, they have the gift of being able to experience the language in a more controlled setting," Bernard said. "We treat them like professionals. We know it can be a challenge, so what we do is provide pronunciation guides and we have MP3's of all the text being spoken by a Mandarin or Taiwanese speaker so they can study the language that way."
Bernard said Orchid Ensemble regularly collaborates with artists from various backgrounds.
"We love the collaborative aspect," Bernard said. "As musicians, we love coming together with people we have never met and making music together quickly and of course to see the excitement of people discovering new styles and new things. In most cases, this will be the first time they have ever performed with or ever heard these instruments and to be so close to them. We often see this glowing effect on some of the faces, so it's very positive for us."
Orchid Ensemble will perform its live repertoire and new recording, "Life Death Tears Dream," which includes many pieces that were inspired by poetry.
"Certainly a lot of our projects that this music has been created around over the past few years has everything to do with spoken word from deep poets to interviews with Chinese immigrants," Bernard said. "I guess poetry has always been there in the foreground helping to inspire the music."
The CD opens with a narration of an ancient excerpt of poetry by China's 8th-century Li Bai. Other tracks include the flamenco lament, "Ay la llamo" played with the erhu, a two-stringed fiddle, Bernard plays his earthy marimba on "Ghostly Moon" and a full choir and zheng, a zither with moveable bridges, is featured on "Life Death Tears Dream."
Scott MacPherson, director of the Kent State University Chorale, said there will be more than 60 voices on stage with Orchid Ensemble.
"The choirs have been rehearsing music since start of semester," MacPherson said. "We're all working separately and this Thursday the Orchid Ensemble will arrive and we're all going to meet together for the first time and rehearse. It's a matter of each of the groups working on the same repertoire by themselves. It's easy to put together if everyone's prepared."
Friday afternoon on the Kent State Stark campus there will be an open rehearsal.
"It is open to the public," MacPherson said. "It's sort of a preview performance, but it is also a rehearsal."
The final performance will be Saturday at Kent State University in Cartwright Hall, 650 Hilltop Drive. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m.
For more information, call 330-672-2787.