(Minghui.org) The Tian Guo Marching Band (Taiwan) was established in September 2006 and I joined as a piccolo player.
By the New Year in 2007, I had only learned two songs when we began holding parades in Hong Kong. We felt saving people in Hong Kong was our mission and responsibility—many tourists came from China to sightsee there. However, after 2015, many of our band members were denied visas.
There were also internal changes in the band in 2015. We had a new professional conductor who implemented a formal musical training routine. We learned basic theory, practiced basic technique, and started an examination system for our performance songs. Everyone was pushed to improve and progress in their musical technique.
Inspired By an Event in Japan
I was notified about an event in August 2016. We were asked to provide support for a stage performance during a celebration at one of Japan’s renowned universities. We needed to coordinate with the members of the Tian Guo Marching Band in Japan. As the performance was not very big, it only required one piccolo player. We were told that Japan’s wind instrument training was very strict and their standards were high. Furthermore, this university has its own symphony orchestra. If we wanted to perform there, we must seriously train to improve our standards. In past parades, other practitioners supplemented me whenever I did not play well. However now I would need to take up this responsibility myself. With a heart full of uneasiness, I registered for the event.
It was an unforgettable experience. Most of the band members who participated in the drill training were middle-aged or elderly. At that time, the focus of the training was mainly on basic fundamentals such as performing in unison, harmony, and volume control. The conductor was strict and had very high standards. In the beginning, we could not play a single note in unison. Because we could not synchronize our breathing, some came in earlier or later than the rest. When one person made a mistake, we had to keep repeating the piece until we played it right. Each correction took more than half an hour so it was really hard for the conductor.
Playing the harmonics and scales in harmony is even harder. The conductor commented on our playing using abstract words such as not having an emphasis on the starting note, needing to be lively, harmonious, etc. Not only did we not understand these terms, but we also did not have the basic skills to satisfy his requests. This made the conductor anxious and angry. Just one wrong note caused him to loudly scold us or glare at us. The angrier he was, the more frightened everyone became. It affected our ability to play our instruments. After a few rounds of being scolded everyone’s confidence was shaken. Some band members wept as they drove home, while others talked about quitting.
During this process, my xinxing also changed from full cooperation to anger. The piccolo is the highest register in the band. As the only piccolo player, I could not hide. I was pointed out as too outstanding, sharp, or not harmonious. The conductor kept telling me to be softer, softer, and much softer. I tried my best but I still could not satisfy him. For every mistake I made I was glared at—I felt as though a million swords were piercing my heart. My resentment and anger grew.
I also experienced increased xinxing tests at work. After work, I rushed to the practice room only to feel like I entered a smelting trial where I was tested in deep waters and burning fires. I kept suppressing my negative thoughts.
However, when I was directly pointed out I could no longer suppress my anger. I stopped playing and just sat there, holding my piccolo as though I was playing. I was soon discovered and was asked to play alone until I played correctly. When I complained to my music teacher he said, “You should place yourself in the conductor’s shoes. Being the conductor is an arduous task.” Hearing that, I suddenly enlightened. Yes, why was I so attached to myself that I could not think of others? I started to feel his hardship. It was hard to correct a group of people who had little music training and the sounds that we made were not very harmonious.
After returning home I calmed down and studied the Fa. Master said,
“We couldn’t expect our energy to increase if everyone got along well and just meditated away as one happy family.” (The Fourth Talk, Zhuan Falun)
“But that higher being won’t respond to their wishes, of course, since the ordeals in their lives were in fact planned by him and meant to develop their character; things like interpersonal strife can do a lot to perfect one’s character, after all. And so divine beings typically won’t help as people wish. There is no way to perfect your character or increase your energy if a higher being answers your worldly prayers; it would defeat the whole purpose of the ordeal.” (The Fourth Talk, Zhuan Falun)
I was shocked. How could I treat this opportunity to improve in my cultivation as unfair treatment? I had forgotten that I am a cultivator. I understood that this was Master’s painstaking arrangement to help me cultivate my xinxing first before I could improve my musical technique. The conductor was fulfilling his responsibility—which was to point out our shortcomings. Everyone was sacrificing their time to save people. Why was I unhappy?
I found that I had the attachment of not being able to accept criticism from others.
I calmed down and practiced my piccolo. I recalled what the conductor said and wrote it down. I tried my best to achieve what he asked for. Sloppy playing technique cannot be resolved overnight. I could only try my best. I should be able to accept the conductor’s criticism with an open heart.
“...but from now on you all must pay attention to this. You must get to the point where you are able to take criticism, regardless of who it’s from. If there is truth to it you correct it, and if not, you are mindful of it. If you can stay unruffled while being criticized or chided, you are improving.” (Teachings at the Conference in Los Angeles)
In the blink of an eye, the two months of intense drill training ended. The day of the performance came—the school was crowded and the event was very grand. Most of the graduates from this university enter mainstream society and 20 thousand international students from China also attended the school. We made our way to the rehearsal classroom to have our final rehearsal and change into our uniforms. Everyone quietly sent forth righteous thoughts and studied the Fa.
Our performance that day was very successful. Thanks to Master’s empowerment, the Dafa songs were very harmonious and the international students watched our performances. My Japanese friend also came. In the past, I did not succeed in clarifying the truth to her but after watching our performance she wanted to learn more about Dafa. This was the first time a Falun Dafa group performed on this campus.
During our discussion after the event, a young practitioner in his 2nd year of university studies really impressed me. He was the one who registered us for this event and he described the entire process of making it a reality. He wanted to let the international students from China see the truth about Dafa. In order for the performance to be successful, the event was not publicized so as to avoid interference from special agents of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Nevertheless, the interference from other dimensions was still great. When he could no longer take the pressure he asked his father, a fellow practitioner, to send forth righteous thoughts. Hearing about everything he went through and his pure heart to save people, I felt that I had done too little. When I recalled all that drill training, they no longer felt like tribulations.
Just before we were to perform on stage, we had a formal rehearsal at Hibiya Park. I was arranged to be interviewed by the emcee who would be introducing Dafa and our songs before we started performing later. The Japanese practitioner set up the free concert display board and some passersby who saw the board came in to take a seat. The emcee asked me, “How long have you been in the band? Can you play a small segment for us?” I was surprised. Although I had been in the band for 10 years, I only knew how to play Dafa songs and I still could not play them well. There were many difficult quick clusters of notes which I had not mastered.
It felt as though I was hit on the head by a wake-up stick! For 10 years, I had not attained the performance standards! As I saw the audience waiting for my reply. I instantly froze. I searched for a way to escape the dilemma and I finally found the answer. I performed the most simple segment of the song, “Ode to Joy,” and I managed to resolve the crisis. I heard a sigh of relief from another practitioner who was nervous for me. Due to this incident, I was determined to do my basic practices well and I also had a new understanding of the relationship between using music to validate the Fa and my xinxing cultivation.
Basic Training Is a Cultivation Process
“The concept of musical arrangement that we have today in fact comes from the culture of Western music, and it is fundamentally something imparted to man by gods. It is one of the very best things of this cycle of human civilization, and it brings goodness to mankind.” (“Teaching the Fa at the Meeting on Writing Music,” Teaching the Fa at the Discussion on Writing Music and Creating Fine Art)
I understood that traditional Western music is a form of culture that is passed down by divine beings. It has a set of systems and standards. Only by following the correct methods will we be able to deliver quality performances.
I started to practice the basic fundamentals. I started off with playing every semitone for 16 seconds, then gradually extending my range to 3 octaves long. I made sure that my notes had accurate and good quality intonation. After that, I practiced the major and minor scales starting from the speed of 60 beats per minute, then gradually increasing the tempo.
As I played it felt like I was walking the path of Fa-rectification.
It is not easy to correct mistakes that had become routine for 10 years. Starting from sitting in a correct upright posture, I went on to control my airflow. The piccolo makes sounds whereby the player delivers air into the body of the flute and causes a resonating vibration in it. However, my air stream was too rapid so I needed to correct that too. Practicing the fundamentals is boring so it’s easy to feel frustrated. Calming myself down and correcting my breathing every day became a part of my cultivation.
Improving is the process of identifying my shortcomings and rectifying them. Every time I went for lessons, I asked the teacher to record a small musical passage and compare my recordings with his. Through analyzing the differences between our intonations I was able to hear my problems. However, most of the time I did not. I asked the teacher how I could play the way he played it, but his explanations were abstract and hard to understand. I later realized that the level of my understanding was closely related to my xinxing level. So, whenever I did not understand his explanations, I knew it meant it is time to improve my xinxing.
After the event in Japan, the conductor often asked me to play in front of everyone during our band practices. Sometimes I played alone; other times the others played their instruments. At first, I was very nervous. My heart pounded as I was afraid of making mistakes. I realized that this was my attachment to reputation and the attachment was very strong. After I realized this, I repelled the thought and eliminated the attachment. After a while this attachment gradually faded and I no longer felt nervous.
The conductor kept saying that the music needs to be harmonious. My understanding of “harmonious” is how closely the bass, mid-range and high pitch instruments blend together so their music does not stand out from the rest. Everyone should adjust their playing to form a whole with the other instruments. This is letting go of our self-centeredness. When the conductor adjusted the other sections, I memorized their music and tempo to understand the role that each instrument played in the piece. This helped me understand how to blend in with others. For example, when I played the main melody, I was louder—when I was the accompaniment, I needed to lower my volume.
After practicing the basics for a few months, the band held an examination and the conductor said that my intonation improved. I did not know how I did it. All I knew was that I could play the piccolo in a relaxed state now. After a few months, while we were practicing the harmonics, I was able to control the air stream to play the high pitch notes softly. Before that, I had always been trying to suppress the volume. When I was finally able to harmonize with the band while playing the high pitch notes, I suddenly understood that this is achieved through the coordination of many parts of my body (including the stomach, throat, tongue, air stream and fingers). I was happy as I was finally able to break through this difficulty.
At this time, I recalled that Master mentioned in one of his lectures,
“If people are guided by Dafa as they study and compose music, they can make progress and have inspiration, and the things they will think of and come to see as being needed, will be divine revelations. So in other words, whichever field you might be in, when you are able to improve your skills, that is a reflection of your having continually risen in realm. And people can see that you are a good person and someone who cultivates his or her heart and mind. From the vantage point of human beings, you are becoming a good person. As a result of studying the Fa and cultivating your inner self, you do better and better, and gods give you the wisdom you deserve and give you inspiration so that you can come to realize a lot of things while you study, create better things, improve your technique, and reach beyond.” (Teachings at the Conference in Los Angeles)
As long as we sincerely study the Fa Master will bestow us with wisdom and we will know what to do.
The conductor who is a practitioner also chose many songs from different genres to help us improve our musical technique. From marches that are either fast and lively or sonorous to graceful and soothing harmonics, the conductor guides us to form different sounds. Among these pieces is the challenging Star-Spangled Banner. This marching song requires a lot of technique and it is a test of different requirements for different instruments and players.
Within this piece, there is a segment of piccolo solo that is formed by clusters of high-pitched fast notes. Just practicing the fingerings for the high register notes already takes a lot of effort and I still needed to think of a way to switch notes continuously at a very fast speed.
Due to the requirements of the Asia Musical Techniques Exchange event, we needed to be able to play this piece within a very short time. The conductor requested that the piccolo players stand while playing this segment during the performance. Once again, a test of my xinxing came. I can still maintain my composure as I play while sitting down but things are different once I stand up. My attachment to ego starts to flare up again as I worry about failing in front of everyone. I was really resistant to the request and I could not correct my understanding of the relationship between the event and the need to stand and play in front of everyone.
I was under pressure to quickly learn this piece. I kept suppressing my fear and rejection. One week before the event I decided to face the difficulty and remember that this was a chance to improve my cultivation. I still remember the first time I stood up to play this segment, my entire body was shaking. Two years later, when I stood up to play this segment for the second time, I had overcome my fear. I was not attached to my reputation so I was relaxed. I became an entity with another practitioner. Our playing was synchronized and the effect was good.
Through continuous practice for 4 years, my fundamental playing skills improved greatly. Now, I am able to play the Dafa songs accurately and I am finally able to attain the fundamental requirements. I am also able to have a three-dimensional understanding of music instead of the two-dimensional understanding which I previously had.
Our Performances Improve after We Improve as a Whole
The Chiayi City International Band Festival is a grand event in Taiwan. Every year, many renowned international bands, military bands, and wind orchestras from different schools in Taiwan participate. December 19, 2020, was the 10th year that our band was invited to participate in the parade. Due to the pandemic, overseas groups were unable to come to Taiwan. The Tian Guo Marching Band is the finale every year.
Our band laid out a parade formation of 8 columns and our synchronized steps displayed the spiritual image of practitioners. We marched down the same streets and played the same songs we always had, but this year our performances seemed very different.
The buildings on both sides of the streets formed a soundbox. As I stood at the front section of the formation, I listened to the music that was coming from the bass section at the back. The music was full of compassion and energy. Due to the improvement in the musical technique of the band members as a whole, our intonations were more harmonious. I heard the graceful counterpoint melody, the fabric of different instruments chiming together to form a multi-layered main and accompaniment melody, and the synchronized tempo which improved the elasticity of the music.
Only then did I realize that the arrangement of Falun Dafa songs is multi-layered and rich. I still could hear some shortcomings, but this time the music touched me and made tears well up in my eyes. I believe this happened because our music encompassed the tempering of our cultivation and was also a process of continuously letting go of our self-centeredness. Everyone is improving and behind every practitioner, there is a story.
In the past, the feedback from spectators mentioned we were synchronized, grand and amazing. This time people mentioned they felt moved by our dignity and composure. A young couple said that our music was very different from that of the other bands. There was a calmness in it. Some people said that they waited for our performances every year.
This time we also performed the difficult Star-Spangled Banner. Some audience members were surprised. When the music came to the difficult segment, some of the people in the crowd began clapping and even hummed the melody as they clapped along with the tempo. In the end, a segment of an interview with the audience by the New Tang Dynasty Television left a deep impression on me. The main idea was: A band composed of people of different ages is willing to spend time practicing and improving in unity. Just this point alone is very impressive.
Looking back throughout these years, it has really not been easy for the band to improve so much. Amid the conflicts due to human attachments, the overcoming of difficulties to learn the music, the hardship of tolerating the “noise” the conductor said we were making, facing setbacks when we failed examinations, our choosing to face our shortcomings and progress forward, and requesting ourselves to abide by the Fa principles of Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance—we put in the effort to save people. In the process, we managed to let go of our egos and work together. I think this type of music which assimilates to Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance reflects the goodness of Falun Dafa.
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