Destination: China

UNC Wind Ensemble at Great Wall of China

The UNC Wind Ensemble took time out from their performance tour of China during winter break for a group photo while visiting the legendary Great Wall on Christmas Eve. Photo courtesy of Nate Wombolt
Related: Photo slide show at end of story.

You could say that for Nate Wambolt, a pianist with the UNC Wind Ensemble that performed in China over winter break, a concert tour there was simply his destiny.

"The night of the auditions I ate at Panda Express," the junior Music major explained. "The fortune cookie I got said, ‘You will enjoy a trip to Asia.'"

Wambolt, along with the 46 other students in the ensemble, visited China Dec. 21-Jan. 4, and played two concert venues in Beijing and in Qingquan.

Students in the ensemble, which is directed by Music Professor Ken Singleton, ranged from sophomores to doctoral students.

The students performed an "American Sampler" of 13 pieces in order "to bring the best of American music," Singleton said. "A lot of these pieces the audience had never heard before."

The students were accompanied Richard Mayne, UNC's associate director of bands, and Assistant Music Professor Lei Weng, who joined the group on piano for the concert's closing number, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

Weng is a Chinese national, and the trip was organized through his Chinese agent's management group, which funded the majority of the trip's costs. Additional funding came from the students, the UNC School of Music and other campus organizations.

According to Singleton, the Wind Ensemble hadn't traveled out of the country in 27 years, so the trip was a unique experience for all of the students.

For Kelsie McCallum, a Music Education junior who plays the French horn, music was able to bring two cultures together, more than words.

"We stumbled on a community choir and to hear them singing was unlike anything I had heard before," McCallum said. "It was just raw and they were so happy to be singing."

For Wambolt, the highlight of his trip was playing on the 12-foot-long Bosendorfer grand piano at the first concert. And McCallum's highlight was playing Stars and Stripes for a cheering audience.

In their free time, students were able to explore the cities and make amazing memories, whether it was climbing the Great Wall on Christmas Eve, or trying local cuisine at the night markets.

The memories made on the trip will not soon be forgotten, but the friendships made may last even longer. In normal ensembles, students only get to know a small group of students, but sharing this experience brought the group together as a whole.

"One thing that a lot of us agreed upon was that first concert just felt different, " Wambolt said. "By the time of the concerts everyone knew everyone else, so we played as a cohesive group."

- Elizabeth Same, Junior Public Relations Major

Of Note: The Wind Ensemble is comprised of the university's foremost musicians. Essentially an orchestral woodwind/brass/percussion section supplemented by saxophones and keyboards, the ensemble explores challenging one-player-per-part wind music by a variety of composers. Membership is determined by audition and is open to music and non-music majors.