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NYO-USA Musician Blogs: A New Perspective on China

Violinist Helen Wu is one of 25 members of the 2015 National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America with roots in China, having visited her relatives in Guangzhou many times as a child. Now as a young adult, through her travels with NYO-USA she has gained a new perspective and deeper appreciation for the beauty and culture of this country.

Helen Wu

Visiting China for the first time in almost a decade is a simultaneously sentimental and intellectual experience. With age, I have gained a greater understanding and appreciation for culture, especially that of my own heritage. As we visit the cities of China, the architecture, the tourist spots, and many of the sights carry a degree of familiarity to me. While others squealed with excitement about visiting the Great Wall for the first time, I smile at the prospect of seeing it again after my last visit as a seven-year-old. When I was last in China, I was very young, fascinated by the country’s intense heat, wondrous architecture, and long history. The greatest part of what I knew of the country, however, was my relatives, and what I felt were hordes of extended family that I saw each time I visited.

NYO Helen Wu cable car (Chris Lee)
Helen Wu and other musicians ride in a cable car up to the Great Wall of China.
(Photo: Chris Lee)

Now, almost a decade later, I’m much older—I have learned so much history and lived more years of life. Through my travels and world history classes, I’ve gained more context for all that I see. Yet part of me still marvels at the sights of China—the winding Great Wall, the Shanghai skyline, the Terracotta Army, and so much more. Exploring China and the rich culture of my ancestors has revealed to me the incredible feats of the Chinese people and has created a pride in me about the history of my people. My understanding of China is no longer limited to my extended family and has expanded to indulge my curiosity of the society and culture surrounding them.

Both of my parents hail from Guangzhou. Though I’ve visited the city several times before, most of my memories consist of visiting family as a young child, attempting to converse with my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins in broken Chinese. Oftentimes, I have listened to my parents and my violin teacher, who is also from Guangzhou, reminisce fondly about their hometown, sharing memories of streets and places they used to frequent as children. Hong Kong also houses some of my extended family, who will be attending our concert there. Exploring Guangzhou and Hong Kong through the avenues of music and NYO-USA will grant me a greater capacity to understand the culture of my ancestors and experience the setting of my parents’ childhood in a different way.

NYO Helen Wu selfie (Matthew Chow)
Helen snaps a selfie at the Terracotta Warriors.
(Photo: NYO-USA violinist Matthew Chow)

As a person of Chinese ancestry, the cultural exchange between China and the United States through music resonates strongly with me. I see myself as a product of Chinese-American cultural exchange, in a way. Though I identify with American culture, into which I have been born and raised, Chinese culture has made an indelible impact on my childhood and my character, from the Chinese languages I understand to the mooncakes I love eating with my family during the Chinese moon festival each year. For me and even for those in the orchestra who cannot speak or understand the Chinese language, performing in China has provided a novel way to connect with Chinese culture and to share our passion for music and our American culture through a universal language we all can understand.

View Helen's profile, and learn more about the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.

Thumbnail photo by NYO-USA violinist Matthew Chow.

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