The sound of the Orient

Islanders perform with Chinese Arts & Music Association

Chinese Arts & Music Association members pose with their instruments: from left

Chinese Arts & Music Association members pose with their instruments: from left

Melissa Lin, 13, holds a black belt in tae kwon do, but she is gracefully precise as a musician.

When Lin plays the guzheng, an ancient Chinese instrument, she loses herself in the music — barely aware of her surroundings — as she plucks the strings with picks taped to her fingers. The guzheng, or zither, features 21 strings resting on bridges over a long trapezoid-shaped wood box balanced on two pedestals.

Lin’s older sister, Annie, 17, also has a black belt; and together, the sisters performed in the Chinese Arts & Music Association’s (CAMA) 23rd annual concert, “A Touch of the Orient,” last Sunday at the University of Washington’s Meany Hall.

The sisters joined CAMA four years ago after their mother, Mei Jui Lin, enrolled them in private music lessons: Melissa on guzheng, drums and pipa, or Chinese guitar, and Annie on yangqin — similar to a hammered dulcimer — and erhu, a two-stringed bowed instrument with a snake-skin resonator, the Chinese version of the violin.

“They started Chinese music because they were in tae kwon do,” said Mei Jui Lin. She saw that both girls could fight well and therefore needed a more feminine pursuit — in this case, music.

CAMA, founded in 1984 by world erhu champion Warren Chang, is comprised of the Seattle Chinese Orchestra, Washington Chinese Youth Orchestra, U.S. China Music Ensemble and the Northwest Chinese Gu-Zheng Orchestra, with more than 50 musicians ranging in age from 3 to over 70.

Mathida Ngamsiripol, a first-grader at Lakeridge Elementary School on Mercer Island, is one of the younger members. She plays the Chinese drum and the yangqin, and she made her debut performance at the concert on June 22.

Ngamsiripol’s mother, Wendy Chan, has played the pipa and guzheng with CAMA for four years. Chan is an acupuncture doctor at the Alternative Medicine & Acupuncture Center in Bellevue.

To prepare for their performances, CAMA musicians rehearse together for four hours every week. In addition to rehearsals and group lessons, time must be set aside for individual instruction and practice.

The Lin sisters spend two hours per week in private lessons, and Melissa practices up to four hours on her own.

Practice is often hard, posing such challenges as “getting songs memorized and keeping up with our classmates,” said Melissa Lin.

“And having the same [rhythm] as everybody else,” Annie Lin added. They do not use a metronome for keeping the time; they simply count.

Next fall, Melissa will enter Mercer Island High School, and Annie will begin her senior year. The girls will remain busy with music this summer, and Melissa hopes to take up golf and tennis. Annie draws, paints and creates graphic art in her spare time. They are also planning to visit Taiwan through a cultural music exchange program.

The Lins, Chan and Ngamsiripol will play at CAMA’s next concert on July 17 at the Seattle City Hall.

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