Jieming Tang

For the December 2016 edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviews Jieming Tang, a first year violin student from Hefei, China.  After years of music training in Beijing, Jieming moved to Ohio to study at the Cleveland Institute of Music (https://www.cim.edu/) before starting his undergraduate degree at The Juilliard School.  In addition to music and various other hobbies, Jieming is an avid photographer. Even though Jieming has been a student at Juilliard for less than a semester, he has been very engaged both on and off-campus.  Read-on to learn about Jieming!

Jieming Tang

You have played the violin since you were three years old. What do you love about the violin that has caused you to dedicate so much of your life to music?

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Baby portrait, 1998

Since I picked up my first violin at a young age, music has very much been an essential part of me; in fact, I have no memory of when that wasn’t the case. As later told by my parents, they noticed my aptitude for music when I was able to sing and play nursery rhymes on the toy keyboard from memory as a one-year-old. The actual decision to study the violin, according to them, was made by myself when I picked out the picture of the violin among other instruments when asked to do so. The violin introduced me to the fantastic world of music, and it holds a special place in my heart. To me, the violin’s dynamic range, colorful timbre, and resemblance to human voice make it an extremely expressive instrument that resonates with the deepest levels of my soul.

You are originally from Hefei, China, a city that many Americans may not know about. Can you describe your home city to our readers?

I was born in Hefei, the capital city of Anhui province. It is less than 300 miles west of Shanghai and is part of eastern China. Hefei is somewhat of a “mediocre” city: its population is less than 8 million which is medium-sized by Chinese standards, and it is right between northern and southern China in terms of climate and cultural traditions. Hefei’s indistinctness makes the city not stand out as much, especially to tourists, since it lacks notable signature attractions or dishes. However, Huangshan or Yellow Mountain, the most magnificent mountain range in China, is also in Anhui and is less than 150 miles away from Hefei. More than 3 million tourists visit the mountain each year. Hefei is also becoming one of the fastest growing cities in China due to its location at the center of the most populated region of China. It is predicted that Hefei will become one of the largest central hubs in China for high speed rail and expressways in the near future. Having grown up in Hefei, I loved the busy (and sometimes chaotic) downtown, it’s numerous parks scattered around the city, the libraries, community centers, shopping malls, restaurants, amusement parks… Hefei is very much a lovable city full of history and wonders in its own way.

Above: Photos of Huangshan in Anhui Province, China

You moved from Hefei to Beijing at the age of eight to study violin at the Central Conservatory of Music. What was it like to make such a big move at such a young age?

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Family portrait, 2006

During third grade, I was accepted to the Central Conservatory of Music’s (http://en.ccom.edu.cn/) elementary school division in Beijing, which is more than 600 miles away from my hometown Hefei. My father left his job and moved to Beijing to take care of me, while my mother stayed in Hefei to support us financially. The move to Beijing really put me out of my comfort zone, and kicked off my next chapter of life filled with adventures. It was especially difficult at first to live without my mother and her incredible cooking, but I adapted well to the big change not long after. The move to Beijing was also the first of a series of significant turning points in my life that shaped a lot of who I am. Studying at one of the top music institutes and living in the capital city of China for the first time really broadened my horizons, augmented my knowledge and skills, and further solidified my intention to dedicate my life to the art of music-making.

You came to the US in 2010 to study at the Cleveland Institute of Music. What were your first impressions of the US? Was it different than you expected?

I had always dreamed of studying abroad someday to get to know classical music and Western cultures better. I especially admired the United States with its diverse and inclusive culture, and its leadership on the world stage. In sixth grade, with the kind help of an American friend and her family, I was able to begin my next adventure by moving to Cleveland with my father, and attending the Cleveland Institute of Music’s Young Artist Program to further my music studies. However, my very first impressions of the U.S. were somewhat shocking and disappointing partly due to my over-expectations. With the economy recovering from the crash, the area of Cleveland where our apartment was located was troubled by failing infrastructure, bankrupt empty homes, and rather high

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Recording session in Szell Library at Severance Hall, Cleveland

crime rates. Of course, I soon began to realize that one neighborhood of one city is in no way representative of an entire country. Especially after I started going to school and meeting all the wonderful people, I truly realized that there are so much more to a country than what meets the eye, and what truly makes the U.S. special is the people, society, and culture that make it up. Even though I studied English and familiarized myself with American culture before I arrived, the magnitude of culture shock was nonetheless unexpected. Everything was new and vastly different than what I had been used to, from as simple as eating breakfast to greeting others. Even trivial tasks were much more challenging due to the language barrier and cultural differences. With the help and support from the amazing people and mentors at Metro Catholic School (http://metrocatholic.org/), my very first school in America, I was able to adapt rather quickly to my new life and to overcome the challenges.

See Jieming perform at the Cleveland Institute of Music

Since moving to NYC to attend Juilliard, have you had much time to explore the city? Outside of Juilliard, what activity or event has been your favorite?

Coming to New York City after having spent six years in Cleveland has been quite an exciting change and experience. NYC is such a wonder-filled city full of diversity and opportunities, and is constantly bubbling with energy. I still remember the first time I was walking on the New York streets, I was so overwhelmed with awe and excitement that I couldn’t stop beaming and screaming to myself. I was able to really explore and experience the city during the Juilliard Orientation–the numerous outings helped me to get familiar with navigating the city and the subway system, as well as the metropolitan lifestyle in general. Even though I haven’t had nearly as much time to venture about the city since school started, my friends and I still take time off to explore once in a while (and grabbing some great food along too!). There is simply so much to do and see in the city. If I have to pick a favorite event/activity of mine so far, I would go with Smorgasburg (http://www.smorgasburg.com/), a weekend market at Prospect Park in Brooklyn where the best local food vendors come together to brighten up the days of all the foodies (yes I’m definitely one!).

If you had decided to not pursue violin or music in general, what do you think you would have studied?

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Flying a model helicopter in China, summer 2011

Even though my primary passion is in music, I am also quite interested in a number of other fields. In general, I have a great appetite for anything in the realms of the sciences, and more specifically physics and computer science. My father was a computer engineer, and I have been intrigued by computers and information technology since I was very young. I would definitely be interested in pursuing computer science if I had not decided to study music. In addition, I am very passionate about aviation. Since I was little, I’ve been fascinated by the flying machines, and dreamed of one day piloting and designing my own aircraft; thus aeronautical engineering would be my other potential alternative major. Last but not least, I have a passion for photography and cinematography/filmmaking, and would consider those my potential areas of study also.

In addition to being a talented young musician, you are also a very good photographer. What inspired you to pick up a camera? What are your favorite subjects?

I have had an interest in photography ever since I could remember. However, I started to take it more seriously when my family purchased our first single lens reflex camera five years ago. I began to participate in online forums to learn from others, read books and articles, and study the works of the greats. Over the years, I have grown quite a lot as a photographer, and my works have gotten more recognized. More recently, my interests have extended to cinematography and filmmaking in general, although for those I’m still in the stage of acquiring basic knowledge and skills. I love photographing all kinds of subjects, from landscape to street to portrait. However, what I always aim to achieve when capturing any kind of photo is to always have a purpose for the photo, and to tell a story by capturing the essence of that frozen frame of history.

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Hiking in Upstate New York while attending the Meadowmount School of Music in summer 2014.

When not playing music or taking photos, what do you like to do for fun or to relax?

Due to my passion for aviation, my pastime includes scratch building and flying radio-controlled scale model airplanes, helicopters, and multi-rotors. I hope to one day get a Private Pilot Certificate, and purchase or build my very own ultralight aircraft. In addition, I am a big techie, or what some would call a “nerd.” I am very much into anything that’s at the forefront of technological and scientific innovations, from electronics to theoretical physics. I also love reading books, watching movies, playing video games, and traveling.

You were recently the photographer for OIA’s International Festival. Can you describe the event to our readers? What was your reaction to watching the student performances?

The International Festival is an annual event organized by the OIA during the International Education Week (https://eca.state.gov/programs-initiatives/international-education-week). At the Festival, students of many different cultures and ethnic backgrounds get together for an evening filled with fun, food, and eye-opening cultural performances. At this year’s International Festival, the student performances range from singing and dancing to poetry and martial arts, and represented cultures from all around the globe. It was my first time attending the event, and I was absolutely touched and inspired. As an international student, it is heartwarming to see how Juilliard’s diversity is cherished and celebrated by all, and how it continues to inspire and contribute to the arts and culture, especially during this divisive time in the country. Watching the incredible performances from various cultural origins made me appreciate the multifariousness of our common humanity, and made me an even firmer believer in the power of the arts to unite and progress humanity.

Check out more pictures from International Festival 2016 taken by Jieming, on OIA’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JuilliardOIA/).

Since starting at Juilliard in September 2016, you have been very engaged in student life such as attending many Foundations programs, working as a photographer for the Office of Student Affairs, and attending the fall Leadership Retreat. How have you benefited from these experiences?

Coming to Juilliard has absolutely been an inspirational experience, to say the least. The various programs, workshops, events, and support services are truly special and are in line with the school’s values and President Polisi’s vision of artists as citizens. With my mindset and values prior to Juilliard, I would not have been interested in being involved and engaged nearly as much, as my image of what a great artist and person truly is has changed, from solely being able to master his or her craft to being a contributing member and citizen of society who makes a difference in people’s lives. Thus, I devoted some of the time I might have locked myself in a practice room to becoming more active and engaged in school and student life. With my participation in the fantastic programs and workshops Juilliard has to offer, I am beginning to expand my perspectives, gaining knowledge and experiences, and feeling like a much more complete artist and human being.

 Now that you attended the Leadership Retreat, do you plan to apply for a leadership position? Would you encourage other students to apply? If so, why?

Prior to coming to Juilliard, and especially before the leadership retreat, I would’ve never considered leadership to be something relevant to me in any way. I initially did not want to participate in the retreat because I could in no way see myself as a leader, but decided to get out of my comfort zone as a challenge for myself. It turns out to be an incredible and transformative experience that made me look at myself and the concept of leadership differently. As said by John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” That is why I plan to apply for a leadership position, and would also encourage other fellow students to do so because it is one of the best ways one could make a difference in the world.

Interested in applying for a leadership position like Jieming?  Learn more about Juilliard Student Leadership Selection. Applications open on December 12th 2016!  Applications due Tuesday, January 31st 2017 by 11:59pm.

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Michelle Lim

For the first Eye on Culture of 2016, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Michelle Lim.  Michelle is a third year dance student from Singapore, a country commonly described as a place where “East meets West.” In addition to discussing her cultural background and her passion for dance, choreography, photography, and videography, Michelle shares her experience as a Juilliard student leader and provides advice for potential applicants.

Interested in applying for a leadership position?  Positions available include Orientation Leader, Orientation Chair, Programming Assistant, Diversity Advocate, Colloquium Peer Leader, Resident Assistant, and Hall Coordinator.  Applications are due no later than Friday, January 29th.
Michelle Lim

You were an orientation leader two years ago and an orientation chair this past year. What made you want to be a student leader at Juilliard? How would you describe this experience? What did you gain by being a student leader?

My main motivation for becoming a student leader stemmed from my want to get to know the incoming students in the school. We are all so busy practicing our craft that it’s so hard to meet everyone despite being in such a small school! Coming from a different country, I remember how I was afraid of not knowing anyone and being alone in such a foreign place. Orientation was a time of uncertainty and fear but also a time that I made my best friends in this school, many of whom are outside of the dance division. I don’t know if I would’ve met as many people if I missed out on orientation!

I wanted to continue meeting all the amazing talent that’s in this school and help anyone who may be needing help in transitioning into this crazy city that is New York. Being an orientation leader my sophomore year, allowed me to usher in the incoming class and get to know people from all the different divisions in an environment that was fun, new, and exciting. After that, I was hooked! I became one of the orientation chairs my junior year and it was incredibly fulfilling sharing the Juilliard experience.

Being a student leader, I got to collaborate with my schoolmates on a common platform outside our disciplines to create an experience for other people. It helped me work on my public speaking skills and my overall confidence in myself. It also allowed me to work and have a closer relationship with the staff in the school, and it’s just so wonderful creating friendships with people as we all work towards a common goal.

With fellow students in the Dance program

What is your advice to students who may be hesitant to apply for a student leadership position but would like to develop their leadership skills and/or be more involved in the Juilliard community?

My biggest advice is to know that there’s nothing to lose, regardless of the reasons behind that hesitation. If it helps, ask a friend to apply for a leadership position along with you! You can even ask someone who is a current leader to help you. Whether you believe it or not, the application process is actually really fun. Do not let the process intimidate you–you got into Juilliard! That’s an audition much harder than a leadership application (haha).

These skills that you will obtain from the leadership experience is for you and it will take you further than your college career. There’s so much to gain from the first step of application to the execution of the position. Taking on a leadership role in school is a way to practice these skills in a safe, supportive environment where mistakes are times of learning and achievements are times of celebration 🙂

How old were you when you began dancing? When did you decide that dancing was more than a hobby and a potential career?

I started dancing when I was 3 years old. My parents enrolled me in a little studio in a mall, so I went through the baby ballet route. My tIMG_7837eacher recommended that I move to a better dance studio called the Singapore Ballet Academy (http://singaporeballetacademy.com.sg/), and I started taking the Royal Academy of Dance graded examinations there.

When I was 11, my ballet teacher at the school, Mei Sing Cheah, told my dad about this new arts school that was opening called School of the Arts, Singapore (SOTA – https://www.sota.edu.sg/). She was appointed as, and is still currently, the Head of Dance in the school. It was new and huge departure from the “traditional” schooling system that most Singaporeans go through and that I would be part of the pioneering batch. My dad told me about it and I remember really wanting to go to SOTA.

My dad told me that if I wanted to leave the regular schooling system and pursue dance, that I had to commit to it and I did. The school opened in 2008, and I left the secondary school I was already in. I graduated with the pioneering class in 2012, and now I’m here 🙂

 

 

You attended the School for the Arts in Singapore before coming to Juilliard. Tell our readers a little bit about the school, and how did attending it prepare you for Juilliard’s Dance Division?

SOTA is Singapore’s first pre-tertiary arts school that caters to 13-18 year old students and offers training in Dance, Film, Music, Theater and Visual Arts. It also places emphasis on the Integrated Arts and Literary Arts. Students who attend the school also have to study the Natural Sciences, Human Sciences, English Literature, their Mother Tongue languages (mine was Mandarin) and Mathematics alongside the arts. In the final 2 years, students have to undergo the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) certificate, and in recent years the student have the option to take the IB Career-related Programme.

I gained so much while I was in this school. Having to go through the IBDP examinations, I was exposed very early on to subjects like Anthropology and Theory of Knowledge that aided in the development of critical thinking. It was very hard to jungle academics and the arts at the same time. I feel as though SOTA helped me become very independent and a more consistent hard worker.

I was exposed to dance styles such as the Graham and Limón techniques that is unavailable outside of SOTA at the pre-tertiary level. I was also exposed to a lot of ballet repertoire as well as engaging in the creation process a work. My modern dance teacher, Silvia Yong, gave me opportunities outside of school at her husband’s company called The Human Expression Dance Company (http://www.the-dancecompany.com/about-us/). Here I was a part of the Second Company, an apprentice in the Main Company, as well as Assistant Stage Manager and Assistant Production Manager for a few shows. This definitely allowed me to have experience in the professional dance scene in Singapore, as well as gave me opportunity to gain experience in production.

I feel that my overall experience definitely helped me to become more versatile as a mover as we had to juggle ballet, modern, repertoire as well as dancing in the choreographic style of any newly created work. The sheer workload that the IBDP examinations had to offer definitely trained me to better manage pressure and time.

You were a choreographer for the fall 2015 Choreo/Comp. What was that experience like?

It was tough but so incredibly fulfilling! First of all, congratulations to all the choreographers, composers, and dancers! It was such an amazing show and I’m so incredibly proud of everyone.

It was a crazy journey for all of us. I was working with Michael Seltenrich, who is also an international student here. It was really difficult finding a language that worked for the both of us. It’s always a challenge wheIMG_0520n two artistic minds are working together! We had a central idea with a lot of conflicts the approach to it. We definitely worked it out in the end and I feel that the dance and music gelled in very nicely with each other.

I had a very supportive cast of dancers despite all the blows we had to take. I’m incredibly blessed to have them (Taylor LaBruzzo, Guy Levi, Miranda Wienecke and Alex Soulliere), as well as Dana Pajarillaga and Daniel Ching for stepping in. Everyone was so supportive and open to all the ideas I brought to the studio.

If you had to choose, would you rather choreograph or dance?

I don’t know if I could answer that! Both choreography and dancing have their special places in my heart, I don’t know if I prefer either one of them more at this point.

Other than dance, you have a passion for photography and videography. How did this passion develop? What do you like about being behind the camera?

I love watching YouTube videos and looking [at] beautiful photos on the internet. Good music while surfing Tumblr and watching Youtube videos was something I loved to do in my free time back in high school. I love how people can create realities out of everyday things and make me see the world through their eyes. I guess this is also why I love choreography. I love creating new content and sharing it with people.

I have never had any form of training in photography and videography. One of my older brothers is a freelance photographer and videographer, and I would watch him edit his work and he would share little tips and tricks that he had with me. Slowly I began to take photographs and film videos for fun. I love capturing and sharing what I see, and I especially love it when my work makes people happy or helps someone in anyway.

You will graduate in May 2017. What would you like to do after you complete your degree?

This interview is filled with loaded questions! haha. Well, I’d definitely want to give myself some time to relax before I start working. I also want to travel and see dance from different cultures and experience those cultures. Ideally, I’d love to dance with a company that would allow me to grow as choreographer. I also see freelancing as an option. At this point, I’m open to whatever the world has to offer me 🙂

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This interview series is called Eye on Culture, so let’s talk about the culture in which you were raised. Singapore is considered to have a very unique and diverse culture.  In a few short sentences, how would you describe Singaporean culture to readers who do not know much about the country?

Singapore is hot and humid; its summer all year round and it rains a lot. It’s actually pretty similar to New York City in many ways. It’s a melting pot of cultures and people come from everywhere in the world for business or just to have fun. It’s pretty crowded in the city, with at least 5 million people on a tiny island (size ref. to Manhattan below). [The population of Manhattan is approximately 1.6 million and the population of NYC in total is about 8.5 million.]

map

A lot of people live in apartment style housing and it’s pretty easy to get to anywhere you want in the country. The food is incredible and affordable. We don’t have any natural resources so most of our things are imported. Our education is pretty top notch. It is also incredibly safe.

Singapore is commonly described as a country where “East meets West.” As someone from Singapore, would you say that it is an accurate description? Why or why not?

I would think it’s pretty accurate. A lot of our pop culture is influenced by the western world. I also remember growing up to my dad singing his favorite songs by American artists. Unlike our neighboring countries, Singapore is probably the one Asian country whose citizens are mainly English speaking. Our late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew enforced the learning of English and our Mother Tongue (MandarinIMG_8059/ Tamil/ Bahasa Malayu depending on our race) in the education system, so all Singaporeans are pretty much bilingual. When we first became independent, we were a small country without any natural resources, so speaking English was a way for us to advance faster with the western world.

Has the culture in which you were raised influence you as a dancer? If so, please describe.

It definitely has! Growing up, I would watch and learn so many forms of dance from all the different racial groups like traditional Chinese, Malay and Indian dance. This has definitely informed the way I move as well as widened the possibilities of choreography. My family has also been such a huge influence on me. My dad’s Singaporean and my mom’s Filipino so I was also part of a mixed heritage. It definitely taught me to be open to different perspectives people had based on their own upbringing and I feel that being sensitive to that is very important to an artist. Getting through the education system in Singapore also definitely trained me to work hard in whatever is handed to me and to plan ahead for how I want to excel in my field.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I hope your winter break was fruitful and well spent with your loved ones! I wish you a wonderful and inspired year ahead, and if you ever visit Singapore, let me know 🙂

If you want to see a sample of Michelle’s videography skills, take a look at this hilarious video of Cory Owen (Director of International Advisement) and Josh Guillemot-Rodgerson (3rd year dancer) doing the Spicy Noodle Challenge!