UND musical trio tour of Asia coincides with Grand Forks city delegation visit to region
It's a tale of two tours, two countries and two friendly cities a world apart.
It's also a story of the strong support of a local eye surgeon and plenty of overseas connections to UND and Grand Forks.
And it's only just beginning.
The Red River Piano Trio will kick off an international tour, entertaining universities and high schools throughout Asia, with a concert at Tongji University, on May 13, in Shanghai, China, before heading off to Japan for more performances.
The Trio leaves today (May 9) for the three-week hop across China and Japan, eventually crossing paths with a Grand Forks city delegation on an Asian tour of its own.
The musical tour features UND students Vinicius Sant'Anna on violin, Fernando Vargas on cello and Keith Teepen on piano.
"For me, one of the greatest things about being a performing musician is the experience of seeing the world and meeting new people," said Teepen, a native of Cincinnati.
Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown and Pete Haga, Grand Forks community and government relations officer, will leave for Kanuma, Japan – soon after the UND trio – to represent the city on a business and cultural mission and to support the musical group on its tour. Kanuma is one of the main stops on the trio's musical tour.
Grand Forks maintains a "Friendship City" relationship with Kanuma, which grew out of a pre-existing Sister-City affiliation with Awano, Japan. Awano merged with the larger city of Kanuma in 2005, but due to strong ties with Grand Forks, Kanuma struck up the new Friendship-City arrangement based on the successful model Grand Forks had had with Awano. The Friendship Cities, to this day, conduct bi-annual student exchanges and regular communication between officials of the two cities.
The Red River Trio tour and Mayor's visit will be in Kanuma the same time as city's Spring Festival.
"The Mayor will get to represent the Friendship City officially at the city celebrations," Haga said. At the same time, the community of Grand Forks, as well as UND, will be represented by the Red River Trio. What we're really excited about is that we're getting yet another opportunity for the community and the University to demonstrate our collaboration and how interlinked we are with this Japanese city.
"(The tour) really showcases the cultural opportunities it brings to our students and is just another example of the types of world-wide experience students are able to get while attending UND."
While overseas, Brown, who grew up in Japan and spent time there as a member of the U.S. Air Force, and Haga also will explore opportunities to visit companies that are doing business in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).
The Red River Trio began performing together in August of 2012 under the direction of UND Music faculty member Nariaki Sugiura, a native of Japan.
In the fall of 2012, Dr. Gerald Gaul, an ophthalmologist at the North Dakota Eye Clinic in Grand Forks and a longtime supporter of the UND Music Department, donated $15,000 to fund a new piano studio at UND. Gaul said that he's very enthusiastic that the money will be used, instead, to support the tour of china and Japan by the Red River Trio.
"Our region does a fantastic amount of international trade, and music is absolutely an international language," Gaul said. "These sort of tours are great for the University, great for the students, and really great for our region."
Gaul is violist and his wife plays the violin. He studied viola at the University of Iowa and continues to perfect his talent in Minneapolis. He has worked with the Greater Grand Forks Symphony for nearly 25 years, and has an informal musical group of his own called the Buffalo Commons Chamber Music Society.
Another friend of UND Music and the city of Grand Forks, Jennifer Tarlin, is director of the American Culture Center at the University of Shanghai Science and Technology (USST). Her influence also was a tremendous help in coordinating the Trio's performances in China. USST is the second stop on the Trio's visit to China.
China is rapidly becoming the world's largest economy and one of the most powerful nations and UND has been a pioneer among American Universities in developing a relationship with school, such as USST.
"Sending musicians to Japan and China broadens UND's international relationships and builds bridges that both faculty and students will benefit from," Tarlin said. "I think it's quite significant that a UND student ensemble is doing an Asia tour – something that would've been impossible 10 years ago," Tarlin said.
While in Shanghai, the UND Trio will have a chance to meet students at USST and learn from each other. USST is primarily an Engineering and Business School but the students immediately and intuitively understand the importance of music as a form of creative expression.
"A lot of the programs at the Center touch on what it means to live in a diverse society, so the fact that the trio is composed of extremely good musicians from three very different backgrounds are quite serendipitous, but also very American," Tarlin said.
Tarlin, who lived in Grand Forks from 1995-2010, was the executive director of the Greater Grand Forks Symphony for much of her time in the city.
Along with performing, the Trio will have the opportunity to immerse themselves into the culture.
"They will be staying with host families, so they will get a first-hand experience of living with people in Japanese homes," Sugiura said. "They will have a valuable cultural experience in Japan."
This trip will be Vargas' second to Japan for music.
"It's a wonderful experience because not only does it give us a chance to perform in another country, but also it provides us the chance to meet other musicians, to make connections with people, and to help promote ourselves as musicians."
For Sugiura, it's a return to his native country.
"I am very proud to be part of this trip representing the collaboration work of UND and the city of Grand Forks. We are extremely fortunate to have many strong supporters for our music program," Sugiura said. "I want people in Japan and China to know how great UND and Grand Forks are.
University and Public Affairs student writer
(left to right) Vinicius Sant'Anna (violin), Keith Teepen (piano) and Fernando Vargas (cello) play recently in the Great Hall of the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck. (Photo by Colleen Neff)