Calgary·Video

72 artists play together virtually in Calgary Chinese Orchestra collaboration

The new film Off to the Races features a musical collaboration of over 70 artists playing the Chinese song Horse Race. Musicians submitted videos playing the song from Calgary and all over the world.

Off to the Races, a new film, features performance and interviews

These are some of the 72 professional musicians involved in the production of Off to the Races. (Photo submitted by Vicki Van Chau)

Music's ability to connect us, even if only virtually, is on display in the latest project by Calgary-based filmmaker and artist Vicki Van Chau in collaboration with the Calgary Chinese Orchestra.

Van Chau is co-director and editor for a new documentary and music video called Off to the Races.

The film features interviews and a music collaboration of 72 musicians playing a classic Chinese erhu song, Horse Race. The erhu is a Chinese violin.

The idea to produce the 12-minute doc came from Jiajia Li, the artistic director of the Calgary Chinese Orchestra and a flutist.

Li wanted to do something to honour the Lunar New Year despite restrictions on the ability to gather.

A virtual orchestra for the Lunar New Year

CBC News Calgary

1 month ago
5:49
Calgary Chinese Orchestra and musicians around the world play song Horse Race 5:49

Van Chau and Li connected in November and opened up the call for submissions from artists playing the song on their instruments.

"We invited musicians of all ages, even levels of expertise," Van Chau told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.

"Because people were sending in their own submissions, we were able to open it up to people across Canada and around the world … in the end, [it] definitely made the scope of the project much larger."

Li chose the song for its upbeat and hopeful theme.

"Horse Race is a very famous Chinese song that was composed by Huang Huai-Hai in the '60s, that was traditionally played by the erhu or, you know, known as the Chinese violin. So it was very contemporary for its time, you know, not only using for the erhu for such an energetic song — the instrument's more known for a very sorrowful and melancholic sound — but it also incorporated many different techniques," Van Chau said.

It was also chosen because it's less than three minutes long, so it would be easy for submitting musicians to learn and record in time.

There were so many submissions that the music producer had to get creative.

"The song was originally only two and a half minutes, so the music producer, Warren Tse, had to add this beautiful intro and interlude segment to the song so that we were able to include everybody."

Vicki Van Chau is the co-director and editor of the film. (Kai Sunderland)

Erhus, pipas, fiddles, pianos and other instruments are played alongside each other in the video featuring 72 submissions from Vancouver, Toronto, Singapore, the United States, China — and Calgary.

"The song Horse Race, just because, it really captured the spirit of, you know, the horses galloping on the open prairies, it has this very great Calgary spirit as well.… We got this great submission from a Calgary fiddler, which already had a horse race in their repertoire," Van Chau said. "And so it was really great to see that Chinese music was already appreciated outside the Chinese community."

The video was released via YouTube on Feb. 14.

Van Chau said the feedback has been rewarding.

"It was just really great to connect the musicians and audiences, you know, across Canada and around the world ... especially during the pandemic when live events are just not happening, and especially during a time when, you know, people have become so divisive towards the Chinese community," she said.

"It was just really exciting to get people to be interested in the Calgary Chinese Orchestra, as well as to learn more about the Chinese music and the instruments and the culture."

You can see more of Van Chau's films here

  • Listen to the full interview on the Calgary Eyeopener here:
It's part documentary, part music video. The Calgary Chinese Orchestra's latest project showcases artists from around the world. The woman who put it all together joins us. 9:29

With files from Huyana Cyprien and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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