Concerto for Two Trumpets
Peixiang Li was so enamored with Steve Leisring's trumpet playing that he decided to follow him around the globe to study under him.
Li was a student in China in 2005 when Leisring toured the country as a soloist with the Kansas University Wind Ensemble.
"I liked the way he played," Li remembers.
Now a freshman trumpet major at KU, Li is about to head back to his home country - to perform with an ensemble from the United States.
The KU Trumpet Ensemble leaves Thursday for a 14-day tour of China. The trip is being organized through the U.S.-China Cultural and Educational Foundation.
"I decided whatever I could do to bring the world to KU or bring KU to the world, that would be my goal as a professor here," says Leisring, an assistant professor of music and dance. "What music can do is connect people from all over the world. Even people who don't like each other - or who disagree with each other - music can bring them together."
The trip includes plans for nine concerts in four cities. One is a performance with the China National Military Symphony Orchestra on a televised New Year's Eve concert in Longquan. Another is a joint performance with students at the China Central Conservatory in Beijing.
Leisring says the 14-member Trumpet Ensemble's tour is both a follow-up to the 2005 Wind Ensemble trip and his 2006 trip to Chengdu, where he participated in an international trumpet workshop. One of the Wind Ensemble's concerts drew 4,000 people.
Song Yang, vice-chairman of the U.S.-China Cultural and Educational Foundation, says China doesn't have a strong band program in middle and high schools. He's hoping concerts like the ones the KU group will perform will inspire a new generation of brass players to perform at the same level Chinese string and piano players are known for.
"We don't have the brass in China," he says. "We can learn a lot from them."
Yi, the KU freshman from China, says he agrees that American ensembles can help to inspire young brass players.
"The string players are much better," he says. "There are lots of famous teachers that go to the states and go back to China. The brass level is going up for 10 years. It's much better."
Yang says he wanted to invite an all-trumpet group, in part, because China is hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics.
"The trumpet encourages people through the music," he says. "This is something special, to have almost 20 trumpets."
At first, Leisring was hesitant at Yang's offer to take the Trumpet Ensemble to China. He thought a multi-instrument brass ensemble might be more feasible.
But at Yang's insistence, he eventually decided to put together a program that didn't include all traditional, fanfare-like pieces.
"One of my challenges was to create a program that doesn't just sound like a bunch of trumpets," Leisring says.
The final program does include a couple of fanfares, but it also includes transcriptions that include "Stars and Stripes Forever" by John Philip Sousa, "The William Tell Overture" by Rossini, a Vivaldi trumpet concerto and pieces representing the American jazz, ragtime and blues styles. It also includes several traditional Chinese tunes.
Also touring with the Trumpet Ensemble will be Scott Watson, KU's tuba professor, and Scott Weiss, director of bands.
"We need to make it more than a concert," Leisring says. "It's more of a show."
The trip has KU trumpeters excited.
"It's one thing to travel abroad," says senior Emily Seifert of St. Marys, "and it's another while doing something you love. If we go to Beijing and play with students there, you don't have to speak the same language."
Typically, the Trumpet Ensemble rehearses only one hour a week. In the past few weeks though, it's been more like five or six hours to prepare for the tour.
For Ann Gorsech, a freshman from Overland Park, the Trumpet Ensemble represents a chance to learn from more experienced students.
"The biggest advantage of the Trumpet Ensemble is you learn from your peers," she says. "We have doctoral students in the group."
She says she's interested to see the cultural differences between American and Chinese audiences.
"I'm excited to see the big crowds - on the Wind Ensemble trip, some people were dancing," she says. "I want to see the reaction."
George Brahler, a 2004 graduate of Free State High School, was on the 2005 Wind Ensemble tour. Now a senior, Brahler says he wants to compare the two trips.
"It'll be interesting," he says. "I would think a trumpet ensemble would be a little harder to sell."
Brahler says he never would have expected to play abroad during his time at KU.
"It was a different world," he says. "You're on the other side of the globe. I never thought I'd go to China, let alone twice."