Jennie Khan

Freelance Cellist and Teacher

Jennie Khan is an Auckland based cellist and cello teacher. She has a variety of experience performing both here and in Europe and has been teaching students of all ages for many years.

The Power of Music

I had the great fortune these last school holidays of assisting in taking a local youth orchestra on a tour to France.

My role was 3 fold really,
1. As a responsible adult
2. To help and boost up the small and relatively inexperienced cello section
and most importantly 3. Having lived there for some years, as a translator/interpretor.

The trip surpassed many of my expectations and I found the reaction of both the young musicians and our audiences inspiring.

The combined Orchestras play to a great audience in the Place de Celestins in Lyon, France.   Photo courtesy of AYS

This is the power of music, it traverses cultural and linguistic barriers. It was fantastic to see the kids really getting involved and how much they just love music, any spare moment or opportunity to play or to try out a new acoustic:

  • Improvising 4 part a capella harmonies in the glass roof top dome and ballet rehearsal space of the Lyon Opera House.
  • Busking in the Place des Heros in Arras, surrounded by small kids in awe of what they were doing.

This little guy was just fascinated by the cello section when we played in Arras. So I gave him a quick lesson. Photo courtesy of AYS

One of these young buskers said he didn't care about the money, he just wanted to play. But seeing those kids so excited to drop a few coins in the case, it seemed as if it were of more value to them as a whole experience, showing appreciation and understanding maybe, learning the value of the performance. 

(The pros and cons of that value being monetary
is beside the point of this story)

On the other side of it, we visited large towns & small villages, and everywhere we went the welcome was outstanding.
In some ways this is part of the European way, I recall with the OSL, many shared meals, drinks and nibbles while playing and touring with the orchestra.
But also to receive this orchestra of young New Zealanders was a real community event, to come and see a visiting orchestra play.

The two 'Chefs' Paul Harrop and Jean-Pierre Prajoux sharing the podium for our final number in Lyon. Photo courtesy of AYS

Amongst all the hatred, fear  and strife occurring in the country, even whilst we were there, luckily at the other end of the country, the terrible tragedy in Nice on the 14th of July. Not to sound twee, but our concerts brought a moment of calm, a moment of joy and happiness to what were frankly, very good sized audiences. And at many we passed a moments silence in thought of Nice.

Even when playing in competition to the final of the Euro Championship between France and Portugal, with thousands of people trying to cram into the FanZone just two blocks away, our combined Aotea Youth Orchestra and Orchestre Symphonique de Lyon (a mere 100 musicians) managed to more or less fill the Place des Celestins. I would have said maybe 200 or so, young and old, some who came especially but many passers by stopping to enjoy some music on a very warm summer evening, despite the untimely car horns growing ever more incessant the closer it came to kickoff.

The NZ troops were instrumental in liberating Le Quesnoy. Their gratitude shows in the street names.

All this to say that our music could bring people together, both within a community and between nations. A cultural exchange that benefits both sides, whether it be sharing stories and ideas with our wonderful homestays, playing alongside the OSL under the baton of the fantastic Jean-Pierre Prajoux, enjoying the music of the Le Quesnoy Concert Band, entertaining audiences and paying tribute to our fallen NZ soldiers who served in the small towns in the North of France during WWI.
It was always a pleasure for me to speak to and interpret for members of the public as well as some dignitaries following our concerts. Their apprecation for our music was very humbling, to know we had come so far to play for them, they had enjoyed our music and were impressed by the sensitivity, enthusiasm and musicianship of all these young people.

Calm before the storm, our final performance played to a packed audience in this fabulous room in the Versailles Town Hall.

It made me think that so often music can become an elitist institution, what is 'proper' or 'good' music and anything else is not worth playing, what are 'we' going to get out of it musically - and I am as guilty of this as anyone (don't even get me started on the X-Factor and its genre). But in fact music is for the people, as an artist you must be able to express yourself, and you don't always want to sell out to the commercial masses, but there is a time and a place for both. And as a musician we can feed off the energy of an audience that loves what we are doing, even if it is playing Lord of the Dance for the 50th time, the audience love it, and I loved that they loved it, that was all that mattered.

Entertaining visitors to the Chateau Villandry in it's central courtyard, near Tours.

Music truly is a universal language, music connects people, to each other, to emotions and memories. We must remember this and not be precious or pretentious and keep it all to ourselves, but instead use it like a superpower for good.

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