As members of the Ya Yue Court Music Ensemble (雅樂團) marched their first steps away from Chiayi Creative Culture Park while performing Chinese classical music on the morning of December 20, the 2008 Chiayi City International Band Festival officially got under way. A crowd estimated at 80,000 watched the bands pass by on Chung Shan Road (中山路) in this event organized by the Chiayi City Government.
This year’s 17th Chiayi City International Band Festival features a wide range of activities including a band marathon, band parades and indoor and outdoor concerts. Visitors can listen to and feel the rhythm of wind music practically everywhere in the city during this two-week festival.
A wind music carnival
The opening band parade featured two dozen marching bands performing along Chung Shan Road. The route from Chiayi Creative Culture Park to Chiayi Park stretches about three kilometers, and along the way the bands marched in formation, stopping for a quick showcase performance in front of the City Hall and Central Fountain. The heat from the sun was a little warmer than usual for December, and the later in the order the bands were, the longer they had to stay under the sun. The focused and calm look on the faces of the band members showed the audience without question that they were serious about performing. Every step was taken with assurance, and they were proud to be there.
A total of 13 bands from Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia, the Republic of Kazakhstan, Germany and France took part in the event, along with five dozen local bands from all over Taiwan including student orchestras, professional and amateur concert bands and military marching bands. The variety in the bands and their performances made the day’s festivities a real carnival for the audience.
Arnel Feliciano, Music Director and Conductor of Morriz Wind Orchestra from the Philippines, has been working with the band since 1983.
“I started playing in the orchestra when I was a high school student. It is my life career and passion,” said Feliciano, who won the Musician of The Year award when he was a student at Morong National Comprehensive High School, after which he went on to the Philippine School of Music for percussion studies.
The name Morriz is a combination of the terms Morong and Rizal. Morong is a town in Rizal Province in the Philippines, where the band originated. With 60 full-time members and an average age of 24, the band produces music that is a fusion of traditional and modern harmony.
“This is my second time performing at the festival, but it’s the first time for Morriz Wind Orchestra. We received an invitation in July and have been preparing for this ever since,” said Feliciano.
The city of wind music
The city's association with wind music can be traced back to the 1930s during the Japanese occupation when Taiwan’s first student orchestra was established in what is now Chiayi Senior High.
The wind music festival started as a local event in 1988, when it was more like a joint performance by local wind music bands. Over the years the festival has become the most anticipated annual event in Chiayi. In 1997 the organizers invited foreign bands to perform at the festival with support from Council of Cultural Affairs, the first move in expanding the event to an international level. Since 1997 there have been foreign groups on hand to enrich the program each year, and Chiayi City has earned a reputation as the wind music capital of Taiwan through years of experience hosting the festival.
“The festival provides a platform for us to showcase,” said Cheng Hung-pin, 28, who has been a part of the festival for the last ten years. He had to pass on performing this year because he is currently doing his military service.
"We always look forward to opportunities like this. We get to show how hard we practice, and we can see what others are doing at the same time."
Cheng started playing the flute when he was in high school and basically fell in love with wind music. During the past ten years he has performed in each year’s Chiayi City International Band Festival with concert bands from National Chiao Tung University, National Tsing Hua University and National Cheng Chi University.
“I often come across friends I used to practice with in other bands when I come to the festival each year. It’s nice to see that they are doing well and still performing, and of course we cheer for each other during performances.”
Cheng’s comments explained the enthusiastic interactions between the performers and the audience during formation performances in the afternoon at Chiayi City Stadium（嘉義體育場）.
Echoes from the audience
Wei Wang watched the Christmas Eve slot performed by the Malaysian Penang Chung Ling High School Wind Orchestra at Chung Cheng Park (中正公園).
“Overall their performance was very enjoyable. They are led by a good conductor and most of the pieces in their repertoire were familiar to the audience, so it was easy for us to get into the music,” said Wang, 23. He watched another performance by the Shizuoka University Wind Orchestra from Japan the next day and reported that the crowd was three times as large as the previous day. "The outdoor stage at the park provided a relaxing atmosphere."
Wang mentioned that he and his friends had intended to watch the performance by the Bao Tou City Women’s Orchestra from Inner Mongolia, but found out when they arrived at the venue that the show had been canceled due to visa problems.
“The organizers need to improve their supply of information, keep updating the schedules, and make everything more available to the general public.”
Surveys conducted by researchers in art and tourism management on attraction, satisfaction and competitiveness of the festival showed that the event’s popularity is huge at the local level, but attendance by members of the international community is somewhat limited. The anticipated boost from the festival to local tourism and the economy fell short of expectations. The results of the studies indicate there is still a lot of room for improvement in making the event international in a real sense.
Chiayi will host the biennial conference of the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles (WASBE) in 2011. WASBE is the only international organization of wind band conductors, composers, performers, publishers, teachers, instrument makers and friends of wind music. The exposure Chiayi receives from acting as host for such an event is certain to help upgrade its status in the world of wind music.
This is a great opportunity for the event organizers to do more than just inviting foreign groups to participate. Arranging some social gatherings may be helpful in further engaging the invited groups with the event and local performers. Interchanges between performers may lead to future cooperation.
“An after party of some sort would allow the bands to get to know each other. The interaction itself can make the event better known in the musical field, and the next time it is held it may attract more professional groups as well as music aficionados,” said Wang, who still considers the festival a local one.
Nonetheless, the festival is definitely on its way to the global stage. With years of experience Chiayi is full of confidence, and the organizers have already started mapping out the program for next year. Let’s see how it is evolving by attending the event again next year in Chiayi.