By Yao Li, Founder and Chairperson of BNVS English Translation: Albert Zhu, Volunteer of BNVS
It was May, when warm spring breeze and blossoming flowers began to fill the air, Mr. Jiang left us.
I wasn’t able to say farewell to Mr. Jiang at the hospital. When I arrived at Mr. Jiang’s home that night, everything looked so familiar. I took a moment to reflect upon his many framed pictures. In each photo, his smile is the same as what I always saw on his face in his daily life. Mr. Jiang always had a smile on his face.
I first got to know Mr. Jiang through music. It seems like only yesterday when I used to accompany my daughter to take piano lessons every week from Mr. Jiang’s wife, Ms. Wu. Studying the piano with Ms. Wu, a virtuoso musician and professor, was like being admitted to a prestigious music academy. Like countless parents, I wanted my daughter to fulfill the piano dream that I never had the opportunity to achieve myself. I hoped that music could bring boundless rich emotions to her life. But how could anyone expect a four-year-old child to understand an adult’s realizations about life? She practiced when she felt like it and didn’t show any exceptional natural talent for music. I was very conflicted, because I knew that Ms. Wu’s students were all talented youngsters who aspired to attend dance or music conservatories. Nevertheless, Mr. Jiang and Ms. Wu were always very enthusiastic towards our family. They were immensely supportive of my wishes that my daughter could learn music. “Music isn’t just for showing off at performances. Learning music helps any child for a long time down the road in many respects,” they said. I cautiously suggested that my daughter might learn to play the piano without worrying about passing the standardized piano exams. To be honest, I expected my ideas to be rejected, because the exams play a critical role in shaping most teachers’ teaching plans. However, Mr. Jiang gave me a big thumbs-up while Ms. Wu told me that she would prefer teaching real music to piano-playing skills any day.
Thus, because of the bond and love of music, whenever I was free during the weekends, I would accompany my daughter to study the piano with Ms. Wu. Listening in on Mr. Jiang and Ms. Wu talk about music became a staple activity on many a weekend, and as time moved on, I became more and more in tune with everything related to music.
In the 90’s, Mr. Jiang was the Director of the Orchestra of the National Ballet of China. I was working for a state own foreign trade company. Every year, we would host many events, mostly banquets, for clients and commerce officials from various embassies. I asked Mr. Jiang if it would be a good idea to host concerts instead of banquets for these occasions. These concerts may seem commonplace today, but back then it was quite a new idea. Mr. Jiang encouraged me to see it through and helped me with the planning process, organizing the program and the performing musicians. Normally, we would certainly hire a famous conductor, but Mr. Jiang recommended Mr. Li Xincao from his orchestra. Mr. Li was so young back then, and I was quite hesitant. But Mr. Jiang assured me that Mr. Li was an exceptional young man. I greatly admired the understanding, appreciation, and trust Mr. Jiang had in these up and coming talents. Some time later, because of Mr. Li Xincao, we hosted a concert featuring Beethoven’s 9th at the Beijing Concert Hall. The concerts of those days are now some of the dearest memories we cherish.
When Mr. Jiang stepped down from his role as the Director for the Orchestra of the National Ballet, he wasted no time to head to Xiamen and started the Xiamen Philharmonic Orchestra with Maestro Zheng Xiaoying. We would talk about stories of managing the orchestra every time we met, and he would always be beaming with excitement as we spoke, even though I could always sense how challenging it must be to start something completely new. Ms. Wu understood those struggles as well and cared greatly about her husband, but Mr. Jiang always said that classical music should be spread far and wide, and the new orchestra of Xiamen can help to achieve this goal. He believed that all societies could become more beautiful if more people could learn to appreciate and understand music.
I began planning for the establishment of BN Vocational School (BNVS) in early 2005.
When I talked to Mr. Jiang about establishing a school for underprivileged children of migrant workers, he said with genuine enthusiasm, “You are doing great work! I’ll be glad to volunteer and contribute towards music education.” At the height of summer, when most of the preparatory work for the school’s establishment was completed, we held the first meeting that focused on teaching. I briefed everyone on the situation regarding admissions and emphasized that the education level of the incoming students is much lower than might be expected. The room became silent. Everyone in the room was pained by how these under privileged youths had not received the education they deserved. I was worried that these college professors, engineers, and artists, all of whom were full of hope with the ideals of philanthropy and passion for education, were now underprepared for the actual situation we faced. In that silence, Mr. Jiang stood up and said, “I support BNVS and I will be responsible for the music education,” “we need to use music education to elevate these students,” and “a school without music is not a good school.”
“A school without music is not a good school!” This became a famous quote at BNVS, and BNVS became the vocational school that paid the most attention to music education. Music classes are mandatory for all students at BNVS. Mr. Jiang personally prepared the lesson plans, and they ranged from music appreciation to music history, from choir singing to orchestra practice. He was the most senior teacher at BNVS, but thanks to his youthful energy, no one believed that he was already seventy years old. The school established a choir very quickly. At first, the choir only knew the simplest form of choir singing: everyone singing in unison. Mr. Jiang took his position and stood in front of everyone to conduct, but no one realized that they were being conducted to simply “sing in unison” by the Director of a national level symphonic orchestra.
The BN Charity Choir gradually grew from singing in unison to taking part in choir competitions, then to singing a cappella , and then to performing on the stage of the National Centre for the Performing Arts. Volunteers who taught music classes at the beginning were born in the 30s and 40s who later gave way to younger people born in the 80s and 90s. BNVS grew from the one campus in the original Da Fang Jia Hutong to the many campuses at various cities around China and even to expanded to Angola. No matter where the school opens a campus or what skills the school teaches, music is always a mandatory class. Students from the various BNVS campuses not only actively participate in many community activities, but their ability express themselves through music is also grew a great deal. Those who attended student performances are often amazed at how these future electricians, chefs, caregivers for the elderly, nurses, and hotel service staff can have such passion for music.
One time, I was hosting a vocational school from Germany. Their headmaster was very impressed by the music education at our school. He said, ordinary vocational schools in Germany don’t even have these classes.
In the movie Les Choristes, Clément Mathieu changed his students’ lives through music. Mr. Jiang founded music education at BNVS and, through it, guided a company of music educators to contribute to this charitable vocational school. Mr. Jiang set the foundation for BNVS as a good school.
Later on, Mr. Jiang had to stay at home due to health reasons. Gradually, his conditions worsened. However, he made sure to attend BNVS events. His smile never changed, and others did not know that his conditions were already quite serious. Ms. Wu always gave her husband the utmost care. Because of the great care from Ms. Wu, Mr. Jiang did not suffer much even when his conditions were critical. Ms. Wu said of her husband that “he was blessed because he was always grateful, and he was thankful for anything and everything in his life. He was forever optimistic. He was still smiling just before he passed. He did not seem to be sad at all.” Indeed, Mr. Jiang was blessed. He had his music and he had love.
At the funeral hall, Fan Yanling laid a great bouquet of flowers for Mr. Jiang. She is a graduate from the 11th class of BNVS and was the lead singer of the BN Charity Choir. Fan switched between several occupations after she graduated, but she never stopped singing. She bowed deeply to Mr. Jiang and said, “Rest in peace, Mr. Jiang, you have our deepest gratitude!”
BN Vocational School©2018