Nonclassical Battle of the Bands (Photo Credit: Zen Gisdale)
Reylon Yount, 2017 Scholar
London is an incredible city for people who want to become artists. Theatre, visual art, music, dance, film, and fashion are utterly alive here. There are as many extravagant West End productions as there are experimental performances in converted warehouses here. You’ll find museums showcasing history’s most treasured paintings, interspersed with exhibitions at the cutting edge of contemporary art. In one neighbourhood you might come across a club promoting industrial DJ sets, and in another you’ll discover an orchestra playing classical masterpieces, all in the same evening. On top of this, London is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, and thanks to its many universities, it is filled with young people dreaming big. Altogether, this creates a beautiful ecosystem for creatives seeking inspiration and opportunities to collaborate. This is why I chose to spend my two years on the Marshall Scholarship studying in London, and I couldn’t be happier with this decision.
Tangram – Four in a row (Photo Credit: Mike Skelton)
I’m an aspiring musician, and my medium is the yangqin, a percussive string instrument from China. I’ve spent my time here at SOAS and Goldsmiths writing original ‘Chinese American folk songs’ to reflect personally on some of the complexities of diasporic existence and using electroacoustic composition to investigate the paradoxical yearning for multiculturalism and rootedness we experience amid forces of globalisation. I’m incredibly grateful that the scholarship has given me such wonderful opportunities for creative exploration. And these have in truth extended far beyond the master’s programmes. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with a wide range of talented young artists in London who inspire me and push me to improve my practice every day.
The most generative of these artistic relationships is my collaboration with composer and London native Alex Ho. Alex and I began working together in the fall of 2017, shortly after I arrived from the U.S. We met a few times and discussed our shared interest in exploring our connections to Chinese heritage through music. Soon after, he composed a fascinating yangqin solo called “Rituals and Resonances,” which I premiered at Oxford in March 2018 as part of the Passiontide Festival at Merton College. Last month, I performed the piece at Nonclassical’s Battle of the Bands, an annual London-wide experimental music competition, and we managed to come away with the top prize. The vitality of this piece inspired us to deepen our collaboration, and alongside two other musicians, we founded Tangram, an artist collective dedicated to creating and curating new Chinese music. Our goal is to tell meaningful stories about diaspora and open a window into spaces beyond the China/West dichotomy. On January 25th, we played a sold-out debut concert at one of the London Symphony Orchestra’s venues, LSO St. Luke’s, as part of the inaugural Chinese Arts Now Festival. Tangram is becoming an exciting vehicle for our musical aspirations, and we’re looking forward to working on multiple projects together this year. I can’t help but feel a sense of delight and deep gratitude for how readily the Marshall invocation of fruitful relationships with British colleagues came true. And I can tell these are relationships I’ll cherish for a long time.
LSO St. Luke’s (Photo Credit: Linxi Li)
If you’re interested in following Tangram’s adventures in new Chinese music, feel free to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook using the handle @tangramsound. For more of our story and a video of our debut concert, please check out our website below.
Reylon Yount (’17)