Joint Concert At Washington Magnet School

By Amy Doeun

On March 3rd Chai Lee, a local Qeej player who was previously featured in a TPT film about the art of playing the Qeej, had an opportunity to share his work through a joint concert with the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies Concertino group. Dan Mollick works as conductor for this group. The organization’s website (www.gtcys.org) says of Mollick, “Conductor Dan Mollick applies his passion as an educator and classical musician to create a challenging experience for students. A lively, welcoming atmosphere provides a stimulating environment for students to take their musicianship to the next level by focusing on technical skills, excellence, and teamwork.”

One of the stated goals of the Concertino group is, “GTCYS commits to providing an inspiring and comprehensive musical experience to transform students musically, personally, and socially.”

Part of living a successful life is being open and aware of other cultures and communities. At the March 3rd Concert Concertino joined Chai Lee with other Qeej players from the Hmong Cultural Center’s programs.

Mark Pfeiffer of the Hmong Cultural Center said that they were approached by the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies last fall about a joint concert. “It was really to bridge cultures to bring understanding of these different art forms. The youth orchestra wanted to reach out and increase awareness of western classical music tradition. And this concert allowed us to expose many people who had probably never seen or heard the Qeej instrument.”

The concert was highly attended. “While there was some of the Hmong community there, the majority were not. There were a lot of people who had never seen or heard the Qeej before.”

Chai Lee has been playing the Qeej since he was a young boy. Now he is taking his skills to another level and sharing what he has learned with others and working as an instructor at the Hmong Cultural Center. At the concert he shared that the Qeej is traditional and a funeral instrument, the sounds serving as a “guide, gives direction to bring him [the departed] back to his ancestors.”

Lee played several pieces incorporating dance into his performance including a piece that ends with almost a break dance type style, all while playing the Qeej. This move brought a gasp and applause from the audience.

Lee takes pride in his work and his ability to share culture, “When people who’ve never heard about the Hmong people see this, they will have learned a little about the Hmong culture. When younger Hmong generations see a young man like me playing the Qeej, it could potentially encourage them to learn and that’s the best feeling.” He has already been an inspiration to other young Hmong men as he was joined by the Hmong Qeej Players Troupe from the Hmong Cultural Center.

The two groups practiced several times togethers. Pfeiffer said, “It took a bit of time to come together. Chai had to work with the artistic leader of the youth symphony and plan and practice.” He added that he was happy with the outcome and would love to collaborate with the symphony in the future. “It was the first time I have ever heard of a concert using Hmong classical music and folk art [with western classical music] it was definitely very unique.”

Lee cited the support from his family as a driving force behind his work, “They’re proud that I continue to follow traditions and keep our culture alive.”