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Burnaby musicians transcend the limits of language

Performers Dailin Hsieh and Bruce Bai from B.C. Chinese Ensemble spread love through their music in this year’s Summer Pop-Up Concert series in Mount Pleasant Park.

“Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to great films.”

Those words, delivered by Korean writer-director Bong Joon-Ho in an emotional speech at the Oscars, eloquently highlight the barrier-breaking power of art, with music, dance, films and theatre all transcending the limits of language.

Close your eyes and play your favourite song in your head. How does it make you feel? Now, imagine it without the lyrics and the medium of language. The power of music is such that it travels beyond boundaries. Music touches souls beyond borders, cultures, language. 

Every word, every note carries a feeling.

“Music gives us a moment to forget about the conflict in real life and focus on our heart and feelings.” 

These are the words of young Burnaby-based artist Bruce Bai, who’s taking part in this year’s Summer Pop-Up concert series in Mount Pleasant Park with his team, the B.C. Chinese Ensemble (BCCE).

Bai, the lead singer of the group, along with his partner, Dailin Hsieh, who plays the Zheung (a traditional Chinese instrument), explore the complexities of life through their heartfelt music. “I believe that love is part of music,” he said. “I’d like to explore happiness, love, sadness of life through my music. The humanity of life, how to treat each other and make decisions.”

Bai began his artistic career when he was young — writing stories, sketching. When he migrated to Canada, music became an important tool of expression, sparking an interest in learning and producing music. “I went to university to study music composition and techniques,” he said.

“I initially wanted to be a pop star like any other musician starting out, but when my professor introduced me to these intercultural ensembles and seeing everyone in Vancouver, I wanted to do something more unique.”

Bai described their genre of music as experimental, as they bring in a touch of every Chinese culture to their contemporary rendition of traditional music.

Unlike her husband, Hsieh has been playing the instrument since she was six years old in Taiwan. She discovered that the love she had for the instrument forged a bond with her audience during her performances. “To touch people is very meaningful,” she said.

“Although they all come say that the performance was wonderful, you could really see it in their eyes, their reactions. That’s from the heart, and that’s what I want.

“I want my audience to feel real. For them to know my music and most importantly, me.”

Music in the park

The couple's B.C. Chinese Ensemble is performing a free outdoor concert for this year’s Summer Pop-up series organized by Music on Main.

Bringing pieces of folk music from every province in China to the park in Vancouver on Aug. 17, the ensemble hopes for the audience to get a real essence of China — the sound and feel.

Artistic director of Music on Main, David Pay, said the audience will have a chance to experience different cultures through sound.

“One of the reasons that I program music from all sorts of different cultures is because that's a part of our lives day to day,” said Pay. “And while we all have music that we know better and music that maybe we even like better, having that chance to pop in and hear all sorts of music from different cultures I think is a great way to spend your summer and to get to know your neighbours.”

Pay said he hopes that people are able to hear and experience something new, and feel a connection to the music, the musicians, and ultimately, themselves, when they visit the park for the concert series.

Wearing their hearts on their sleeves

Art is a form of expression — and for both Bai and Hsieh, expressing their authenticity is important. 

“I don’t want to pretend," Hsieh said. "When I perform, I perform with my heart- to feel real."

While their songs are traditionally sung in Mandarin, the story of the song is not lost for the non-Mandarin speaking listeners.

“It is the beauty of sound,” Bai said. “The vocals add a flavour to the music. So when the audience might not understand the meaning for the words, they would still feel a connection to the story through the instrumentals.”

The Summer Pop-up series organized by Music on Main is running in Mount Pleasant park from Aug. 9 to 12 and Aug. 16 to 18.


Where: Mount Pleasant Park

When: Aug. 9 to 12 and Aug. 16 to 18.

6:30pm onwards.

Fee: Free