CHAO TIAN is a Chinese dulcimer virtuoso, improvisor, sound designer, and visual artist. Her dexterity has led to her breaking down barriers and working across creative genres. In her work, she explores the distinct sounds and techniques of the Chinese dulcimer in order to create a multidimensional sensation of improvisation. Her creative interests include synesthesia in cross-disciplinary collaboration: interplay between visual art and music; Chinese musical vocabulary and philosophy in improvisation, and music as a response to conflict alleviation and healing. Her latest project “Unheard Sounds” is dedicated to better explore the practice of the immigration arts: artistic language reshaped by immigrant artists in cross-disciplinary collaboration.
Chao's musical adventure started at the age of five, and at the age of twelve, she was admitted to the China Conservatory of Music Affiliated Middle School , where she majored in Chinese dulcimer studies. She was afterwards recommended for immediate admission to the China Conservatory of Music, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Traditional Chinese music performance (Yangqin) (2007) and a Master of Arts in Musicology (2010).
As the leader of the Always Folk ensemble, she characterized herself as an inheritor who is committed to preserving China's musical heritage. Her band is actively participating in the Sizhu and Nanyin music research projects. Meanwhile, Chao had spent years working as an instructor and the director of the Arts Education Center at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU). She is a founding member of BLCU Arts College's music department and has been appointed as an officer of the International Culture Exchange Program in 2019.
Chao has performed in over 30 different countries and regions across the globe and collaborated with numerous talented musicians in many unprecedented projects. Her talents began to blossom in the United States in 2015, when she was accepted into the prestigious Artist in Residence program at the Strathmore Music Center, where she became fascinated by many cultures and expanded her creative imagination and uniqueness.
Chao has contributed to the local community with music at church, the youth arts program, senior care center, and special projects for people with and without cognitive and other disabilities. In addition, she devotes herself to boosting the cultural exchange activities between the U.S. and China. The former Chinese Ambassador to the United States, Cui Tian Kai, wrote for her project Dong Xi's contribution:
“ ......your performance not only highlighted the complementary between Eastern and Western music, but also presented to the audience a proper blending of the Oriental and Occidental arts and what it could add to the beauty and diversity of our cultural life.....just as the name Dong Xi implies, will inject new inspiration and energy to the ever-close ties between the people of China and America through music.”
Chao is the NextLOOK Artist at the University of Maryland from 2021 to 2022, and she is studying American hammered dulcimer with Karen Ashbrook with the support of the Folklife Apprenticeship Program of the Maryland States Arts Council. Her other projects include Dong Xi (East & West) "東西", Parallel Intersections "平行交接", From China to Appalachia - with Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, Dots and Lines "点与线", and she is a band member of Project Locrea "樂创计划".
“Chao Tian’s mastery of the Chinese Hammered Dulcimer is awe inspiring to this GRAMMY® Award winner. I have heard her play Chinese classical music, jazz, old-time American fiddle tunes, Americana song repertoire and calypso. Frankly, she can create anything, but more importantly, it is all played with feeling and panache.”-- Cathy Fink
“In the history of Strathmore’s highly-praised Artist in Residence program, Chao Tian stands out not only as a extraordinary musician, but also as a brilliant collaborator. She is constantly exploring new musical horizons. I anxiously await her next adventures! ”-- Betty Scott
"......Tian, a Chinese-dulcimer virtuoso, hovers over her instrument with rapt alertness, each movement suggesting sweeping vision and impeccable focus..."-- Celia Wren, The Washington Post
The National Contest of Best Youth Musician, Gold Medal, 2001.
Exceptional Artist, awarded by Beijing Bureau of Culture, 2005.
“Wen Hua Award”, Traditional Sizhu Music Category, awarded by the Ministry of Culture of China, which is the highest and the most honorable award a Chinese musician can obtain, 2008.
Outstanding Graduates and Outstanding Graduate Thesis, awarded by Beijing Municipal Commission of Education, 2010.
The White Snake, Constellation Theatre Company, nominated for Outstanding Sound Design, Helen Hayes Award, 2019.
Wammie (The Washington Area Music Awards), Best World Music Artist/Group, 2020.
Emergent Seed Grant, Winner, Instrumental, 2021.
Integrity: Arts & Culture Mini Grant, Winner, 2021.