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Peony PavilionChao Tian
00:00 / 06:55

CHAO TIAN is a Chinese dulcimer virtuoso, improviser, 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 interest is mainly in intercultural improvisation study: applications of Chinese musical aesthetics and vocabulary, creative synthesis in cross-disciplinary improvisation: interactions among music, dance, and visual art, and improvisation in folk music. Her latest project “Unheard Sounds” is dedicated to better exploring 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
Middle and High School Affiliated to China Conservatory of Music, where she majored in Chinese dulcimer studies. She was afterward recommended for immediate admission to 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 on 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, the 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 with exchange performance and educational projects.

Chao was the NextLOOK Artist at the University of Maryland (2021-2022) and she studied 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", the winner of The Best World Music Artist/ Group of the WAMMIE Award 2020; Parallel Intersections "平行交接"with tropical steelpan musician Josanne Francis; From China to Appalachia - with Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, the project is newly selected for International Folk Alliance Artist and Tour Artist of the Mid-Atlantic Foundation;  Dots and Lines "点与线"with British American violinist Dave Kline. And she is a band member of the awarded world-folk fusion ensemble Project Locrea "樂创计划".  Chao is pursuing her Ph.D in Ethnomusicology at Boston University.


“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 with Dong Xi, and 2022 with Project Locrea.

  • Folklife Apprenticeship Program Grant of Maryland States Arts Council, 2021.

  • Emergent Seed Grant, Winner, Instrumental, 2021.

  • NextLOOK Artist Award of the University of Maryland, 2021.

  • Integrity: Arts & Culture Mini Grant, Winner, 2021.

  • The Washington Area Music Awards: Best World Music Artist/Group; Best World Music Song “Abet Abet” with Project Locrea, 2022.

  • Creative Grant by Maryland Arts Council, 2022.

  • Juried Artist of Music to Life, 2023.

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