"I frequently believe that artists should be good at self-recognizing, know how to positively interact with others, and also give back to society through their artistic work. As a result, I believe that I have some responsibilities, including the preservation of my heritage and the obligation to pass on the traditional arts of this new land where I have arrived.
The instrument that I play is a type of hammered dulcimer which probably originated in the Middle East about 900 A.D. It spread across North Africa and into Europe from there. And around 500 years ago, someone brought this instrument to China via eastern coast trading. It is unknown when the first hammered dulcimer was introduced to America, but the earliest reference to its use in this country could back to the year 1717.
The hammered dulcimer has spread throughout the world and has been extremely successful in blending with local culture and music in various countries and areas. The hammered dulcimer, in my opinion, is a musical instrument rich in immigrant culture. Chinese dulcimer developed a Chinese musical dialect as it merged with indigenous culture. As an immigrant, I brought this musical dialect to America and developed an understandable accent while improvising with various musicians. It has significantly aided me in breaking down musical language barriers. I’m bonded with this fact, and in this country, the American hammered dulcimer itself, has the most connections with the musical tradition that I studied for. These connections extend beyond the instruments themselves, as Chinese folk music shares some styles and performance form with American folk music.
With the world's rapid development and the constant emergence of new art forms, any traditional art form may be replaced or fade away. Its preservation must be carried on continuously, in a succession of generations, and I want to be one of the inheritors. Now I'm learning the American hammered dulcimer with Karen Ashbrook with the support of the Maryland State Arts Council. Aside from learning the tradition, I enjoy improvising on it and incorporating Chinese musical styles.
From China to Appalachia is another American Folk music projects of mine that embodies heritage and innovation. The collaboration with Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer introduced me to the world of Americana music. Learning those beautiful old-time tunes, ragtime, waltz, stories behind the songs, and instruments that they play enriched my knowledge of American folk music and made me feel a part of this tradition.
I hope to introduce more people to American traditional instruments and music, particularly the Chinese American community here, so that the younger generation can carry on this tradition. In addition, I plan to use the resonance of the Chinese dulcimer and the American hammered dulcimer to build more cultural bridges between China and the United States."
A ghaoil, leig dhachaigh gum mhàthair mi (Improv.) - Chao Tian
Liberty - Playing the Hammered Dulcimer
Folklife Apprenticeship Program - with Karen Ashbrook
Visiting the Hammered Dulcimer Builder in West Virginia
August Flower - Chao Tian and Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer
High On A Mountain - Chao Tian with Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer
Dark Eyes - Chao Tian and Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer
RUBY - Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer with Chao Tian
Pig Ankle Rag - Chao Tian with Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer