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Music » Sound Stories & Interviews

Journey to the Orient

MarchFourth Marching Band fill unlikely role as U.S. ambassadors to China

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Forget about Dennis Rodman's goodwill tour of North Korea; that was nothing more than tabloid fodder. Portland's giant marching band MarchFourth (M4) just returned to the states after completing a two-week U.S. State Department-sponsored exchange to improve relations with China.

As unconventional as it may seem to have an American marching band playing at universities and art centers, consider that it was table tennis tournaments encouraged by President Nixon in the '70s that first opened up communications with China. Nearly four decades later the cultural rifts between the two largest economic powers remain large. Perhaps a massive group of brass musicians, drummers and stilt walkers can help lay a few planks in the bridge between the two.

"Our intention is always to cause a crazy party, get people to throw their hands in the air and dance and yell," said band stilt walker Aaron Lyon in an interview with the Source. "Part of the uniqueness that helped us do that [in China] is our composition of an international language through music and dance."

M4 has gained traction as a national—and international—touring act as a result of goliath shows that can spill out into the crowd with costumed stilt walkers and fire dancers. A bright brass section flits atop taut drums and a bevy of other instruments, like bass guitar and crashing cymbals, rocketing shows into momentous performances glued together by band leader John Averill. Translation: Even in China this group was irresistible.

"People told us the crowds would be reserved and wouldn't be expressive," said Lyon. "When we got there we found that it wasn't true. We were offering something unique that they hadn't seen before, and it was great to see thousands of Chinese people break through a kind of bubble and celebrate the moment."

According to Lyon, the performers all took their roles as ambassadors very seriously.

"I do a little bit of emceeing during our shows, and I wanted to have something prepared for the Chinese people," continued Lyon. "One of the things I will generally ask the crowd is, 'Are we having fun?' So I learned how to say sort of the equivalent in Chinese. The literal translation was actually something like 'Are our hearts so open that we are enjoying our time together?' I always got a great response. People would come up to me after the show and tell me how well I said it and that they really appreciated it."

MarchFourth Marching Band

8:15 pm Friday, June 21

4 Peaks Music Festival

About The Author

Ethan Maffey

Both a writer and a fan of vinyl records since age 5, it wasn't until nearly three decades later that Oregon Native Ethan Maffey derived a plan to marry the two passions by writing about music. From blogging on MySpace in 2007 and then Blogspot, to launching his own website, 83Music, and eventually freelancing...

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