Fujianese Provincial Brass Band Traditions of Chinese Immigrant Musicians in New York City: The Chinese Voices

Keywords: Fujianese, Chinatown, Chinese Music, Funeral Music, Chinese Immigration, Transnationalism, Urban Ethnomusicology, Brass Bands, National Music


This article focuses on the Chinese Voices Wind Orchestra. Fujianese brass band musicians immigrated to New York and changed Chinatown’s musical soundscape. The bands perform mainly inside or on the street outside of funeral parlors on Canal and Mulberry Streets. Their profession is mainly that of a funeral musician. They also travel to Philadelphia or Washington, D.C. for rites. They accompany families and decedents to cemeteries to play special repertoire. After the burial they perform songs of prosperity at receptions in restaurants. They maintain a wide repertoire of funeral songs and national marches. Funeral performances are a hidden music tradition performed at a sacred place for a sacred function, not intended for the public. Passers-by though observe bands performing outdoors when a coffin is brought to the hearse. There is a display of music and drama at this moment, for bands’ sounds transform the Downtown neighborhood into a Taoist aura. Bands came to perform adjacent to traditional Chinese instruments and at funerals as early as 1908, during the late Qing Dynasty influenced by the European imperial tradition. Today Chinese brass bands are transnational, and Fujianese bands bring the genre of a European brass band to New York in a Chinese interpretation of nationalism. 

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