Alumna Christina Lai, BMus 2015, is back on campus this fall for exciting performances within the department, as part of The Process Series, and as a fellow with the UNC Asian American Center. These concerts explore stories of AAPI women, grapple with the rise in Asian hate crimes, and highlight the similar struggles we all face.
We caught up with Lai to learn more about how these concerts took shape and what other projects she’s planning for the near future.
UNC Music: Tell us a little bit about your Asian American Center Fellowship this year.
Christina Lai: Previous Kenan Scholar Ina Liu and I were fortunate to be selected for the AAC fellowship to further explore the narratives of Asian American Pacific Islander women through music and mixed media art. These past two years, we felt helplessness and fear for Asians targeted by hate crimes. Now, we’re just scratching the surface with these stories by Asian American Pacific Islander women. We want to share them with the community to help people connect with each other and to remind us not to alienate one another because of appearance. Ina Liu interviewed several women who reflected on their fears, traumas, and healing and we want others to understand that no one is alone. There are stories about being afraid walking in the grocery store, disappointment over the silence and lack of conversation, and confusion over identity. AAPI women have struggled and are still struggling with polarizing stereotypes like the model minority stereotype including myself and we hope to inspire everyone to create their own narratives.
Our concert [on November 18 & 19] will feature segments of these interviews read by actors, music written by Asian women composers, Liliya Ugay, Emily Koh, Kyong Mee Choi, and Melissa Hui and artworks created by Ina based on her reflections of the music and interviews. We hope that this interdisciplinary work will reach different people in different ways because there isn’t only one way to understand our feelings.
UNC Music: How does your recital with Pedro Maia fit into this?
Lai: The recital with Pedro Maia [on Monday, November 14] is just another way to share the stories of composers from diverse backgrounds. We’re sharing the stories of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and female composer Sofia Gubaidulina through their music. Music from the traditional Classical canon is important to study and listen to, but Pedro and I believe it’s important to also learn about other cultures’ sounds and colors. When you learn about diverse cultures, you discover that we are all more similar than we think. The pieces we chose also have themes of discord, desperation, and danger, which relate to some of the issues AAPI women brought up in their stories. People can all feel the same types of emotions just in different situations. If people can understand this, we would all be more open-minded to each other.
UNC Music: What prompted you and Ina Liu to create “The Meditation” for The Process Series this year?
Lai: Ina Liu and I were brought together by the Kenan Scholar program in 2011 but it was amazing that we were able to connect in so many other ways, through love of travel, music, science, and dance (We were both on UNC’s Moonlight Dance Crew). After our undergraduate years, we individually developed our passion for social advocacy; my passion for music education and hers for health advocacy. In the wake of the Asian hate crimes incited by the pandemic, we became more and more interested in the way the community was responding and how we were affected by our Asian upbringing. We went back and forth sending Instagram posts and interviews on YouTube that talked about Asian trauma. When I brought up the possibility of collaboration, she didn’t even hesitate to agree. Only through UNC can you find such open-minded friends.
UNC Music: What upcoming projects or gigs are you most excited about in 2023?
Lai: I’m excited to work with Korean composer Eunseon Yu, who I commissioned to write a solo piano work reflecting on the Asian hate crimes. I hope this is a new channel for me to process and interpret how much fear and misinformation exists in our communities. I’ll also be collaborating with Memphis, Tennessee’s Iris Collective with concerts focused on engaging the community in storytelling aspects of music.
UNC Music: What advice to current UNC Music students do you have to give?
Lai: Practicing your craft is important, but I would encourage students to search for their own purpose and to focus on the process and not the result. Whether it’s to educate, to create, or to learn, we should find ways to communicate, collaborate, and listen to one another. I think that’s one of the reasons why life is so beautiful because we have this opportunity to be with one another and it’s a waste if we don’t seize it. If we don’t let go of trying to prove ourselves to others, it becomes difficult to invite people to listen to us and to collaborate with others. Once you let go, then you can begin enjoying the process. I’m still in the process of finding my own truth but I’m glad I’ve started.
See Lai with Pedro Maia on Monday, November 14 at 7:30 pm in Person Recital Hall (free) and with Ina Lui on November 18 & 19 at 7:30 pm in Kenan Rehearsal Hall (free).