Derek Hayes file photo                                Dancers perform during the 2013 White Rock Moon Festival.

Derek Hayes file photo Dancers perform during the 2013 White Rock Moon Festival.

Bridging cultures through music

White Rock Moon Festival to take place this Saturday and Sunday on the waterfront

Older generations of Canadians will remember Red River Valley – an old-school country and western song well-known through revivals in the 1940s and 1950s.

Even though it’s been popular in the U.S. since the late 19th century, it’s a genuine Canadian folk classic, the origin of which has been traced by modern researchers to the prairie provinces in the 1870s, around the time of Confederation.

But how many here know that it’s a song as popular – if not even more so – among generations of more recent Canadians born and raised in China?

Just ask Mia Chao, co-founder and organizer of the multi-cultural White Rock Moon Festival, which returns to the waterfront this weekend for its fifth year – she’s known and loved the song since she was a child in Shanghai.

That’s why the plaintive old ballad, played by guest band March Hare, will take pride of place in opening ceremonies for the Moon Festival (with MC Gordon Hogg), which begin at 7 p.m. Saturday, along with the traditional sing-along of the even older Scots classic Auld Lang Syne, emphasizing the festival’s continuing theme of unity, world peace and love among all nations and cultures.

Just as annual celebrations of the moon – an ancient Chinese tradition – have counterparts in all cultures, music is another bridge of mutual resonance, Chao told Peace Arch News.

“Music is a miraculous thing – no matter who you are, whether you’re poor or rich, no matter what colour you are,” she said.

“(People from China) remember Red River Valley – it’s a very beautiful song. When I was very young, in preschool, it was very important to us, and when we grew up, it was one of the things that made me say ‘I want to go to Canada,’ some 28 years ago.

“Even if younger generations of Canadians don’t know the song, we want to bring it back,’ she said.

Music has continued importance throughout the festival, including the popular ‘Beauty Cheongsam’ (QiPao) dance performance on the pier – which will be festooned with some 200 decorative lanterns over the course of the two days.

The fireworks display (at around 9:15 p.m. Saturday) will also be accompanied by music, while other performers over the course of the festival will include classical soprano Cristina Zhang and classical tenor Denis Mayer Jr., as well as veteran Chinese star Zhao Jun Ting and Vancouver pop singer Tong Wu.

Highlighted performers will also include Binbin Huang and well-known young White Rock pianist and vocalist Ben Dunnill.

In addition to a two-hour set by versatile dance, party and special-event band March Hare on Saturday evening, Sunday’s events (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) will feature a set by nine-piece band Big City Soul, starting at 1 p.m. featuring trumpeter (and Semiahmoo Secondary band program teacher) Kevin Lee.

Family-oriented activities on Sunday, overseen by Peace Arch Hospital Foundation, include face-painting for children, Chao said.

The festival is sponsored by the City of White Rock, and hosted by the Canadian Community Service Association, Vancouver-White Rock Chinese Arts Centre and White Rock-based World Unity Society of Canada.

“We appreciate every culture, not just Chinese,” Chao said.

“We want to inspire people who are new to Canada and also people who have lived here many years. “This is a Canadian festival, promoting peace, love and friendship forever.”