Musical Notes Fill Hearts & Minds with Peace & Joy for the New Year 2024

Excitement flowed through the air as 38 students, 9 to 19 years old, gathered together to attend the 4-day, 3-night Winter Music Festival hosted by Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple's Buddha's Light Youth Symphony Orchestra (BLYSO)---Dec. 29 - Jan. 1, 2024. Participants traveled from across the United States, Canada, Germany, Mainland China, Taiwan, and Vietnam to merge, learn and play Western classical pieces and to interpret Buddhist music through harmonious performances. Their joyful accomplishments culminated in a special performance at Hsi Lai Temple's 'Prayer for World Peace Music Concert' on New Year's Day, which conveyed messages of peace and hope for the New Year through a fusion of Eastern and Western musical notes.

Formed in 1993, BLYSO, in its 30-year journey, has embraced Venerable Master Hsing Yun's philosophy of 'sounds from the universe unite everyone, spreading joy across the world.' The orchestra has focused on breaking language barriers, national borders, and racial divides by using music to bridge gaps during performances at various outreaching community events.

Students were welcomed by Ven. Zhi Xing—the guiding venerable of BLYSO—who emphasized the importance of systematic and teamwork-oriented performances, encouraged them to listen to each other to foster team coordination, and to learn the spirit of collective creation and the virtues of 'Three Acts of Goodness and Four Givings.'

Sharon Cheng, a senior volunteer of the orchestra, alongside her fellow member George Chen, both first-generation BLIA Young Adult now esteemed members of the BLIA LA Radiance Subchapter, played vital roles. Sharon, an annual planner and promoter of the Winter Music Festival, expressed deep aspiration to guide students from diverse races and religious backgrounds through music. Her daughter, Emily Chen, grew up in the orchestra from the age of 9; now 20 years old, she remains as a mentor.

“Here, we learn the etiquette of a concert, but more importantly we learn teamwork. Being punctual for rehearsals, listening to other sections, and following the conductor's cues, all of us are like small screws in a symphony. Only through mutual coordination can we play the most beautiful melodies,” eloquently shared Emily Chen.

Apple Lian, a student from Taiwan, attended the winter camp for the first time. Learning new skills with small-group instructors, and meeting older brothers and sisters passionate about music, Lian found it a place for personal growth and reaching higher professional standards. Looking forward to returning next year, she planned to recommend it to many friends.

Forrest Xiao, the orchestra's Concert Master, a sophomore at the University of California, Irvine, participated in the winter camp for the 5th time this year. Sharing his growth from sitting in the last row to now leading the first row, Xiao emphasized the development of musical skills, stage performance, and self-awareness brought him back each year.

Parents Michael Brucennert and Suzhen Ta from Germany, who visited Fo Guang Shan in Berlin and the main temple in Kaohsiung, had their daughter attend the winter camp for the second time hoping she would connect with the temple through these activities—learn music, boost confidence, and become a student who embodies the 'Three Acts of Goodness and Four Givings.'

Abbot of Hsi Lai Temple, Ven. Hui Dong, presented well-earned completion certificates and encouraged the students at the year-end New Year's Eve celebration to continue their journey with joy. He expressed gratitude to parents for entrusting their children to the symphony orchestra, highlighting the significance of the students' performance at the 'Prayer for World Peace Music Concert' on New Year's Day 2024."

Photo: Captured by Chih-Cheng Chang