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Hillsdale voice instructor Melissa Osmond stands before a poster advertising her performance in Guanzhou, China, this past summer.                Melissa Osmond  | Courtesy
Hillsdale voice instructor Melissa Osmond stands before a poster adver­tising her per­for­mance in Guanzhou, China, this past summer. Melissa Osmond | Courtesy

Giving a style of music its debut is no small task. But if the dozens of roses onstage after the per­for­mance are any indi­cation, Melissa Osmond’s per­for­mance was a success.

Melissa Osmond, teacher of music at Hillsdale College, traveled to Guangzhou, China, this June to perform a soprano opera concert. The concert was, according to many audience members, the city’s first exposure to that style of Western music.

“They treated us like rock stars,” Osmond said. “There was a huge poster that said ‘World Famous Opera Singer!’”

Osmond and her husband Stephen, the music director of the Jackson Sym­phony Orchestra, were guests of the Chinese gov­ernment during a weeklong trip arranged by Stephen Osmond’s friend, Xie Min, the Jackson Sym­phony Orchestra’s con­cert­master.

Stephen Osmond said many people con­grat­u­lated the Osmonds for being the first Western con­ductor and opera soprano to perform in Guangzhou, the third-largest city in China.

Xie spent two years planning the trip, arranging for the Chinese gov­ernment to cover the cost. This included a dinner with the Min­ister of Culture, sight­seeing tours to Xi’an and Beijing, and showers of gifts wherever the Osmonds went.

“Every time we got to a hotel, it was like a scene from ‘Downton Abbey,’” Stephen Osmond said. “The car would pull up and there would be 10 people lined up to greet us and make sure every­thing was alright. We were treated like royalty. We’ll never have that kind of reception again.”

In their per­for­mance at South China Institute of Tech­nology, Melissa Osmond was fea­tured as opera soprano, Stephen Osmond as con­ductor, and Xie as vio­linist, along with other soloists and the uni­versity student orchestra.

The concert included a lot of Broadway music, as well as opera in the Western tra­dition, which was new for cit­izens of a country that has long been closed to Western influence.

Melissa Osmond also taught master classes to 16 opera stu­dents, only a few of whom spoke English.

Osmond described the expe­rience of teaching music through a trans­lator to Music Department Chair James Holleman.

“It’s often impos­sible to use the same metaphors to describe musical con­cepts in another lan­guage,” Holleman said. “She said that the music really tran­scended that barrier, though.”

Melissa Osmond said that music stu­dents and teachers alike thanked her for her expertise.

“The stu­dents sing with a Chinese style. It’s very forward.”

But as Melissa Osmond worked with the stu­dents, they opened up. She remem­bered her stu­dents saying, “‘Oh, that makes so much sense! That’s so much better!’”

Holleman said he was not sur­prised at the success of Melissa Osmond’s master classes.

“She’s great at helping stu­dents find their correct voice,” he said. “As a per­former teaching per­forming, she’s a great leader of our vocal area here at Hillsdale.”

Just as stu­dents learned from Melissa Osmond’s expertise in Western opera, Melissa Osmond’s expe­ri­ences with Chinese opera were infor­mative, as well. She visited a tra­di­tional Chinese opera, which includes acrobats, intricate cos­tumes, and a style of music very dis­tinct from Western music.

Both Stephen and Melissa Osmond appre­ciated the chance to learn about a new culture.

“They treated us with real warmth,” Stephen Osmond said. “It’s not that we’re super­stars, but it’s just a very wel­coming, civ­i­lized culture and society.”