MUSCATINE — The Chinese New Year began Feb. 5, but celebrations welcoming the Year of the Pig will continue through Feb. 19, including an opportunity for Muscatinians to join the festivities.
This week, musicians from the Hubei Chime Bells National Chinese Orchestra and performers with the China National Peking Opera Company Troupe One will visit the city to offer a free night of performances, but music isn't the only reason the group will be here — they will also have the chance to experience the culture of Muscatine.
"We believe it will be a really great event," said Xiaowen Guo, a member of the Muscatine-China Initiative Committee which arranged the visit headed by president Dan Stein in coordination with the Consulate General of the People's Republic of China in Chicago.
Around 80 people will be met Wednesday on their arrival to Muscatine at China Garden restaurant by volunteers working with the committee. Performers will stay at the Merrill Hotel and Conference Center and in the homes of residents.
"And that's what they like best, even if they don't speak the language," committee member Sarah Lande told Muscatine City Council of the home stay tradition last week. "That makes us sort of unique."
The groups made a stop in Chicago, and will play in Detroit and California during their tour of the U.S. The only free performance will be in Muscatine. Lande said the Thursday concert is offered at no cost because of the hospitality Chinese President Xi Jinping received when he visited Muscatine. The leader first visited the city in 1985 with a delegation from Hebei Province researching agricultural technology. He returned in 2012 as then-vice president.
Guo said this is the fourth year performance groups have visited Muscatine because of the connection to President Xi.
"Although Muscatine is a small town," she said, "we provide them with a real taste of American heartland."
Lande said volunteers with the committee will take the musicians around town Thursday before the concert stopping at the Sino-U.S. Friendship House, 2911 Bonnie Drive, the Muscatine Art Center, City Hall, Muscatine Community College, Weed Park and the riverfront, with lunch at the History and Industry Center.
This year, performers will have an extra day to explore downtown and the riverfront while also sharing Chinese culture. The group will divide into two groups with one visiting some Muscatine schools and the other hosting an open house at the Friendship Center, 129 W. 2nd St. in downtown Muscatine, where performers will be available for questions about their art.
"Through these activities," Guo said, "we try to understand each other better as people and build the person to person relations, which go beyond politics and any country disputes."
The concert will be a highlight of the trip. The orchestra will perform the first half of the evening beginning at 7 p.m. Songs include "A Moonlit Flowery Night on the Spring River," "Ge Tian (Mystery Bird)," "Eight Sounds," "Jing-Chu Minor," and "The Silk Road."
The orchestra features traditional instruments that bring sounds of ancient China, especially its namesake, a set of bronze and stone chime bells.
According to a news release, the bells are exact replicas of bells discovered in a 2,500-year old tomb in 1978 in Hubei, China.
After a brief intermission, the opera company will perform in selections from classic Peking operas in traditional costumes and makeup. Troupe One from the company will dance, vocalize and perform acrobatics to instrumental music in scenes from "Divergence," "Palace of Eternal Life" and "Uproar in Heaven."
Lande has helped coordinate visitor stays from China over the years and has been to the country several times herself.
"Our leaders may disagree," Lande said to council, "but there are deep bonds of friendship between our people and that needs to stay strong. So, come out and enjoy."