COLUMBIA- Chinese monks cloaked in black, white and blue robes greeted the Missourians in the monastery gardens.
The leader of the monk musicians, with a spiraled bun tightly woven atop his head, showed the band members into a room with traditional architecture, where Ironweed waited quietly.
“Slowly, monks carrying strange musical instruments started slowly appearing until all five members of their group were sitting across the table from us,” said Jane Accurso, Ironweed’s lead guitarist and singer in a blog linked to Columbia through MyMissourian.com. “The stares of curiosity were equal and respectful.”
Ironweed is a four-member bluegrass band from Columbia who have, according to the band’s Web site, “developed a long, strong suit of hard-drivin’ traditional and non-traditional bluegrass tunes.”
Band members visited a monastery in Mt. Laoshan on Sunday where a gathering between the group and monk musicians had been arranged.
The band arrived in Columbia’s Chinese sister city Thursday. They were invited to perform at the International Qingdao (Tsing Tao) Beer Festival, as well as at several other venues in southeast China by The Columbia Friends of China.
Mt. Laoshan, a famed Taoist Mountain on the Southeast coast of the Shangdong region, is formed by odd-shaped rock formations jutting out of the sea against a coast dotted with ancient pine trees outlining the Yellow Sea. It is located about 18 miles outside of Qingdao city proper. Qingdao, also called the Switzerland of the Orient, is a short distance away from Japan across the Yellow Sea.
At Taoism’s height, the mountain cradled nine palaces, eight Taoist temples and 72 nunneries.
Traditional Chinese instruments lie delicately in the monks’ laps as Jane Accurso, Dierik Leonhard, Jake Clayton and Alan Loshbaugh proceeded at their hosts’ request, pumping out two bluegrass songs for the group. The monks cocked their heads, looking on in awe and delight at the new sounds they were hearing.
For thousands of years, traditional Chinese culture treated music as a way to purify thoughts rather than as a form of amusement, according to China People Promotions.
When it was time for the monks to play for the American musicians, they held their instruments gently as they played from sheet music more than 2,000 years old.
“The sounds were mystical mixed with part pentatonic and whole tone scales,” wrote Accurso in a blog entry.
The Chinese and American musicians together exchanged stories about their histories as well as of the instruments they played. The monks showed special interest and “intrigue” in the banjo played by Dierik Leonhard and the whole group looked on as Dierik gently showed a particularly curious monk the fingerings of his five-string instrument.
“I still can’t believe that I taught a Taoist monk how to play the banjo,” wrote Leonhard on the band’s blog.