WATCH: ‘When Percussion Strikes’: Educator helps connects Chinese community with their music, culture

Brent Roman leads Cheng Da Drum on the opening of “Rhythms of China" on Saturday afternoon at Ping Tom Memorial Park. (Hanzhi Chen/Medill)

By Hanzhi Chen
Medill Reports

Brent Roman is a multi-instrumentalist specializing in percussion. He considers himself a percussionist, music director, educator, sound designer and world music specialist. With his many titles, he developed his understanding of percussions, Chinese music and the meaning of being an educator.


[The drum team plays the drums]

ROMAN: I’m younger than them. And I am not Chinese. But I’m trying to teach them Chinese music. And I am teaching them about their culture.

[TITLE: “When Percussion Strikes”]

ROMAN: My name is Brett Roman. I am 42. I was born in Illinois. I think I’ve been very musical my whole life. But officially since the fifth grade is when I first started percussion lessons, till now.

[Roman plays the drum]

ROMAN: You know, an interesting thing about percussion, which sets it apart from all the other instruments in the world, is that percussion really, as a family, is the only instrument family that you play without touching it. All the other instruments out there, it’s really tactile.

But I think, you know, every culture around the world has percussion. Not every culture has saxophone, not every culture has violin, right? And so I think it’s sort of a unifying way of interacting with all the different cultures around the world. So I think that’s kind of why I’m attracted to percussion specifically.

[TITLE: “Encountering Chinese Music”]

[Roman plays the drum]

KERRY LEUNG, Chinese musician and educator [translated to English]: The first impression of him was that, “What, a non-Chinese knew how to play the dulcimer?”

I’ve known Brent for around 20 years. Many years ago, we were together for some performances. I have met some foreigners interested in Chinese music, but compared to Brent, they were not so fully knowledgeable about Chinese music.

ROMAN: Officially I started learning about Chinese music when I got to college. And I went over to China to study music at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where I studied Yangqin (hammered dulcimer) and local, traditional percussion music. And then after that, you know, I was teaching the Chinese drum team and working with the Chinese Finance Society of Chicago and being their musical director and putting a couple of different ensembles together. And I still do Chinese music to this day.

[TITLE: “Being an Educator”]

ROMAN: It’s interesting, too, that, you know, when it comes to my Chinese drum team, I’m younger than them, but I’m their teacher. And traditionally, in China, there’s, you know, there’s a respect that comes with age, right? But then there’s also respect dynamic that comes with a teacher and a student.

[Roman plays the drum]

ROMAN: So I’m younger than them. I’m trying to teach them about their culture. But the weird thing is, it’s like they’re finding out about their culture from a non-native person. But I think we’re living in a time in the world where that can happen, right? It doesn’t matter who you are. If you studied it, and you have a passion about it, then you can share that knowledge and passion with anybody. It doesn’t matter their age, their sex, their creed, their religion, you know, their country of origin. It doesn’t matter like everyone’s a teacher and everyone’s a student. Just depends on where you go for your information.

Hanzhi Chen is a Media Innovation and Content Strategy graduate student at Medill. You can connect her on Linkedin.