Confucius Institute trip inspired new album from TROY professor

TROY music professor Dr. Carl Vollrath poses with a piano. (TROY photo/Mark Moseley)

TROY music professor Dr. Carl Vollrath poses with a piano. (TROY photo/Mark Moseley)

A trip to China made such an impact on Dr. Carl Vollrath that he wrote an entire album based on his experiences.

That album, “Warrior Monks,” was released recently and features two clarinet concerti and a trumpet concerto inspired by Vollrath’s trip with the Troy University Confucius Institute to China a few years ago.

“It was enlightening,” said Vollrath, an accomplished musician who also teaches at TROY. “This was the first time I’ve been to China. I kept telling people when I returned that the only word that described my impression was ‘overwhelming.’ You’re dealing with probably the oldest civilization that’s still in existence, so they have a lot of tradition to draw upon.”

Vollrath found himself taken aback by the fact that, contrary to most Americans’ assumptions, China has many different regions that think and behave differently.

“We think of them as being unified, but there are so many different people who live there,” he said. “Beijing was the first city that we stayed at, and it never seemed to end – skyscraper after skyscraper. It makes New York City, where I was born, look almost like a little country town.”

During the trip, Vollrath was treated to a performance called “Warrior Monk” that included music, theater and acrobatics.

“It was about a young boy whose mother was giving him to an old master to be trained as a warrior monk,” Vollrath said. “The young warrior monk-to-be goes through many different stages, and the musical story was about him growing and maturing. The warrior monk is much like a priest – if you’re going to dedicate yourself to this thing, there is no room for familial responsibilities, because your duty is to the people you serve.”

Vollrath became fascinated by the music in particular – how it married western and eastern music in a unique manner.

“I was thinking they would use traditional Chinese music, but it was a modern composer who wrote the music for this,” Vollrath said. “I was very impressed, and it got me thinking about taking western thought and music, which I’m familiar with, and bridging it with eastern thought. I feel that the world today needs to learn how to do that. We have to realize others think differently, and we need to respect their thoughts, and if there is something superior in our thought, they will absorb it, but it shouldn’t be forced on them.”

The first clarinet concerto, titled “Dragon Land,” developed into three movements – “The Last Emperor’s Palace,” about the Palace Museum in Beijing; “Summer Palace,” about a beautiful palace on a lake that was used as Chinese emperors’ summer home; and “The Warrior Monk,” based on the show Vollrath witnessed.

The second clarinet concerto, “The Land of Lanterns,” focuses on the mystique and mythology behind lanterns in Chinese culture.

The final concerto, a trumpet piece, is titled, “And Bugles Sang.”

The three parts of this concerto — “The Birth of a Warrior Monk,” “Forgotten Graves” and “Tales of an Aged Warrior Monk” – came together as a result of inspiration from both the original “Warrior Monk” show and an unlikely source: the television series “Person of Interest.”

“I was watching the show ‘Person of Interest,’ and in there someone says, ‘Eventually, all criminals are punished, except when there’s mass killings and bugles play,’” Vollrath said. “I thought about that and that’s what the piece is about. The trumpet represents so many different ideas. Bugles are used to get the troops up, (they’re) used to send people to bed, used to mourn the dead, (used) for taps and in jazz, just to name a few. The trumpet probably has more symbolism than any musical instrument I can think of, and I tried to insert that in this piece.”

The trip made an impact in the life of Vollrath, and that impact can be heard on the new album, which can be purchased on Amazon and other online retailers now.