Our Thanksgiving During the Pandemic (by Joan Huang)

I really like this quartet. Different ethnicities sing a song together: America, the Beautiful! This is my ideal America!

Thirty four years ago, I flew over the Pacific Ocean from Shanghai to Los Angeles, the colorful and multi-ethnic second largest city in the United States.  When I arrived the campus of UCLA, for the first few days, I was culturally shocked with the demography of student body since I came from a homogeneous country.  Little by little, students of various skin colors could gather in a classroom to discuss same subjects; could eat in a cafeteria with joy and laughter.  In our “Analysis of Western Operas in the Twentieth Century” class, my professor asked us to take out our own musical instruments and create multiple collective projects “From the Micro World to the Macro World”.  It was an eye-opener and a marvelous education.  Just within weeks, I immediately eliminated racial barriers and made friends with my white brothers, black sisters, and classmates from all other ethnicities.  Four years ago, I composed a nonet entitled Coalescence to express my personal experience towards he United States as a polyglot  country: “The inspiration of the piece came from my ‘Word a Day’ on my desk calendar.  It says: “…come together and form one mass or whole…”  US is a polyglot country, I’ve benefited from other cultural heritages through my own various experiences in this ‘Melting Pot’”.

The five movements in “Fusion” are: 1. Peking Opera (Asian) ; 2. Jungle Song (African); 3. Greensleeves (European); 4. Cockroach Blue (Latino); 5. Dancing with Sheep (Australian).

Like several of my other compositions, Coalescence is also my attempt by mixing Chinese traditional instruments and percussion instruments from all over the world together.  There are 5 movements, I’ve adopted 5 folk songs from 5 different continents: Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and Australia.  

Here is my Coalescence No. 4  “Cockroach Blue”

(Conductor: Frank Epstein, Clarinet: Alexis Lanz, Erhu: Tao He; Guzheng: Hui Weng and New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble)

Joan Huang: Coelescence No.4 “Cockroach Blue”

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November every year. This year is a very unusual year due to Covid-19, unprecedented. We have been quarantined at home for more than 8 months. Everyone on the earth has lost nearly a year of life.  Life is so precious. We can only move forward and never look back.  Just received an e-mail from a friend of ours: “I was hoping that with the end of the Chinese year of the RAT, the rats would jump off the sinking Trump ship and it would augur the coming of a new year, the year of the OX, a hard working and honest animal.”  I love my friends from all over the world!

The following famous oil painting on Thanksgiving comes from the legendary American painter Norman Rockwell entitled “Freedom from Want”: 

“The painting was created in November 1942 and published in the March 6, 1943 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. All of the people in the picture were friends and family of Rockwell in Arlington, Vermont, who were photographed individually and painted into the scene. The work depicts a group of people gathered around a dinner table for a holiday meal. Having been partially created on Thanksgiving Day to depict the celebration, it has become an iconic representation for Americans of the Thanksgiving holiday and family holiday gatherings in general. The Post published Freedom from Want with a corresponding essay by Carlos Bulosan as part of the Four Freedoms series. Despite many who endured sociopolitical hardships abroad, Bulosan’s essay spoke on behalf of those enduring the socioeconomic hardships domestically, and it thrust him into prominence.

The painting has had a wide array of adaptations, parodies, and other uses, such as for the cover for the 1946 book Norman Rockwell, Illustrator. Although the image was popular at the time in the United States and remains so, it caused resentment in Europe where the masses were enduring wartime hardship. Artistically, the work is highly regarded as an example of mastery of the challenges of white-on-white painting and as one of Rockwell’s most famous works.” (From Wikipedia)

 I remember I went his museum in Tanglewood when I was a composer fellow in 1993. It was such a memorable visit.  His style is realistic, humorous and vivid.  I love the way he portrayed the daily life of American people in colorful ways.  His paintings remind me of stage dramas and the figures on the painting come to live.

Thanksgiving is the biggest holiday in the United States and is equivalent to the Chinese New Year. As a multi-ethnic country, all immigrants from other continents are mostly thankful to the native Indians, who are the native settlers of America.

In 1621, a passenger ship “Mayflower” full of Puritans arrived at the colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was winter, and the new immigrants who came to the New World were hungry and cold, and fell sick and died. Gradually, with the help of the local indigenous Indians, the new immigrants learned to hunt, grow corn and pumpkins, and then have a good harvest. During the harvest celebrations, the new immigrants from Europe invited the native American Indians to thank God for the gift.

Therefore, since 1941, the United States has set Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November each year, with a day off, and Friday “Black Friday” usually marks the beginning of the Christmas gift shopping.

The weather in Altadena has been particularly good these days, the sun shines on the body as warm as spring. Look the sky, it is sapphire blue and the herringbone-shaped geese flying south. Taking Gigi hiking in the nearby Eaton Canyon National Park, I feel especially fantastic. It is the season with orange persimmons and oranges. Although the Covid-19 has reached its peak again, we have become accustomed to a quiet and isolated life at home.  For the past 29 years of our marriage, we have almost never missed the Thanksgiving feast of the family reunion of 30 people at the house of Bill’s niece Linda, then recent years at the house of Bill’s grand niece Kim.  Year after year, they were always memorable “turkey feasts” and we never forget. However this year the government does not allow family reunions. We can only celebrate the Thanksgiving alone, and the family reunion can only be achieved on Zoom.  We will celebrate the festival with our relatives and friends online, and be grateful for the free and democratic spirit of the American people!

Here is second movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, “Scene by the brook”, derived from this movement, I composed A Flowing Brook in Yunan.  Next Tuesday (12/1), the contemporary music specialist pianist Gloria Cheng will have her “My Windows”, she will be performing:

Lei Liang:from My Windows (2007):i. Tian (Heaven)

Ge Gan-ru: Ancient Music: i. Gong (1985)

Wang Lu and Anthony Cheung: Recombinant (2017)

Phyllis Chen: Hypnos (2011)

Chou Wen-chung: The Willows are New (1957)

Zhou Long: Pianobells (2013)

Carolyn Chen: Northern vs. Southern Lion (2020)

(world premiere, Piano Spheres commission)

Joan Huang: A Flowing Brook in Yunnan (2014)

Lei Liang:from My Windows (2007):iv. Pausing, Awaiting

the Wind to Rise…

Gloria Cheng’s Zoom “Symposium” with Her Composers

Although I have done various banquets, the Thanksgiving banquet is still a novice. In order to compensate for the lack of reunion with family members on Thanksgiving Day, I purchased beautiful Thanksgiving tablecloth, napkins and chinas for this atypical Thanksgiving Day.

Our table setting for Thanksgiving dinner.

I will cook a full set of “Thanksgiving Dinner” seriously. The advantage is that the leftover turkey can be used for many purposes.

Tonight’s “Turkey Feast” recipe will be listed as follow:

1) Lobster and Corn Chowder and Dinner Rolls

Lobster is among Bill’s favorite food.  The price has been reasonable recently. I will make this first mouthwatering course as the prelude to the scrumptious Turkey entry.  Every sip and bite was very enjoyable, dipping dinner rolls to the rich chowder while smelling the aroma rising from the oven. 

2) Maple-Ginger Roast Turkey

In the traditional Thanksgiving banquet, turkey is the main dish on the table, usually stuffed with a “stuffed belly” (a food mixed with giblets, bread cubes, various vegetables and seasonings). Then bake in the oven for several hours. Since there are only two of us, I bought the smallest turkey  possible (but it still weights 16 pounds). I will roast the turkey according to the recipe from Sheila Lukins’ cooking book Celebrate!

3) Referring to this short video, I’ll make a few more dishes:

4) Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie is essential for Thanksgiving. The local Indians taught the new immigrants to grow corn and pumpkins in early days.  During the harvest season, the new immigrants used their harvested pumpkins to make pies to thank the native Indians.

During Thanksgiving, which is different from previous years, we would like to be particularly grateful for the heroic dedications of the medical workers who are saving lives at the forefront of the epidemic.  Also, we’re thankful to the people who risk their lives in important positions such as supermarkets, pharmacies etc.  

We also should be thankful for the scientists who invented new vaccines.   Finally we will see the light at the end of  the tunnel.  Pfizer, Moderna and Astra-Zeneca are triple victorious stories!  They are really bringing the gospel to people around the world. The stock market has been full of joy for three consecutive “Mondays”. I think people in the vaccine-related industries such as our musician friennds, aviation, cruise ships, hotels, catering and other industries, will be smiling now, and the huge amount weight on their shoulders for more than 8 months will be relieved in the near future.

Happy Thanksgiving to our families and friends around the world! Knowing that the Year of 2020 is an extremely difficult year, but we believe after the cold winter, the spring will be auspicious, promising and blooming again!

I’m ending my blog with the Thanksgiving messages from our President Elect and Future First Lady.

Published by Joan Huang

I'm a freelance composer living in bucolic Altadena, the suburb of Los Angeles. Besides music making, I love cooking, drinking wines with friends, gardening, hiking and traveling.

2 thoughts on “Our Thanksgiving During the Pandemic (by Joan Huang)

  1. Dear Joannie, we love your generous spirit, and hope to re-united soon pending a blessed vaccine.

    Hugs to you and Bill
    Tuck and Doris


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