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Composer Huang Xiaofeng makes his name with a concert, titled A Colorful Musical Journey, in Seattle in 2013.[Photo provided to China Daily]

A Chinese-American civil engineer turns composer in his

50s, mixing folk sounds of Northeast China with Western symphony, Chen Mengwei reports.

A Chinese-American composer holding concerts in Seattle or Beijing? Such events aren't as uncommon today as they were, perhaps, even a decade ago. But would you be surprised to know that the composer worked as a civil engineer for most of his adult life, only learning symphonic composition at age 48?

Meet Huang Xiaofeng, also known as Austin Huang, 58, the man who fuses Chinese folk music with Western classical symphony.

Huang held a concert at the Beijing Concert Hall on Jan 21 to celebrate the coming Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls on Feb 8.

The concert featured eight symphonies he wrote inspired by folk arts, such as errenzhuan, a song-and-dance duet performance popular in Northeast China and known for its grassroots appeal, while using instruments that are rarely seen in Western orchestra, like erhu, a two-stringed bowed instrument, and jinghu, a high-pitched two-stringed fiddle.

Huang's style is reflected in his songs. Kung Fu depicts Chinese martial arts that amaze Westerners; Havoc in Heaven tells the story of the revered Monkey King's most famous battle, taken from the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West; and Motherland, My Dear, Dear Mama brings out the longing of non-resident Chinese for the land of their birth.

"The melody just flew in, as if it came down to me from the sky," Huang says of the Motherland song.

Roger Briggs, Huang's mentor and director of the composing program at Western Washington University, says: "Austin is attempting to accomplish something very important - preserving the folk music of China (particularly northern China) through high art ... classical art."

As chair of the Pacific Northwest Cultural Exchange Council, Huang has organized many concerts featuring Chinese musicians and melodies in Seattle earlier.

Last year, he invited traditional Chinese musicians Zhao Cong, Chen Yue and Wang Ying to perform at the Greater Seattle Bellevue High Audi under the theme "Melody from China".

Ahead of that concert, Conrad Lee, a former mayor of Bellevue, wrote in a letter to Huang that better relationships and understanding to "further our mutual benefits including economic growth and collaboration for a better world for us all" came from such activities.

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