Reylon is an inventive yangqin performer and songwriter creating an intersection between Chinese and American cultures
The Chinese yangqin (扬琴, pronounced “yahng-cheen”) is a trapezoidal soundbox with 144 steel strings stretched across it, which the player strikes with bamboo mallets. A descendant of the Persian santur, and cousin to various hammered dulcimers around the globe, the yangqin embodies cultural fluidity in a way that has always resonated with Reylon.
As a biracial Chinese American growing up in San Francisco, Reylon began learning yangqin as a way to stay connected to their heritage. They trained at the Central Conservatory in Beijing and has spent most of their unorthodox, eighteen-year career zigzagging between cross-cultural collaborations. In 2014, they became the first person from North America to compete professionally in China, where they won a silver prize at the prestigious Baotou International Yangqin Arts Competition.
As a yangqin player, I rarely find artist development programmes that I’m even eligible to apply for, so I am very grateful to be welcomed into the CMF community
Reylon has since introduced this rare instrument to the world stage. The 25-year-old Silkroad artist has performed internationally at venues such as TED 2016, Lincoln Center and Xinghai Concert Hall. They were featured alongside Yo-Yo Ma on the 2016 GRAMMY Award-winning record, SING ME HOME. In 2019, Reylon’s debut EP of traditional yangqin solos, SUN 陽, served as the soundtrack of the Sundance Award-winning short film, RENEEPOPTOSIS.
Having spent most of their career as a musical nomad, Reylon is beginning to build a home of their own. Their transcultural musicality guides listeners into a new Chinese American cultural space, beyond familiar boundaries of genre and geography.
Alongside their artistic practice, Reylon researches the ways in which people form identities and communities across cultural divisions. They have expanded on this work by co-founding the transnational artist collective, Tangram – a movement of composers and performers creating new music to transcend the China-West divide.
A 2016 Harvard College graduate and 2017 Marshall Scholar, Reylon recently completed two master’s degrees at SOAS University of London and Goldsmiths University of London. Their dissertations explored yangqin performance and soundscape composition as interfaces for materializing the transcultural self-in-process. He also hosts Make Sense, a podcast about how artists see the world.
Reylon hopes to inspire audiences to embrace multiplicity and discover their own nomadic paths by listening within. They believe that connecting with each other through music – and searching for meaning within ourselves – can help us create steadying threads of continuity in an otherwise fragmented world.