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Instrumentalist helps people understand 'Celestial Beauty' of Chinese pipa

Updated: 2019-07-16 16:11:30

( Women of China )

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Wu Man. [Photo provided to Women of China]

As an internationally renowned instrumentalist of the pipa (a plucked string instrument with a fretted fingerboard), Wu Man for decades has spared no effort in promoting the traditional Chinese musical instrument throughout the world. Given her virtuosity and collaborations across disciplines, she has been nominated several times for the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (with orchestra) and Best World Music Album. Her performances, with musicians from various countries, have captured the hearts of numerous music enthusiasts from around the world.

Wu, who has lived in the United States for the past 29 years, often misses the "good old days," when she drank tea with her friends by West Lake (in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang province), accompanied by soft pipa tunes.

Born into a family of art in Hangzhou, Wu lived, when she was a little girl, in a compound inhabited by families (of art), whose members worked for Peking Opera troupes, song and dance troupes and academies of fine arts. Influenced by her living environment, Wu developed an interest in performing arts during her early childhood.

In 1977, Wu was admitted to the Central Conservatory of Music Middle School, in Beijing. Her score for pipaperformance ranked first among candidates in the country. From 1981-1987, she studied at the Central Conservatory of Music (in Beijing), where she became the first recipient of a master's degree in the pipa(in the country). Then, she began teaching at the school. However, she was not satisfied with the "stable life." In 1990, she traveled — alone — to Los Angeles (LA), to pursue further studies in the pipa.

Wu felt lost when she first arrived in LA, as most Americans, who had never seen the pipa, were not accustomed to the musical instrument. As she struggled to adapt to her new life, Wu performed, in her spare time, in communities and primary and middle schools (in LA), to help Americans understand the beauty of the pipa. At the same time, though, Wu felt as if she were in music heaven, because she was able to study various genres of music, including jazz, musicals, electronic music and rock and roll, to her heart's content.

To help Americans understand the beauty of the oriental musical instrument, she has, for the past three decades, played the pipa during numerous musical performances, including recitals and symphony and chamber music concerts. As a result, many Americans have become Wu's fans. As Musical America (the oldest American magazine on classical music) noted, "She is the very model of a modern soloist, but more importantly, her work is part of a big step in the evolution of Western classical music. Thanks to her, the pipa is no longer an exotic curiosity, let alone a complete mystery."

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