the second day Zhang was in this country, she ran into Frank
Tao at the Chinese Culture Center, with whom she exchanged
notes about the local Chinese music scene. Tao later introduced
her to members of Jumping Buddha, and she’s been a part
of them since.
with Jumping Buddha, Zhang has performed at various festivals,
giving world music performances at Bay Area venues, school
workshops, and on radio programs such as KPFA 94.1, KKUP
and KALW 91.7.
Zhang, playing in America is very different than in the
Chinese orchestra. “When I play with Jumping Buddha, I learn
to play with my heart,” she says. “In the orchestra, you
are controlled by the conductor. But here when I play with
Jumping Buddha, it’s freer, I can do my own interpretations
of the music. I pay more attention to creativity ... I think
that’s the advantage to playing here in the U.S. There’s
more room to be an artist.”
in a musical family with one sister who’s a violinist, and
another who’s a vocalist, Zhang began her musical training
young with her father Zai Zhong Zhang as her first formal
teacher. “My father is a lover of music more than anybody
I know. He played erhu very well ... My father’s dream was
to play the erhu as a professional musician,” she remembers.
started erhu lessons when she was ten years old. She remembers
her father riding the bicycle over many hills to take her
to lessons. After class, he would take time to explain the
mistakes made during the lessons on their ride back home.
Looking back, Zhang attributes her achievement to the pivotal
influence her father had on her in the early years. “I really
appreciate my dad. If he had not done this, I would not
have achieved this, even [if] I had the talent. Nobody knows.
I really got a lot from my father.”
1977, at age 17, Zhang was accepted by the Central Conservatory
Junior Division in Beijing China through a highly competitive
audition process that weeded out a thousand applicants for
just one position. “I was so shocked. I couldn’t believe
it,” she recalls. “I went through three auditions to get
accepted into the Conservatory ... My father was so proud
he told everybody. Now everybody from my home town Zheng
Zhou in Henan Province knows about me.”
two years of studying under the famous erhu professor Liu
Zhen Hua, Zhang graduated with honors, and earned the privilege
of studying at the Conservatory College Program. From 1980
through 1984, Zhang studied under the nationally acclaimed
professor Lan Yu Song at the Department of Chinese instruments
of Central Conservatory of Music, earning her Bachelor’s
Degree in Music in 1984. “The [deepest] impression I have
of the Conservatory is that it is very difficult to find
a practice room. Everyone is on a schedule. Everyone wants
more practice,” Zhang says.
graduation, Zhang became a member of the National Traditional
Orchestra of China. She performed with the orchestra for
12 years from 1984 to 1997, touring within China and abroad
throughout Asia. As a soloist, Zhang was featured by the
Beijing Radio Broadcasting Station, one of the largest radio
stations in China. Additionally, Zhang has performed erhu
with traditional ensembles touring throughout China, Singapore,
Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the United States.
has had her share of hard times as well. When touring throughout
China, the orchestra would be on the road daily, two to
three months at a time, visiting rural towns and villages
where the sound system was poor and the group had to set
the stage up themselves.
in 1984, Chinese people liked pop music and Western classical
music. Chinese music was not popular ... Sometimes I felt
so disappointed by their reactions,” she admits. “But I
feel the progress of Chinese music since then. Later, as
orchestra music became more and more famous, people liked
us more and more. Now it is really hot.”
back on her career, she has only one piece of advice to
give: “My most important lesson is to forget yourself. Don’t
be selfish when you play. Don’t think about the audience.
Get into the music. That’s most important.”
a maturing artist, Zhang’s favorite erhu music is the “Leisure
Poem” by Liu Tian Hua, who she considers a true erhu master.
A leading music scholar in the 1920s who developed the erhu
into a professional instrument, Hua wrote ten erhu pieces,
each one a unique expression, some of which Zhang will play
in her upcoming concert.
Poem” sounds like a lone scholar, reflecting on his nightly
walks in the moonlight in China while considering his course
of life. A thoughtful soul-soothing piece, which Zhang interprets
with refined and clear artistic detail on her album, the
song ranges from festive playful moments to lonely nostalgic
thoughts in the night. “His music has real character,” she
points out. “[He doesn’t work] just people’s emotions. He
presents the artist’s thinking with his music,” she says.
think erhu is a worth-while instrument to put your energy
into,” Zhang says. “It’s not just about technique. Erhu
music has a lot of room to grow.” She adds: “It is the main
instrument in Chinese music, and China has a long history
of culture. It’s good to know a lot about Chinese culture
through learning erhu. Some things about the Chinese soul
you cannot learn except this way.”