My Experiences at Performances in Restaurants

By Regina Ngo
November 25, 2007

Regina Ngo Just last week and today, our group, the Six Golden Flowers, have been extremely busy, rushing from one performance to another. It just so happened that our group had two restaurant performances – one on November 17th, 2007 and one today – November 25th, 2007. From these two days, I learned an important lesson that a musician is required to know.

At these two performances, the environment was very noisy. People were talking, walking back and forth. Cell phones were ringing, babies were crying. It certainly seemed like everyone had something else to do except listen to us perform. At first, our group was extremely upset. At today’s concert, our last piece, It’s a Small World, got cancelled because the atmosphere was inappropriate for music. We were all tremendously distressed.

Right after the performance, we had class at Ms. Liu (by the nickname of “Teacher”)’s house. We told her of our experience, describing the audience as “awful.” However, Teacher simply laughed and taught us a simple lesson:

“It doesn’t matter if people aren’t listening. Just play!
Pretend that you are practicing.
Restaurants are the perfect places to see whether your piece is ready or not.
It doesn’t matter if people are walking around, talking, or even not listening to you. Just practice!”

After hearing this from Teacher, I felt so much better because what she said made me feel that our performance was not worthless. I was even happier that I learned something from it! This is a lesson that I will never forget.

CCTV Competition

By Celina To
October 20, 2007

The Six Golden Flowers entered the CCTV Competition, but we were really busy before competing. We first needed to record our songs in DVD and sent it to American Regional Committee and if they like our playing of Colors of the Wind and Ye Lai Xiang, we could enter the semi-final. However, if we also win the semi-final, we are asked to go to China for the final.

Teacher Weishan made her decision in recording the DVD at my house. It should fit about six gu-zhengs and we had the honor to have Elsie’s uncle to record us playing Colors of the Wind and Ye Lai Xiang. He’s from Hong Kong and I heard he’s also a professional with recording and photography. It was a lot of work to get the song right. Teacher used her judge instincts to tell us how she felt about our playing and she commented it was too flat. She didn’t like it until we played really lively. Everybody worked extremely hard for three hours straight and we didn’t get water, food, or shade from the lights. We all wanted to enter the competition to go to the China final.

Among over 190 candidates, we were picked to compete in the semi-finals on 10-7-2007. The CCTV competition at Santa Clara was devastating. I woke up at 6:35 to eat breakfast and prepared to go to Santa Clara with my parents and we didn’t get to go outside to eat lunch. We didn’t eat dinner till 11:00. The competition was fun, but it was very tiring. We played Color of the Winds and Battling the Typhoon in the semi-final and Butterfly Lake in the final. We all did pretty well, but Teacher said we could have done much better. One of my friends knocked off four bridges on my gu-zheng maybe because she was a bit nervous because it was her turn to play a solo in the competition, but I comforted her by telling her not to worry about it.

I grew a bit cold and stiff when the group was playing in the semi-final. I really don’t know why, but I didn’t warm up. Regina’s hands were really warm probably because she had already warmed up from her solo. Everyone was happy that we got into the regional final and winning ourselves a first place trophy. We cheered each other on and learned some of the techniques from other people who were playing in the competition. The next steps we need to encounter are the competitions over at China. China would be a real treat for our hard work, but I wonder how I am going to arrange the trip with my packed high school schedule.

We went to watch the My Dream Concert in the Masonic Theatre the same night after the competition and joined the disabled performers on stage for one of their shows. The disabled performers were really amazing. I can’t believe a guy who lost his two arms when he was five can actually do many tricks. The blind can play the piano, erhu, dizi, cello, and the yang gin. I’m sorry to admit it, but they are even better than many people without disabilities. It made me feel ashamed because we often complained how hard and how long we practice but there would be no comparison to the hardship these disabled performers had to overcome. It was a long but great day for all of us. I hope we all can go to China!

How Much I Can Learn in One Summer?

By Virginia Yan
September 15, 2007

During the summer of 2007, our regular lesson on Saturdays turned into as Ms. Liu Weishan (劉維姍)/Teacher calls it, ‘Summer Camp’. That would include Saturdays and Wednesdays for our weekly lessons. Throughout this summer, Teacher was giving us an extra lesson. After the long busy day, teacher still stayed up late until 11 pm helping us, the “Six Golden Flowers” (六朵金花), improve. Teacher had support and great enthusiasm for us; therefore I’d like to thank her for generously offering us an extra lesson. Thank you Teacher!

Every Wednesday of the summer, I would arrive at Teacher’s house at around 6:30 pm. I listened to our teammates, the “Six Golden Flowers”, play their solo; and their comments on good techniques and parts they could improve on. After learning new techniques or pieces, I must practice it again and again making it fluent without any mistakes. Later on, I have to play it with my feelings. That would include the crescendos and decrescendos.

At home, I practiced on the part that I needed to improve. I practiced 3 to 4 hours a day to make sure each note sounds right. From playing the pieces over and over again, I improved on my body movement and increased my feelings. Sometimes, I played for my mom when she cames back from work. She found my improvement when she listened to me. I was very happy.

During other lessons, we would decide which group piece we’d like to play. ‘Colors of the Wind’ (彩色的風) and ‘Three Years’ (三年) are some of the new songs we learned over the summer. When we practiced as a group, I remembered what teacher had mentioned before. She said that each of us had to do the same feeling and body movement. Although, we were six girls, we needed to show as one was playing the music. We worked as a team and cooperated with each other. That was the most important thing I learned.

Each time I went to performances such as at senior centers or private parties, I always got the audiences to applaud for me. After the performance, some of them came and complimented me on my playing. They prized my beautiful music and were surprised that I could play such high quality music at this very young age. Some of them even recognized my face and knew my name. I knew my music gave them lots of joy. I could tell from their cheerful faces that I had improved a lot. I really appreciate Teacher for teaching me so much during this summer.

I’d also like to thank my big brother, Eric Yan, for helping to put all of our performances on DVD’s and putting my solo piece, Jin Gong Mountain (井崗山上太阳红), on Youtube! Thanks Eric!

Over the summer, I’ve not only learned gu-zheng music, but also how to be a successful musician. I love you Teacher!!!

~Little Little 甄小趣

Practice and Journey

By Belinda Yan
August 24, 2007

One night after class, Ms. Liu Weishan, my teacher, announced that we were all going to China next summer. When I heard the news, I was jumping with excitement thinking this trip was going to be so fun. I knew that it wasn’t just fun and games and that we would be doing a lot of learning and maybe some culture exchange.

So, this year, I must work very hard to prepare myself to be ready when the time comes. We, The Six Golden Flowers, are going to bring our music and perform for the people of China. Our trip will be exciting and the reason we are going is to exchange the ways of learning guzheng. For instance, how they practice? If they are effective, I might as well learn from them. I happen to know that the Chinese in China are very dedicated to their guzheng if they want to learn it. They will start from a very young age and continue as they grow. I heard that they practice 8 hours a day everyday and this much practice will probably have great results. The people of China have more of an advantage because wherever they go there will be guzhengs everywhere. Over here in the United States, the guzheng is not as popular but is getting there. I want to spread this part of the Chinese culture. Therefore I must practice harder to reach the level they stand on.

As for right now, I must practice harder on all the songs I have previously learned and songs I am working on right now -- all our group songs and solos too. I usually practice twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. On total, I practice everyday for about three hours. When there are certain parts that need hard techniques, I play that part over and over again until I get it. After a long hard practice, I feel like I’ve accomplished a part of something that contributes to a whole piece. This way, I am certain to do better each time. In the meantime, I will arrange some American song into guzheng music. This is great challenge. I am sure I can do it with my teacher’s help.

Even though I work very hard on my pieces, I am not the only one who works hard. My teacher helps me with everything she can and I would like to thank her for giving us this chance to go to China to have more chances to improve our stage experiences and to view other people’s work. I would also like to thank my parents for letting me go and supporting me on this trip. Without their help and support, I wouldn’t have been able to go at all. I am really looking forward to this journey. So, thanks to you all.

My Experience at the 3rd CPAA Competition

By Elsie Woo
June 27, 2007

Elsie WooBefore I went to the competition, I felt that I was more confident with Yia Lai Xiang then Battling the Typhoon. I thought that we should have played Yia Lai Xiang. But when I found out that we had to play Battling the Typhoon, I was very shocked because I was planning to play Yia Lai Xiang the whole time. On the day of the competition, I was nervous and I was worried that I was going to mess up, but I knew that my friends were there for me and that we would play the song together.

Teacher had taught us so much for this piece, such as how we could play this song better; I thought that Teacher did her best teaching us and now it was our turn to show Teacher what we could do. I was determined to do the best we could.

"After all of the years that I have been with my group," I thought, "why should I be nervous?" I then let out all my stress and started to get ready with my friends. We all reminded each other about the parts that we practiced the day before the competition. I felt really confident after we reviewed the parts of the song. After we heard the other group played their song, I thought, "Wow! They were good!" Then, I thought, "We can do the same." Right after, it was our turn. We then set up our guzhengs and tuned them offstage as quickly as possible. Then, we walked to the stage, bowed, and looked at each other as though we were as ready and positive of how we were going to play. We all took a deep breath and we started. As we started, I felt that it was like playing at a regular concert. Near the end of the song, I thought that I messed up a little and I thought that I messed the whole group up. I was so upset. As we waited for the names to be announced, I believed that we all thought that we could have done a lot better. I thought that we were going to receive second place. Once the people announced the winner, I was listening see what we got. I heard that the Winnie´s group got Second Place, and then I thought, "Wow, we got first!" I was exceptionally stunned. After, I thought that we could have done better so I was not as happy as I could have been because we had some really small bits that could have been better. But the only thing is that without our group, we wouldn´t have gone this far.

Working with Liang Zhu

By Wanda Wang
January 21, 2007

wanda wang After I returned from six amazing weeks of root seeking in China, I decided that I just had to learn the famed violin concerto piece, Liang Shan Bo Yu Zhu Ying Tai, or Liang Zhu, or even "Butterfly Lovers", on the guzheng. Before China, I have to admit that I, unlike the rest of my group, was not impressed with the bit of the song I had heard at all.  (I understand, Regina, that Liang Zhu does not have vocals. I´m afraid you´ll just have to live with my misuse of the word.) To me, it sounded slow, boring, and awfully classical for my tastes. I, instead, liked the bouncy Butterfly Lake, with its many meshing parts.

Well, I'm not afraid to admit that I was wrong. Liang Zhu is beautiful and tugs at my heartstrings every time I listen to it. I enjoy all twenty-six minutes of the concerto, in fact. I even enjoyed it played on bells. So, I told my fellow guzheng player Belinda, who had also accompanied me to China, We are going to get that song from Teacher and learn it when we get back. Yeah, we'll do it together.

I didn't get the song as soon as I got back and resumed my lessons. When I meekly requested Liang Zhu from Teacher, she waved it off and told me it was too difficult. It wasn't made for the guzheng, you know. Fine, I thought. I guess I'll just have to OWN these other songs you throw at me until you give me the piece.

I didn't OWN those other songs, either, but I did discover Belinda playing Liang Zhu one day after practice. How did you get those sheets? I ask. To say that I was annoyed when she replied that Teacher had given to her would be an understatement. Belinda, my buddy who hadn't told me that she had had the song the whole time, redeemed herself by secretly copying them for me. We were smuggling music sheets!

Wow, was the piece daunting. I sat in front of my guzheng, seven pages on my music stand, and managed to clumsily play halfway down page one until I got stuck. What was this? A part to be played by my left hand that sounded like something my right hand would play? My fingers couldn't stay on the strings?

That day, with my family socializing in the kitchen without me, I was in the living room for almost two hours, first slowly playing the rest of the page with just my right hand, then adding the left hand, going even slower, fixing where certain notes matched in my ear. After that, I did it again. And after that, I played left hand part (the accompaniment) by itself over and over again until it flowed, after which I tried using two hands at once. Attention was paid to every single note. Over and over again, the same part. I wonder how the music (shall I call it music?) sounded to my family in the next room. When I was finished, I laughed triumphantly at the sheets and the instrument and exclaimed proudly to my parents that I had just OWNED that part. Then I played it again, fluently, and it sounded beautiful. That was, of course, page one.

The rest of the song went less painstakingly than that first page did, though I can't say it was much easier. I listened to Belinda play the entire thing just as, if not slightly more, clumsily after practices, and I worked on it a section at a time back home. I didn't rush to complete it, and of course, I didn't give up either.

I am probably not a very good model to follow in terms of practice habits. I don't keep a schedule (I've tried countless times and failed very quickly). I just play the guzheng when I feel like it, and I can feel like playing for ten minutes or two hours. As for work, I work until I feel satisfied.

However, let me tell you, for Liang Zhu, no one had to push me or tell me to play. I think that it was my love for the piece (yeah, I love it!) that made me want to work so hard on it. Not that I would call it work, if work is defined by how much one dislikes a task. I enjoyed every single minute figuring it out and translating it into real music.

Right now, all my practicing has slowed down. It's a little sad, but true. I've technically completed the piece, but there are many, many details I need to smooth out before I can even consider presenting it. I am lazy and procrastinate a lot. Here's one thing, though; I've finally finished one of those reflection journal entries Teacher has been nagging me about for the longest time!

Reflections Journal

Written By: Jennifer Mui Chan
Edited By: Alex Louie
December 1, 2005 , City College of San Francisco

Being able to play the Gu-zheng is a passion that every aspiring student pertains. I was able to demonstrate my flowing passion for the Gu-zheng this past Thursday. Through my playing I was able to spread the unique characteristics of Asian culture. In preparation for the concert I have practiced and practiced at home a long with many hours of practice with Alex and Jinna. At first it was a little frustrating because we had to determine who was playing which part and of course memorize the song. We had to play all together with no mistakes so we practiced for hours at a time and acted as if we were actually playing for a crowd of people at the concert. With so much practice I started to hum the tune at school. I felt confident that we would play our best and everything would be fine. As the day of the concert approached I believe all three of us were very nervous. As we watched the other acts, I felt that we had to be just as good or even better! Our time to perform came and I performed with all my heart, and decided to let the crowd disappear and play the best I could. Due to the nervousness and the immense amount of concentration I was overwhelmed and lost my place. But I quickly listened to Jinna and Alex and was able to pick myself up and start playing again. During the performance there was a lot of things to remember, such as smiling, moving to the music, but most essential, TIMING. After the song had ended, the audience warmly applauded us. While I was waiting for my mom outside people came up to me and commented on how well we played and wanted to know more about the Gu-zheng. Judging by their smiles, applause, and appreciation, I had realized for those two to three minutes we played, we were able to calm, and relieve the stress and anxieties of those in the audience. I felt as if we had accomplished the impossible. I thought the day of the concert would never come, but as the concert ended I found that there were a lot of things that were accomplished than just a great performance. After this concert, Alex, Jinna, and I had all become closer as friends, and shared the passion of the Gu-zheng in common. We had also learned that preparing for a concert with such few people is hard work that requires a lot of dedication. Throughout our journey to the day of the concert, we had learned more about each other and our passion more than we ever would without the Gu-zheng. In the end, I have realized it is not about being the best, but striving to do your best, and to learn from your mistakes.

Last Christmas I played a group song with my family. It was for my parent´s company Christmas party.

We first started off with the "Flower Drum Song" then it was solo time. I started off with the solo. The song that I played was "Market Day". I felt good because I didn´t make any mistakes. Next was my brother Justin who played "Paw Paw Patch". Finally my parent´s duet "The Longing". It was a very beautiful love song. My mom messed up a couple of lines but finally they ended together. They made it! It was the 3rd time playing on stage. They spent all their time working on the song. I´m so proud of them.

Roll Roll (Daphne), 9