Playing Out an Extraordinary Life on the Piano

November 27, 2013
By Lu Zhongguang and Lin WeibingEditor: Amanda Wu

Playing Out an Extraordinary Life on the Piano
Elaine Wu is part of the first generation of Chinese pianists. [China Culture Daily]
Elaine Wu is part of the first generation of Chinese pianists and has pursued a music career for the past eight decades.

Born in Shanghai, she began practicing the piano at the age of 6 when she was found to show a strong interest in classical music and piano. One year later, she won the first prize at a children's piano competition in Shanghai.

After winning the prize, she went on to study under the world-renowned Italian musician and piano educator Maestro Mario Paci (1878-1946) who was then working as a conductor for the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.

In 1949, her debut public performance of Beethoven Piano Concerto No.1 with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra earned her critical acclaim. From then onwards, she devoted all her energy and enthusiasm to her music career.

After working as a concert solo pianist and chamber music performer in the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra for a few years, she joined the Central Philharmonic Society of China and moved to Beijing in 1954.
 
She took to Beijing's much broader platform like a duck to water. She often put on performances all over the country and even in many foreign countries, including Poland, Denmark, Indonesia and Burma. In 1962, she was conferred the status of national first-class pianist.

Driven by her desire for further music education, Wu went to the Chautauqua Schools of Music in the United States in the mid 1980s to study the art of piano performance under Ozan March (1920-1992), president of the American Pianists Association. She completed her studies with distinguished results.

In 1993, Wu was invited to teach piano playing in Singapore. She settled down in the country and has been living there ever since. She has acted as a piano accompanist for many choirs.

"Music is alive and powerful. It can guide people to the right path," says Wu. Aside from music, Wu also has a deep love for the arts, including literature, art and philosophy. She says that knowledge of these subjects have enriched her music and added depth to her performances.

Wu not only enjoys the joy that music brings to her but also makes painstaking efforts to nurture young musical talents in Singapore. She puts the new teaching methods she learned in the U.S. and her experience in playing the piano into practice when teaching her students.

Wu believes empathy plays an important role in the process of learning music, so she focuses on fostering children's feelings for music and helping them immerse themselves in the music they create rather than forcing them to practice for hours every day. Wu also encourages senior citizens to learn how to play the piano and she takes part in various piano parties for senior citizens.

Nowadays, she has students everywhere, with the oldest aged 90, and many of her students have earned Grade 8 Level diplomas from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), an examinations board and registered charity based in London which provides examinations in music at centers around the world.

The cover of Elaine Wu's second album A Generation of Master 2 [dayoo.com]

The cover of Elaine Wu's second album A Generation of Master 2 [dayoo.com]

Although she is well-versed in Western classical music performances, Wu always has a strong sense of her Chinese origins. Aside from conducting piano performances and teaching, she has composed and arranged numerous Chinese piano music scores, including the well-known Butterfly Lovers, Cantonese-style Entertainment and Red Guards of Lake Hong.

Under her hands, the piano is not only a musical instrument but also a platform for her to express her feelings for her motherland. Her piano performances show an excellent mastery of delivery and always impress the audience with their unique expressiveness.

In 2008, 78-year-old Wu released her first personal album titled A Generation of Master 1, a collection of her musical masterpieces. In August 2013, she released her second album, A Generation of Master 2, with full support from her fans. Nine pieces of music in the album, which showcase Chinese piano music, created a stir in the music circle, and have been described as 'Chinese sentiment expressed through a Western music instrument'.

Famous sound recordist Yang Siping wrote a passionate article after completing the live piano recording, saying, "The album is by no means music from a Western missionary but music with a beating Chinese heart. This kind of music is alive and pure with each note beating like a fragrant dewdrop on a lotus leaf."

Nowadays, 84-year-old Wu often travels alone to share her music with people from around the world. The grey-haired lady still has a radiant smile and a child-like innocence that touches people's hearts and ingratiates her to many. Every day, she plays the piano, sings songs, reads books, practices calligraphy, chats online and updates her microblog, enjoying a full and happy life.

Despite her old age, she is in robust health and high spirits and she ascribes her strong vitality to music. She firmly believes that literature and art can make a city more elegant, society brighter and a nation more civilized.

(Source: China Culture Daily and blog.chnmusic.org/Translated and edited by womenofchina.cn)

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