Janice Shiu’s Musical Constant

Posted in Identity

Her fingers pluck at the gu zheng (古) with care, each string vibrating as she plays a traditional Chinese folk song. The melodic sound of the stringed instrument is a calming escape from the hustle of school.

For Senior Janice Shiu, “the music is very relaxing and it’s an artistic thing to do.”

Senior Janice Shiu performing on the five-stringed gu-zheng

Senior Janice Shiu performing on the gu-zheng

As Shiu continues to move her fingers along the horizontal strings, she is reminded how much of a constant the instrument has been in her life. Shiu began playing ten years ago after her parents encouraged her to take up the instrument. Everyday after school, Shiu devotes at least an hour to playing the gu zheng.

As she works her way through a particularly challenging part of the folk song, Shiu relishes in the challenging combination of the physical and mental aspects of playing. As Shiu plays on, her teacher Liu Wei Shan’s philosophical words of wisdom flitter through her head.

“Playing is like a mountain. When starting at the bottom it is easy, but becomes increasingly more difficult as you reach the top.” These words gives Shiu an extra push of encouragement to get through the difficult part of of the passage.

“It’s something that’s been in my life for a long time, and I’m self motivated to do it.”It is Shiu’s motivation to overcome challenges along with love of playing that have make her such a great artist. One year at a merit competition, Shiu received an almost perfect score along with distinction. A visiting professor from China personally praised her skill.

“It’s not a Koto,” Shiu jokingly answered when asked what she wanted people to know about the gu zheng. Because of its flat wooden surface, the gu zheng is often mistaken for the similar looking Japanese Koto. The gu zheng is an ancient Chinese instrument, dating back to before the Qin Dynasty and gaining widespread popularity during the Tang Dynasty. It is commonly heard in traditional Chinese music, some of which Janice plays for recitals and festivals.

Some of her memorable performances include playing at a San Francisco Symphony Hall Pre-Show and at the San Francisco Chinese Cultural Center. Shiu, along with her ensemble, have also played at numerous Chinese Street Fairs.

“With a lot of homework, it is hard to practice as much,” Shiu said sadly. Janice has been able to juggle a heavy workload with playing her instrument for her past three high school years without having to compromise either one.

“I would keep playing if I could,” Shiu said on playing in the future,“but I don’t know how I’m going to play in college.” The gu zheng is a long instrument, with eighteen or more strings. It is “too big and too loud,” to fit in a dorm. While Janice is unsure about how she is going to play when she goes away to college, she is hopeful that the instrument will remain a strong part of her life, in one way or another.