When I was in the middle of writing my teen fantasy martial arts fiction novel a couple years ago, I often used youtube to find inspirational classical Chinese dance and music to help inspire me. One of my favorite videos was this one of Bei Bei, a classically trained musician from Chengdu China. As I listened to the enchanting music and watched the way Bei Bei dipped her fingers and glided them across the complex weave of strings, I thought “Wow, too bad this awesome musician is somewhere in China and I’ll never get to hear her perform live.” I thought the best I would ever get was little desktop Youtube concerts like this one. Boy was I wrong.
One day, when my novel was done and published, I was taking a stroll around my local neighborhood Vons and saw a shop next to the market that sold Chinese gu zheng instruments. Eagerly, I went in and struck up a conversation with the store keepers, admiring the intricately crafted instruments on display. I learned that there was a gu zheng teacher there, so after inquiring about her, I looked her up on the internet and lo and behold, it was Bei Bei, the same musician I had admired and listened to repeatedly on Youtube while writing my novel.
Amazed, I contacted her, and we’ve since become friends. Luckily, I’ve been able to enjoy many of her live performances, including some private performances (sweet!). I asked her where in China she had made this video, and she laughed and revealed to me that it had been filmed at Schabarum Regional Park, right in the heart of LA County. Small world.
Bei Bei is no amateur for sure. Aside from going to premier schools of music in China and winning a multitude of awards, she has been regularly releasing albums, both solo and collaborative, and she works on many collaborations that have helped to evolve classical and modern gu zheng music with fusion and adaptive styles. As a studio artist, she’s recorded music for the very successful reboot of the Battlestar Galactica series on the Sci-Fi channel. For a sci-fi geek like myself, that’s just an extra badge of coolness to say the least.
My love for classical Chinese instruments and music came from my mother, who not only encouraged me to study Chinese language, art, and history throughout my life but also signed me up for Chinese traditional dance as a child. I spent my preteen years performing to this type of music at community events and have developed a deep visceral connection to it. My love for kung fu movies and foreign films from Asia contributed strongly to this interest as well. One favorite fusion composition that my mom and I love (and apparently everyone in China loves it as well since it played everywhere we went in China when we visited) is the violin concerto “The Butterfly Lovers”. It’s based on the legend of Liang Zhu, a pair of star-crossed lovers. Zhu is a very intelligent daughter of a rich family who dresses up as a man to be able to go to school. She meets Liang, a poor but studious student, and the two fall in love. However, their union is forbidden due to class differences. “Butterfly Lovers” is performed beautifully by Bei Bei here on the gu zheng:
Happily, Bei Bei has opened her own music education center here in Los Angeles, Hacienda Music, so lucky for us, the Southland will have a growing number of young classical Chinese musicians who will, like their teacher, evolve this great heritage into something new for all of us to enjoy. I can’t wait.