Artist of the month: Shirley Wu

Sophomore Shirley Wu has played the Guzheng, a traditional Chinese instrument, since the third grade. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY SHIRLEY WU


by Lily Bermel

Sophomore Shirley Wu must tape fake nails onto her hands in order to practice her instrument, a Guzheng or Chinese Zither.

The Guzheng is more than 2,000 years old. The 6 foot wide instrument is hollow, with 21 strings, and can be played with either one or two hands.

“First of all, it’s a very old instrument,” Wu said. “There are also very traditional songs that have been passed down generation after generation that are played with this instrument.”

Wu started playing the Guzheng in 3rd grade, a time when she was really interested in her Chinese background and culture.

“My mom was like, ‘pick an instrument to play!’ I was like, ‘ok, let’s pick a traditional Chinese one,’” Wu said. “So I just picked that one.”

Wu said playing the Guzheng has made her appreciate Chinese culture more because the instrument is very closely connected to Chinese history.

“If you play the Guzheng, you can play the music and understand the culture of different places,” Wu’s private lesson teacher, Shin-Yi Yang said.

Wu’s mother, Lihui Xu, said in an email that Wu is very good at presenting the meaning of Chinese culture on the Guzheng.

“That is very outstanding for a youth who was born and raised in US,” Xu said.

The Guzheng originated over 2,000 years ago. Many traditional songs are played on this instrument. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY SHIRLEY WU


According to Xu, Wu always works hard in her studies of the Guzheng, whether she plays alone or with others.

“She becomes an excellent team player when she plays with the group, and competitive when she plays solo,” Xu said.

According to Yang, Wu’s energy, enthusiasm and patience are all important qualities for playing the instrument.

Wu said she tries to practice the Guzheng for an hour each day when her forearms are not too sore from ensemble practice. She plays for the Boston Guzheng Ensemble, the only Guzheng ensemble in New England.

Yang founded the ensemble in 2002. She has been playing the Guzheng for almost 30 years.

“We found the Boston Guzheng Ensemble because we hoped a lot of people would know this beautiful instrument. I hope Shirley can keep playing this instrument,” Yang said.

Wu said she can imagine herself playing the Guzheng throughout the rest of high school and hopes to continue to play in college.

“I’ll probably take a break,” Wu said. “But if I come back, I will probably keep taking lessons with my teacher.”

Lily Bermel can be contacted at [email protected]