WHO IS DR. KATHY WANG?
Traditional Chinese Instruments, Gu Zheng and Gu Qin
Dr. Kathy Wang plays a traditional Chinese musical instrument, the Guzheng. It is a 21 stringed instrument, which is played by plucking. The standard instrument is 64 inches long, tuned in A major on the pentatonic scale. The Guheng’s large, resonant soundboard is made from wood, either Paulownia, Rose, or Sandalwood.
Kathy is also a medical doctor, with specialties in endocrinology and traditional Chinese medicine.
“I grew up in a culture-oriented family, daughter of professionals in medicine and education. Because we respect the traditional Chinese culture, we often educate the children with music instruments, Chess, reading and arts. Music and medicine are strongly related. Music is always a very important part of traditional Chinese Medicine. We use music to regulate the five elements of a person to strengthen the person’s health.
At the very beginning, when I was young, I learned to play a GuQin, a 7 stringed traditional Chinese instrument, which we consider to be the father of all the musical instruments of the World. In China, during the Great Culture revolution era, all the musical instruments had been banned – prohibited as being “bourgeoisie.” The best that we could find through my parents’ contacts was a student version of the Guzheng – but without bridges. My piano teacher’s tuning technologist hand-made one set of Guzheng bridges for me to help me be able to learn and practice. I only learned from reading ancient books that an instrument like this existed. I had never seen one nor had I seen anyone perform it.”
In addition to playing the Guzheng, Kathy is also an accomplished pianist. Regarding her traditional instrument, however, it was her parents and a teacher from the National Central Conservatory of Music who most particularly influenced her practice of the more traditional instrument, the Guzheng. Born in Beijing, China, during the cultural revolution time, her mother was a singer. Her father played the Er Hu, and her brother also had a very special voice and loved to sing. The practice of her forbidden music gave her family a lot of happy times and she has many good memories of her childhood.
“Music is not only part of my early life, it will be with me for always and ever. Music is my love. It gives me happiness for all my life. I love the light from the children’s eyes when they see my instrument. I love the smiles on the Nursing home residents when they hear my playing. I adore the enjoyment of visitors walking past me in the flower Garden show. And the thing that is the most meaningful to me – is when my patients feel better when they hear the music played by me. I make new friends with the music I play to them.”
In her journey with the Guzheng, after 2-3 years of basic skill practice, she started to be able to perform some “not very difficult pieces.” From there, she continued to learn and improve. Today, after more than 50 years of practice, she feels she still has a lot to learn, both with regard to techniques and new music. She is especially studying how the instrument developed from its original culture, and how it evolved as a result of the influence of western music. She says that different techniques are required now with the ideas learned and exchanged from many western music instruments.
“My instrument has a history going back more than 3000 thousand years. In ancient times the guzheng was only owned and practiced by the high officials and scholars. Later, it was gradually adopted by the general population. Even further on, it has gone out of the Gate of the Country – eventually even combining with western musical instruments. For example, I often now play my Guzheng with instruments like the Theremin and drums, and with wind instruments such as clarinet, flute, and more. In modern culture, you can see sometimes 100 Guzheng playing the same piece on the same stage. I have even seen some players join in a Jazz group.
As for me, yes, as one part of the Chinese art and culture, my instrument performance has been accepted by different cultured background people. We always say: music is an international language. Through music, you can speak in different languages, and you can understand and be touched by the same piece of music. This is why you will often see me with my instrument in local libraries, in nursing homes and hospitals, at community events, colleges and museums, and on my international travels.”
As a teacher, Kathy considers teaching her instrument to be a vital way to give her culture a means of continuation, to spread the peace, and to help people to understand each other. Her continued aspirations are to inspire more people to communicate with and understand each other through music. She wants to heal more patients through music; to lead more young citizens to be more responsible for helping their local communities grow stronger. She hopes that through music, she can help teach more people to understand the purpose of our life, use music to connect with each other – to avoid discrimination and weapons, and to keep the world in peace.
INTERVIEWS & PERFORMANCES
WVIA Keystone Edition Interview with Kathy Wang about returning to her native China to play music that was forbidden during her childhood there.
A musical tribute (introduction in German) to one of China’s most revered poets, honored virtually during Covid 19. Kathy is the musician on the right of the performance screen.