Saturday, August 12, 2017

Daisy Wu, A Teacher in Alfred

ALFRED: Some people can be defined with a single word.  Daisy (Zhongbei) Wu, Associate Director, Confucius Institute, and Visiting Associate Professor, Performing Arts Department, Alfred University has a long title but can be described with one word - teacher.
          Teachers often aren’t given the status they deserve.  Being a teacher isn’t simple, not for a serious, dedicated teacher. Wu seems to be such a teacher, a person whose heart and mind work together deeply to make the best presentations possible for her students.  She has pride in their achievements and says she learns as much from them as they do from her. They talk of cultural and music, speaking with words as well as with the vibrating strings of the guzheng, a stringed instrument developed nearly 3,000 years ago in China.
          People find their way to Alfred through various routes. Wu told me that she was born in central China at the end of the Cultural Revolution. Her parents were educated. Her father was a scientist, a chemist and concert master in an orchestra. Her home was filled with a sister, her mother’s tai chi and her father’s music.
          From tender years, she played piano and sang but when she was 9 her father decided that her life would be richer if she studied the guzheng. Her fingers and her voice enveloped the instrument, charming audiences. She won national and international awards for her performances while still a child and though she thought she would follow her father into the sciences he urged her to attend the Hunan Normal University music program.
          Wu’s father told her that music was good for her and she was good for the guzheng. He was correct. After earning an advanced degree, Wu had a successful career teaching music at Hunan University of Commerce and as a guzheng performer but then her world was reshaped by the birth of a daughter, Candy, and shaken by the sudden loss of her honored father in 2008.  Her sadness was intense. She felt that doors had closed on her world.
          In 2009, her husband, Edward Zhou, professor of accounting at Hunan University, was given a 1 year scholarship for study and research overseas and he thought that if the family moved to the US it would involve so many changes, distractions and demands that Daisy would find her sadness leaving her while new windows re-opened her world.
          Wu agreed to a temporary move to the US with her family so asked for a leave of absence from Hunan University. That was when she became aware of the Confucius Institute.  The Confucius Institute created opportunities to teach Chinese culture, art and music overseas. In particular, the CI at Alfred University needed a teacher and, since it offered a Business School where her husband could study, it sounded just right. 
          It’s been a perfect fit. When Daisy arrived on November 10, 2009, Dr. Wilfred Huang and his wife drove to the airport and brought everyone to Alfred. She had just a day to settle in because on November 12, she was scheduled to make a presentation at Nevins Theater, a presentation made daunting because it would be in English.
          In China, students study English from grade 7 through college but studying English and speaking it aren’t the same. Because she is a dedicated teacher, she spent hours practicing her presentation and was bolstered by the warm reception given to her that day in Nevins. People understood her and enjoyed her music.
          Alfred has felt like home from the start. She found friends, important work, membership in the Union University Church and a Montessori school for her daughter, a toddler at the time.
          At the end of that first year, she performed at a Chinese New Year Gala in Alfred and then in 2010 began teaching beginning guzheng to her first 7 students. The guzheng program has grown and students can take both beginning and ensemble level courses in guzheng. Traditional Chinese music has a 5 note scale and is written in a different sort of notation using numerals, dots and lines but contemporary Western music can be performed on it also.
          Daisy Wu spent 5 years teaching at AU under the umbrella of the Confucius Institute but is now a Visiting Associate Professor in Performing Arts. In these years, her husband has earned a PhD from Rutgers and Candy has attended Alfred Almond School while studying piano, violin and clarinet.
          Daisy Wu’s students have blossomed.  Under her tutelage, they memorize the music. She said, “If you don’t rely on the paper, all the music comes from your heart.”
          As evidence of her superior teaching skills and her spot-on philosophy, a trio of her students won the gold medal in the 2016 Chinese Instruments International Competition in New York. The trio, Brandon-Charles Miller, Tiffany Pham and Richard Lopez, were complimented on their technical skill but more than that for their ability to interpret the story behind the piece they played, The Warrior.  These gold medal winners were the only contestants who were not Chinese and didn’t have a life time of experience in the Chinese culture.  That’s impressive.
          Brandon-Charles Miller told me that Daisy Wu is his second mother and that she is a wonderful teacher. She is not strict but students feel the need to please her because she makes it clear that what they do is important to her. She has many ways of explaining things to students so that no matter what a student’s background or problem, she finds a way to make each person understand.
          Daisy Wu is an internationally recognized guzheng master but in Alfred she is much more. She is the teacher.

BOX: The Confucius Institute is a non-profit, public educational organization affiliated with China’s Ministry of Education. The aim of the CI is to promote Chinese language and culture and promote cultural exchange. The program began in 2004 and operates with affiliate colleges and universities around the world with the majority in the US, Korea and Japan. There are also Confucius Classroom programs that work in secondary school to provide teachers and instructional materials. One goal is to promote the Chinese language.

Search on Youtube for Zhongbei (Daisy) Wu to hear her perform traditional pieces as well as her original compositions.
Here are some links.

Alfred University Guzheng Ensemble:"Swordsman"

Zhongbei Daisy Wu 《Water 水 2015》on Guzheng 

Guzheng and Guqin: Layghing Over the Blue Sea


Ebay and Me

WELLSVILLE: For years ebay has been my online classified ad/auction/shopping website. Now it seems more like The Story Corp.
                Rick and I must undergo a serious possession reduction. We have too much stuff. We have a clay studio, a cabinet maker workshop and a metals construction area. All three areas are filled with “needed” tools, machines and materials, recognizing that “needed” is a flexible word ranging from that-is-so-cool to required-for-production but just yesterday Rick really did need the welder to fabricate a part for the lawn tractor.
                Rick is finishing the thorough rebuild of our 1939 Chevy and is still designing and building furniture for our family. After that, he can start divesting. I am emptying closets, chests and drawers. Ebay has functioned well, finding buyers for our singular items but it has also been giving us stories.
                This started flurry of sales started 3 weeks ago with a shawl. I listed it for $10 and described it haltingly since I didn’t know how I got it, had no idea what the fabric was and couldn’t tell how old it was but could say that the work was wonderful, the fabric was soft and fine and I thought it was my mother’s. Someone bid on it right away deeming the listing a success.
                After a couple of days the bid was up to $40. Fantastic. I found a shipping box for it and waited. Well, my eyes popped when someone bid $203. How old is that shawl? What’s it made of? Why is it so valuable? Answers unknown and story untold, the shawl went to Germany.
                Shortly after that, there came an interesting story from Patricia in Texas. She had a photo of her mother as a bride and a granddaughter who liked and wanted Grandma’s wedding dress. The problem was that all Patricia had was the photograph of the dress so she started searching images of antique wedding gowns on ebay and chanced upon a picture of my mother in the same dress.
                While I, at times, optimistically search ebay for a lid to that candy dish or another one of those bamboo Exoffico travel shirts, my optimism was less than that required to try to find an 80 year old wedding gown. Lucky for me and her granddaughter, Patricia’s found the dress and purchased it. She only paid $34 for the dress and will likely spend much more to clean and alter it but she is on her way to the desired wedding dress, 12 foot train and all. Nice for all of us.
                A piece that we mused about now and again over the years as it has hung in the closet a pair of stars and stripes jeans. Rick lived in Ubon, Thailand during the Vietnam War and decided that some Easy Rider style jeans would be great motorcycle pants. A tailor made the button fly jeans in dark blue corduroy with applied red stripes and white stars on the pockets.
                Each belt loop was  a work of art made of 2 stripes each of red and blue corduroy, woven together and stitched in place. The craftsmanship of the jeans is admirable. Rick likely paid $20 for them and wore them often. One pant leg still has 1970s chain grease firmly embedded.

            Would anyone what such a pair of jeans? Snappygal wanted them as did Retrolover but a gentleman named Richard, living in New Hampshire, wanted them more. He needed them for his collection of 1960 and 1970 era clothing. He is creating a museum featuring clothing from those decades so he searches for such objects on ebay regularly. Richard’s interest had a value, $177. While that seems a lot to me, people pay more for cookie-cutter denim jeans with designer labels.
                Richard also purchased the jean jacket that my sister embroidered for me. The center of the back has a rose drawn in ball point pen and embroidered only on one petal when she put the project aside something near 40 years ago. The red thread was in the pocket so I sent it all along so that anyone so inclined might finish the stitching.
                Joy, in Michigan, now owns my mother’s circa 1940 nursing cape. She didn’t pay a lot for it but she gave us a story full of pride.  
                As a child in the 1970s, Joy read the Cherry Ames, Student Nurse Series.  The series included 27 books written by Helen Wells or Julie Tatham between 1943 and 1968. The successful goal of the series was to steer thousands of girls into nursing. At the time, nurses wore white caps, dresses and shoes and Joy wanted to “be Cherry Ames” or at least to be a sister nurse in white.
                Joy said that her childhood was difficult and when she graduated from high school in the 1980s, she wasn’t able to go to nursing school but chose to become a nurse’s aide to work with others dressed in nursing “whites,” a uniform she saw as a badge of honor, now replaced practical scrubs.
                Joy is now in school to earn a Nurse Aide license, a step toward her dream of a nursing degree.  She knows that her school had, in the past, recognized graduates with a capping ceremony so she researched the ceremony and used ebay to find a WWII era Nurse Aide uniform. She found one complete with a photo of the person who graduated in it and even has that woman’s textbook with handwritten study notes. Now she also has my mother’s cape and a photograph of my mother wearing it.
                In October, Joy will host a traditional nurse capping ceremony in which both she and her daughter will be capped. She will wear the full outfit and carry the mementos of the women who originally wore both uniform and cape.
                Going further, she plans to volunteer in a small museum in her town. School children meet museum members who dress in period attire to bring history to life for them. Joy will be among the volunteers, wearing her uniform and telling children about what she calls “the proud and noble profession” of nursing. I suspect that some children might even hear about Cherry Ames, Student Nurse.

Detail of the back of that shawl.