Effort, Passion, and Guzheng
By: David Fuller
My name is David Fuller, I am a senior at Alfred University and have been involved with the Confucius Institute at Alfred University (CIAU) for about 2 years. My experience with the CIAU has been extremely influential not only for me, but for my Mother as well. I have been playing Guzheng for 2 years now, under the instruction of CI Director Wu Zhongbei (Daisy Wu). I can honestly say that I have never felt more like I belonged than when I was learning with the Confucius Institute, be it Guzheng, Tai-chi, or just stopping by to say hello.
I first started playing Guzheng in the Fall Semester of my Sophomore year. I had met Daisy at a retirement party for an administrative assistant at the College of Business. There was no tension or unease, simply jubilance as she spoke, and this overwhelming positivity was largely what led me to join the Guzheng class.
I fell in love with Guzheng from the first day I played. It is an instrument responsive to any emotion or experience you tell it. Every time I played it was like colors flooding out of it, I had never experienced anything like it.
The College had one practice room for Guzheng, and I spent a great deal of time there. Beginning with Blossom and The Rainbow Sisters, I got to play to my heart’s content.
Through the CIAU, I had access to not only the practice room, but also a great deal of tape, picks, and music scores which made the learning process so much easier. But Daisy in particular was responsible for my growth. She did not push me to grow as much as she made me want to push myself. For every ounce of effort I put in, she put in a liter. I remember once when we first got the sheet music for Cheerful Clouds Chasing the Moon, she played it for us at the end of class and I instantly fell in love with it. Although to be honest, everything Daisy plays is magnificent.
At this point I had gotten a habit of whenever I was feeling down on my luck, I would go to the Guzheng practice room and play until I felt better. That night, at around midnight, I went to the practice room and practiced Colorful Clouds Chasing the Moon until dawn, trying as best I could to emulate Daisy’s performance the day before. I remember at 7:30 am, despite being exhausted and my fingers sore, I was so joyful and proud that I had, for the most part, learned the whole piece. In my excitement fueled by sleep deprivation, I sent Daisy an email:
“Dear Professor Wu, I’ve been practicing the piece: Colorful Clouds Chasing the Moon and I think I’ve mostly got it. Is there a time we could meet this week to clear up any mistakes?”
I had expected, at most, a list of times she would be available in response and I certainly never expected her to respond so early in the morning. But as I was picking up my things to return to my dorm for a power nap before class, I got a response. Not a list of times she was available. Not an admonishment for my impatience. But instead:
“Are you still in Miller (the music building)? If so, I will meet you there at 8:00 and we can go over the piece”
It was incredible, that a professor would, at a moment’s notice, come to help me practice so early in the morning. We went through the piece, going over any rough spots and some unfamiliar notations in the score, and by the end of that session, I had learned the piece. Of course, this effort on her part only spurred me to push myself harder. When the semester had ended, I had found a new hobby, passion, mentor and self-professed “China Mom”, and two particularly wonderful new friends named Sheng Lin and Tan Yang.
Looking back, if the Confucius Institute and the student exchange program had one resounding characteristic which made it special, it would be the overwhelming positivity spread by the staff, faculty, and students. I have never felt more welcome or cared about than when I work with them. And that’s because they don’t care about my looks or my wealth or any of that. They are all hardworking, passionate individuals, and that’s all that they asked of me.
And with that rallied support, effort, and passion, I came to learn the piece Evening Songs on a Fishing Boat. Now, I never expected anything long-term to come of my Guzheng class. It was a wonderful experience, but I never thought it would be more than a class once a week. That is, until Daisy offered me the opportunity to go to the 2019 New York Chinese Instruments International Competition in NYC. There I got to play in my first ever instrumental competition and won gold in my age group and bronze overall with a score in the high 90s.
Of course, Daisy, being the amazing mentor she is, had no intention of only giving me one amazing opportunity. That Fall, two other students and I went to Washington, DC to perform with Daisy at the National Press Club for the Confucius Institute Gala. It turned out to be one of the greatest moments of my life. In a room of individuals representing the highest echelons of society I felt incredibly out of place. I was just a kid from the middle of nowhere, and now I had to perform at an event where they had cheese wrapped in spinach? Which tastes amazing by the way, but nevertheless I was terrified.
The piece came to an end and there was a moment of deafening silence. Then one person started clapping, and then another. Soon the whole room was on its feet. To this day I can’t describe how I felt at that moment. Shocked? Elated? Fulfilled? Whatever it was, it was incredible and without Daisy and the CIAU, it never would have happened.
But it still wasn’t over. The Alfred Tai-chi group which is sponsored by CIAU had been invited to China for the Tai-Chi festival. I had planned to go and bring my Mother as my plus 1. Unfortunately, I ended up getting mono and having to miss the trip, but my Mother was still allowed to go. I’m still not sure what happened in China, but my Mother came back as a changed woman. She changed her diet, became more motivated, and now, less than a year later, she has lost 40 pounds, is writing a novel, and according to her, she feels better than she has in decades.
The CIAU didn’t only change my life for the better, it changed my Mother’s. As I’m looking towards graduation in less than a month, I will certainly miss everyone and everything I have come to know through the CIAU. Over this last year I’ve continued playing and have even written my own piece for Guzheng. I have no intention of stopping either. I have decided to buy a Guzheng of my own. I want to continue playing, learning, and someday I hope to teach it to others.
As someone with autism, I went to college not so much for the higher education aspects, but to learn how to be a person. To learn how to communicate, how to interact with others, and to grow into my own person. While I have made progress in those areas, I’ve found that Guzheng lets me communicate more clearly than any sentence, phrasing, or facial expression I can conjure. To the CIAU and all the wonderful friends I’ve made through it, I can only say thank you, you’ve given me so much and I’ll never forget you.
Confucius Institute at Alfred University
David Fuller is a recent graduate from Alfred University. He enjoys reading and has played Guzheng since College where he learned the instrument under the tutelage of Professor Wu Zhongbei (Daisy Wu). Right now, he’s working on starting his own tutoring business in Tennessee but is considering moving to China or Russia someday.