Meet the artists of Traditional China, A Cultural Celebration

Lai Ma Gates was born in Shenyang, China into a family of musicians.  At the age of five she started learning the pipa, also known as the “Pear-Shaped Lute” or the Chinese Guitar, with her father, and later, piano and composition.  After graduating from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, Lai Ma became the performer, pianist, arranger, and composer for The Premier Song and Dance Troupe of Beijing.  In 1992, she won “Hei Long Bei” National Composition Competition in China.

In 1996 she joined The Phoenix Chinese Art Ensemble as concert master and pipa soloist.  Their group performed at the Phoenix Chinese Cultural Center during Chinese Week, New Year celebration and the Asian Festival.  She also visited Valley schools to introduce Chinese culture, music history, and the Pipa as an instrument.

In April of 2006 she was invited to perform as soloist with the New Moon Orchestra of Pittsburgh at Carnegie Hall.  In 2007, she had the opportunity to have her own concert for “World Music” in Phoenix.  Recently, she joined the Pangean Orchestra as soloist and will perform in concert at Phoenix Symphony Hall.

Besides her Pipa talents, Lai is a very active pianist in the Valley.  She was the on the first piano teacher team for “The Well-Prepared Pianist Institute” concert held January 2003 in Tempe.  Later she performed with the same team at the ASMTA Conference Concert held in June at Salt Lake City.  In August of the same year she performed with her friends in the “Sentimento Piano Trio” in Chandler.  The concert consisted of a rendition of Beethoven in E flat Major, Debussy in G major and Shostakovich Piano trio No.1.  In May 2008, Lai and her sister Li along with ASU jazz musicians played an exciting piece called “Bolling’s Suite” for cello and jazz piano trio, a beautiful combination of classical and jazz.

Lai is currently finishing her studies at ASU and will receive her Masters in Music Composition this spring.

Sabina Fu is a professional musician who grew up in Hong Kong. Her instrument is the guzheng, or Chinese zither, an ancient stringed instrument that dates back 2500 years. She began taking classes under several renowned teachers while still a child. Sabina Fu obtains diplomas of guzheng performance issued by Central Conservatory of Music, Shanghai Conservatory of Music and Shenzhen Art School.  She performs flawlessly on the guzheng, bringing to life beautiful melodies with their never-ending charms.

In 1990, Sabina joined the Chuen Ying Guzheng Ensemble as a performer and also a guzheng soloist. She began teaching the guzheng in 1993. In over twenty years, she has taught many students. She puts great emphasis on their basic training and makes every effort to obtain for them invitational education with a view toward developing their artistic talents.

Sabina’s students have won many awards for excellent achievement in graded tests and in music competitions. To encourage her students to reach for higher goals and to reinforce their self-confidence, she is a proponent of teacher-student recitals.

Sabina came to the United States in 2008, where she continues to promote her rich Chinese artistic and cultural heritage through traditional guzheng music. She currently performs with Phoenix Chinese Ensemble.

Zhigang Chen is an orchestra teacher with Tempe Elementary School District.  He is originally from Sichuan province, China.  As a graduate student, he finished his studies at East Carolina University, Temple University, and Arizona State University.  He plays the cello, hulusi, and other Chinese instruments. He is the founder of the Arizona Sichuan and Chongqing Association, a director of Phoenix and Chengdu Sister City Committee, and a director of International Culture and Arts of USA.

The hulusi, or cucurbit flute, is a free reed wind instrument.  It is held vertically and has three bamboo pipes which pass through a gourd wind chest.  The center pipe has finger holes and the outer two are typically drone pipes, producing a very pure, very mellow clarinet-like sound.  Advanced configurations have keyed finger holes similar to a clarinet or oboe, which can greatly extend the range of the hulusi to several octaves.

The hulusi was originally used primarily in Yunnan province by a number of ethnic-minority groups and has gained nationwide popularity throughout China; similar to the popularity of the harmonica in the West.

Youliang Zhou was born in Hebei, China into a family of teachers. He started playing Chinese bamboo flute at very early age and later he started learning Erhu or Chinese Violin, and later the Jinghu, the smallest and highest pitched member of the Huqin family of bowed string instruments, and the traditional accompaniment of the Beijing Opera.

After graduating from the China Conservatory of Music, he became the Erhu soloist and concert master for the China Meikuang Song and Dance Ensemble.  In 1982, the Ensemble visited and performed in many cities in the USA and Canada.  In 1984, he became the director of the Ensemble.  In 1989, he emigrated to the USA, and after getting MIS and MBA degrees from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, he moved to Phoenix and started working as a software engineer until retiring in 2016.

In 1995, he joined the Phoenix Chinese Art Ensemble.  Every year, the group performs on many occasions.  In 2005, he was invited to play with the Phoenix Symphony, and in 2009, he performed with Chandler Symphony.