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Wu Man’s Music Aims to Bridge East and West

Whether playing folk music with villagers in China, or performing scores written just for her by top classical composers, musician Wu Man has emerged as one of the world's foremost musical ambassadors. Jeffrey Brown reports.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Her name is Wu Man. And, at age 45, she is today one of the world's leading musical ambassadors, a master of the pipa, a four- stringed lute with ancient roots in Central Asia and China, who is bridging East and West, old and new, whether playing traditional folk music with Chinese villagers, or performing contemporary music written just for her by some of today's leading Western classical composers.

    Wu Man took up the instrument as a young girl in Hangzhou, China, for a very old-fashioned reason: Her parents wanted her to.

  • WU MAN:

    Basically, they — OK, they pushed me.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    They pushed you?

  • WU MAN:

    They picked the instrument for me, and they pushed me to learn.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    I heard that your father wanted you to play the pipa because he thought a girl looks so elegant playing that instrument.

  • WU MAN:

    Yes, that's — that's what my father said, said, well, pipa is Chinese classical, very classical Chinese tradition. You can see a lot of old paintings with a beautiful woman holding pipa. You sit down, very elegant, you know, hold, half — you have sort of half the face show, you know.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And the curve of the instrument.

  • WU MAN:

    Yes, the curved body of the instrument.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, he was — they were right.

  • WU MAN:

    So, I had no choices. I said, OK.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The pipa is played by plucking outward with the nails, as opposed to a guitar. The strings, once made of silk, are now steel to create a louder sound. Musicians wear false fingernails and practice technique for years to develop tremendous speed and touch.

  • WU MAN:

    You have to practice everyday.

  • WU MAN:

    Just that took me two years.