Couple blends Chinese, western melodies

By Clayton Norlen

The hands of Ning and Jie Lu create a cross-cultural fusion as their fingers move across the piano.

The melodies of Oriental music can only be played with the right hand, Ning said, while the left provides Western structure and rhythm that creates a distinct sound.

Ning described the right hand as the storyteller that relates the emotions and feelings to the audience as the left supports and molds it all together. While the songs performed by the husband-and-wife team — who are both U music professors — are executed in a western tradition, they feel “Chinese” to the listener, Jie said.

The couple played at Libby Gardner Hall alongside violinist Wenyuan Gu, principal second violin for the Utah Symphony, as part of Chinese Culture Week at the U. With a series of solo and trio performances, the artists demonstrated how traditional Chinese folk-music and classical music can become one.

“Many musical compositions in China are written with classical instruments like piano and violin, but the melodies we play are steeped in Chinese folklore,” Ning said. “It’s a very unique mixture of eastern and western.”

Ning and Jie have created a connection between their Chinese heritage and the classical music they perform. Taking their combined experience in eastern and western musical traditions, Jie and Ning said they try to introduce their students to a new type of musical experience that is steeped in Chinese influences.

“Music is a universal language,” Ning said. “No matter your nationality, you experience music the same way.”

Jie and Ning see the Western presentation of music as a performance that is fully appreciated by artists when it’s shared with an audience. Eastern philosophy, they said, is individualistic and can cater to self-discovery because the musicians are often deeply involved and connected to the pieces they play.

“Peacefulness is the goal of a musician,” Jie said. “You have to have a peaceful mind to create music.”

It is in the discovery and connection that the creation of music provides that Jie said has helped her and Ning gain a deeper respect for one another. It was their shared passion for music that brought Ning and Jie together, they said. They met at the University of Colorado while Ning was working to complete his doctoral degree and Jie was pursuing her undergraduate degree. Recently, they have been collaborating more, and Ning said their relationship gets stronger with every concert they play together.

“Collaborative work requires that you understand each other’s feelings within the music,” Jie said. “As a couple, we can play together as one very easily.”

The relationship that music has formed between Jie and Ning and the cross-cultural nature of their work has helped prepare them to raise their newborn son, Samuel Lu. The couple is still adapting their parenting style to incorporate both Chinese and American styles of parenting. Generally, the American style of parenting is less authoritative and encourages a friend-like relationship between parents and kids while the Chinese style is more stern. Ning explained Samuel’s name shows a more Western expression and that they are still debating his Chinese name.

The Lus said being married to a colleague is beneficial because they have the opportunity to continually learn from each another. While collaborating, they can hear each other’s perspectives and learn new ways of using their talents. Ning said that because of their relationship, he and Jie can be more direct with one another so their critiques are more honest.

“Music is the reflection of the composers’ soul and their beliefs,” Ning said. “Composers use notes to tell about their understanding of life.”

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Aaron Schwendiman

Music professor Ning Lu and wife Jie Lu, also a music professor at the U, play in a concert put on by the Confucius Institute at the U.