Interview with Su Chang of the Viva Girls
Musically, they’re magic, having been classically trained and hailing from some of the most prestigious Schools and Universities. To the eye, the Viva Girls present one of the most impressive and visually pleasing concert performances one can experience. Their East meets West twist on a unique mix between classical and pop music is especially popular with American audiences.
Creating traditional Chinese music that appeals to younger audiences who love pop music is a challenge the Viva Girls are exciting to conquer. The 12 classically-trained female musicians who comprise the VIVA Girls perform on traditional Chinese instruments and blur the lines between American music with the traditional sounds on China. The result is an amazing modern-traditional musical hybrid with the intention of pleasing pop sensitive audiences, while staying true to the 12 girls’ musicality and eclectic Asian roots.
Among the members of the Viva Girls is Su Chang, a graduate of the Central Conservatory of Music who is known for her expertise in playing the Guzheng. The Guzheng is a Chinese plucked zither. It has 18-23 or more strings and movable bridges and takes years to master. Among Su’s many accomplishments are: 2007 won the Silver Medal of The Sixth “Jin Zhong Bei ”Guzheng Competition and the Gold Medal at The CCTV National Music Instrument Competition.
Su, it is a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for this interview. Can you tell us a little about your early days and how you first began your interest in music?
The first time I encountered the Guzheng was when I was six years old in kindergarten. I was attracted to the sound of it right away and instrument looked very beautiful to me. From then on I fell in love with the Guzheng.
Was your first choice of instrument the Guzhen?
The first instrument I learned was actually the acordian. In kindergarten I performed many small concerts with the accordion. However, after I picked up the guzheng, I did not continue playing the accordion. When I entered the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing (CCOM) my secondary instrument was piano. The experience I picked up with these additional instruments has helped my guzheng skills quite a bit.
How do you feel your training at the Central Conservatory of Music prepared you for your present career?
CCOM’s curriculum combines both western and eastern styles of music for us to study and train. So CCOM students not only are exposed to the most traditional forms of Chinese music, but are also simultaneously exposed to western classical styles as well. It is fertile ground for those students who great passion for music. My teacher and mentor, Ms. Zhou Wang, who is a famous Guzheng player and educator, has given me great support throughout my life and career.
A story I have been told is that when you were young you used to enjoy raiding your mother closet and dressing up in her clothing. Do you think that this is why you love fashion?
I was always attracted to fashion from a very young age. When I was 6, I was already very picky about what kind of clothes I would wear. I would often borrow my mother’s jewelry and dresses to make my own outfits.
So today I really like all kinds of jewelry such as pins on jackets, or necklaces. I am especially fond of jewelry that is very colorful. Fashion is very mysterious to me because it can make my eyes glow with curiously unlike anything else.
Can you tell me about your early days at the CCOM (Central Conservatory of Music).
When I was 12 years old, I entered into CCOM’s primary school. I decided to come to Beijing on my own to study because my parents both were busy with their jobs in my hometown of Jingzhou. It was not easy to be 12 years old and have to take care of myself. I always remember very vividly every time I would have to leave my parents to go to school. I would slowly find courage bit by bit every time I saw the backs of my parents turning away to leave me once again.
Was it difficult leaving your family?
It is always very difficult to leave your family at a young age. I slowly made friends In school and got used to the new environment. My studies and Guzheng training kept me busy enough so I did not have too much time to think about how much I miss my family.
How have your parents been supportive in your life?
My parents have been very very supportive of my choice to study and train Guzheng. They spent a lot of time and energy taking me back and forth from my hometown and Beijing to find the right teachers, schools, and auditions. They have been supportive both financially and also spiritually by keeping my mind and heart full of positive feeling. When I am feeling down, they always find a way to cheer me up. When I am happy, I enjoy sharing my happy experiences with them too.
How do you like the use of fashion with the Viva Girls and do you see the group influencing fashion styles?
Viva Girls is a fashionable and sophisticated group that is breaking a lot of new ground. I hope that we can show everyone something very new and special that is both western and eastern, classical and modern and forward thinking and both Chinese and international all at once.
Viva Girls is a pioneer in many ways and I think we have our own original style that is starting to influence many other groups.
You won the 2011 Youtube Symphony Orchestra Competition. That is quite an accomplishment. How did you feel after you found out you had won?
It was really like living a dream that had actually come true. It was hard to believe because I only learned about this competition two days before the deadline for entries was going to end. I really did not expect to even be able to finish the video audition let alone win any kind of prize.
Things were so sudden that it was hard to understand what happened. It was really like a dream.
Recently you had the opportunity to play with Grammy Award Winning artist, Kitaro. How was the experience?
Kitaro is really an amazing musician. I admire and respect him deeply. Our first performance together was in San Francisco. Most of the music required me to improvise many parts of my own. I considered this a great challenge and was not sure I could do it. After our collaboration, I grew a lot as a musician and it was a breakthrough in my ability to understand music even more. Thank you Kitaro!
You also travel quite a bit and have seen many parts of the world. Is there any place you particularly liked and that you would want to visit again?
I have many wonderful memories of every place I have visited. I am always reluctant to leave all the places I have been to. Through music I have made friends in many countries and have shared many memories with them.
It is my dream to share the music of the Guzheng with everyone around the world. I hope there are more people in the world that will enjoy the Guzheng and maybe even learn the Guzheng.
Who were your musical influences early on and what artists do you admire now?
It was actually my mother who influenced my music very early on. Every musician has their own special area to offer. I respect and admire many different musicians for this reason.
Is there someone you would like to collaborate with?
I was invited to perform Tan Dun’s Guzheng concerto in Zurich last year. Luckily at the same time while I was in Switzerland I also had the opportunity to watch Claudio Abbado conduct the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. It was amazing and I was extremely impressed by him!
There are quite a number on girls in the band and you will be travelling quite a bit. How do you all get along?
I am good friends with many of the Viva Girls. Whenever we have a concert, its like a big party. They all have their own personality and fashion styles. I always learn something when we travel together.
What are your hopes for the Viva Girls? Where would you like to see the group in the future?
I hope Viva Girls can continue living our dream to grow and keep sharing our music with the world.
Is there anything you would like to say to your fans?
Thank you to all our fans and supporters! Viva Girls are inspired by your support of our dream to share our music. We always want to hear more about what you think about how we can improve our music and performances. Thank you for listening to our music!
Where can we find out more about you and the Viva Girls?
My youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/suchangguzhen/
Viva Girls on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/TheVivaGIrls
The Viva Girls official site: http://www.viva-girls.com/
The Viva Girls at DOMO music: http://www.domomusicgroup.com/vivagirls/