PEI

Playing Chinese lute conjures 'precious memories' of home for UPEI student

Tiffany Liu will always remember the first time she played the Chinese lute, called a pipa, for a P.E.I. audience.

The pipa is a classical instrument first introduced in China about 2,000 years ago

Last week, Tiffany Liu spent an evening in Victoria Park filming a music video with friends to help introduce the pipa to more Islanders. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

Tiffany Liu plucks the strings of her Chinese lute, called a pipa, as the water undulates back and forth along the rocks at the edge of Victoria Park in Charlottetown.

Passersby interrupt their jogging or conversations with friends to stop and have a listen — some even wait for her to finish playing to offer gratitude for filling the park with her music.

Liu hasn't been back to her native Tangshan, in China, in about two years. But when she plays the pipa, she says, it brings back "precious memories" of home.

"The sound is so special … every time I start playing I feel, 'Oh, that sound,'" she said.

Mastering the pipa

The pipa is a classical instrument first introduced in China about 2,000 years ago, Liu said, and it's no easy feat to master.

The 28-year-old has been working hard studying the pipa for most of her life — she first picked up the instrument when she was just eight years old.

That was the first time someone heard my music and cried.— Tiffany Liu

She said she is one of the only people, if not the only one, who can play on the Island — she hasn't found anyone else that plays on P.E.I.

Liu said she will always remember the first time she played the pipa for a P.E.I. audience.

"The first time I played, in a very small church [for] a very small group of people. And after my playing a woman came to me … and she was crying. That was the first time someone heard my music and cried," she said.

Closing the gaps

While she said she was familiar with polite compliments on her technique and skill, she had never before elicited such an emotional response from someone. 

"I can't forget that," she said.

UPEI's Tiffany Liu is one of the only people, if not the only person, who can play the pipa on P.E.I. (Sam Juric/CBC)

She said playing for Island communities is like stepping into a family away from home. Sharing her music, Liu said, has helped to close the gaps between her and others living on the Island — making it easier to talk and make connections with people.

Liu isn't sure how long she will call the Island home, but she does plan to share her love for the pipa with young and old, Islanders and newcomers alike, while she pursues her master's degree in education at UPEI.

Last week, the UPEI student spent an evening with friends filming a music video with the hope of further introducing the instrument to Islanders. 

Passing on the music

For the past year, in her spare time on the Island, Liu has been passing on her gift for music to two young girls who are also from China.

Liu said she also has dreams of creating an after-school music program where she would be able to teach more children how to play the pipa.

For now, she is happy pursuing her studies while travelling the province playing her instrument, including performances at Holland College and UPEI.

She is set to graduate in December 2019. 

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About the Author

Sam Juric

Reporter

Sam Juric is a reporter with CBC Sudbury and can be reached at sam.juric@cbc.ca.

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