Arts for All, Boston Community, Neighborhood Arts

Press pause and connect with each other: An interview with musician Shaw Pong Liu

What’s an erhu? And how is it related to an instrument we all know, the violin?

Photo by Robert Torres

Musician and Celebrity Series Neighborhood Artist Shaw Pong Liu seeks to share and demystify this ancient Chinese instrument, considered a predecessor of the contemporary violin. Liu, a triple hyphenate performer-composer-educator, certainly has good cause to bring this unique instrument to the forefront this season. Her upcoming concerts, Exploring the Middle Kingdom: China in Song and Story, take place during school vacation week (February 20-22) at Boston Public Library branches in Mattapan, Dorchester, and Hyde Park.

“The erhu and the violin share common ancestors from central Asia,” Shaw Pong explains. “Both instruments use a horse-hair bow, which originated in Central Asia. They are both made of wood and use metal strings (violin originally used gut strings, the erhu silk strings). However, they also have differences in terms of their shape and construction. The violin has 4 strings, the erhu 2 strings, and the erhu has a very distinctive sound due to its shape and use of python snake skin as a resonating surface.”

Shaw Pong thrives on the educational aspects of sharing music with audiences, and counts among her achievements her work as a teaching artist for the famed Silk Road Project. She shares that she “loves connecting with people and the thrilling energy of sharing listening, attention, and sound with a community of people.”

This is exactly what she hopes to achieve during her February performances, which are free and open to the public.

“I am always interested in how music can take people on a journey, emotionally, somatically, and culturally,” Shaw Pong reveals. “As a Chinese-American who has spent time living and studying music in China, I have rich experiences, knowledge, and music to share. My program is based on my bicultural experience and pieces of music that I deeply love, using a Western instrument (the violin), a Chinese instrument (the erhu), singing, and storytelling to take audiences on a journey together.”

And what is she hoping audiences take away from these neighborhood performances?

“I hope audiences are moved, touched, and more informed after my performances. Ideas about China in the U.S. are sometimes too simplistic, or one-dimensional, for a country that to me represents a whole world of cultures, regions, dialects, topographies. My hope is to transport people through a more specific and multidimensional experience that is also a learning one.”

Above all, she cherishes the “opportunity to pause the outside world and be connected in sound together, literally sharing vibrations.”

Hear Shaw Pong Liu Live:

Exploring the Middle Kingdom: China in Song and Story

Tuesday, February  20, at 2pm
Mattapan Branch Library, 1350 Blue Hill Avenue, Mattapan

Wednesday, February 21, 2pm
Adams Street Library, 690 Adams Street, Dorchester

Thursday, February 22, 2pm
Hyde Park Library, 35 Harvard Avenue, Hyde Park

In three concerts at Boston public library branches during February school vacation week, Shaw Pong Liu takes audiences on a dynamic solo musical journey through historical and contemporary China, with a European violin in one hand and a Chinese violin (erhu) in the other. Admission is free and first come, first served.


Mark Your Calendar:

Soul Yatra Trio
Mike Block, cello | Sandeep Das, tabla | Shaw Pong Liu, erhu-violin
Saturday, March 3, at 3pm
Hibernian Hall, 184 Dudley Street, Roxbury
Admission is free; RSVP online to ensure your seats or call (617) 482-6661, weekdays 10am-4pm.

Don’t miss this unique trio of world class musicians: their collective experience performing with the Grammy-winning Silk Road Ensemble spans diverse musical styles and cultures.  The word “Yatra” means “journey”: this concert will be well worth the trip to historic Hibernian Hall with these three incredibly gifted artists.

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