Music Becomes a Bridge
College of Music alumna promotes music as a means to mend cultural divides.
As a Chinese student studying in the United States, Haobing Zhu experienced cultural differences first-hand. As a musician, she felt strongly about the ability of music to bridge cultural divides.
Zhu received her DMA from the MSU College of Music in 2014. She’s now an assistant professor at the Music College of Shanghai Normal University in China. Every day, she says, she applies what she learned at MSU, including the experiences she gained through an entrepreneurial project that focused on cultural understanding.
“We live in such a diverse society, and must take advantage of every opportunity to gain understanding and appreciation of those different from ourselves,” Zhu says. “Music is a universal language that crosses oceans, unifies nations, collapses barriers, and is a great way to experience culture.”
Zhu began studying music at the Music Middle School of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music when she was 13. A handful of years later, she came to the U.S. to attend the New England Conservatory. As she began looking toward graduate school, Zhu was strongly encouraged to apply to MSU.
Accepted into the College of Music, Zhu studied with Professor Deborah Moriarty, chair of the piano area. As she continued to learn and develop her artistry, Zhu looked for ways to contribute to the surrounding community. She heard about opportunities for grants and multi-disciplinary programs that helped students prepare for careers as 21st century musicians—and began exploring projects that combined cultural understanding and entrepreneurship.
“Haobing Zhu is truly a gem who enthusiastically explored and experienced every aspect of the doctoral program in the College of Music,” says Moriarty. “She is an excellent pianist, as well as a top academic student. I also found her to be tremendously creative in writing grants for projects that will help open the eyes and ears of western audiences to the beautiful music and culture of her native China.”
With Moriarty's support as well as guidance from other College of Music faculty, Zhu took classes that strengthened her business knowledge and helped connect her with community resources for her artistic projects. She also taught at the College’s Community Music School. Her grants and proposals, as well as an enthusiastically reviewed concert in Carnegie Hall, attracted support from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing as well as from dedicated MSU donors Joanne and Bill Church. The results were two concerts in 2013 that included multimedia and interactive sessions with the audience, and an innovative CD in 2014.
“Chasing the Moon” featured Zhu’s performance of Jianzhong Wang’s piano composition and traditional music. The project also included a book of artwork that reflected the various Chinese regions depicted through the music.
“The music vividly reflects the long trail of rich history, various geographical regions, and 56 ethnic groups within China,” Zhu says. “From listening to the compositions, you can gain a better contextual appreciation of the diverse cultures.”
Today, Zhu continues to build on her belief that music can foster increased understanding and diminish tensions between cultures and people. She often relates what she learned through her entrepreneurial projects and MSU experiences to the undergraduate piano students she now teaches.
“Now that I’m teaching, I realize more and more how I benefited from all my MSU experiences, and I encourage my students to experience different cultures like I did at MSU,” Zhu says. “Understanding and appreciating differences allows us to have different perspectives, to understand the world we are living in, and better communicate with each to create a better world.”
Learn more about Zhu's graduate work at MSU, and see images and hear passages from her entrepreneurial project.
Video provoided by MSUToday