Brian Zhu ’26 Showcases Passion for Music Through the Versatility of the Erhu

Zhu appreciates the “freedom” and “flexibility” that erhu offers.

Brian Zhu ’26 has been playing musical instruments for over eight years. In addition to playing the violin, Zhu also studies the erhu, a traditional Chinese musical instrument. The erhu, also called the spike fiddle or Chinese violin, is a two-stringed instrument played with a bow. 

Over the past years, Zhu has been performing in competitions and talent shows, immersing himself in music and demonstrating his dedication to the art. 

“My favorite memory was my first performance, in front of the elementary school. It was my first time sharing my music with my friends, and I was very glad that they enjoyed it. I remember not being nervous at all because I was thoroughly enjoying the piece ‘奔驰在千里草原’ (‘Galloping on The Endless Prairies’). It felt like I was free on the vast plains of Mongolia,” wrote Zhu in an email to The Phillipian.

Zhu first expressed interest in the erhu when he watched his father play. Zhu began to practice alongside his father, who inspired him to delve deeper into the instrument’s craft. 

“My father played it before me, and he’s still playing with me now. So I used to watch him play, and I thought it looked fun, so I wanted to learn with him, and then later it sort of became a competition on who would be better… It’s really fun,” wrote Zhu.

When Zhu plays a piece, he tries to match the emotions and energy with those that the composer intended. Many of the songs played on the erhu depict a story, so Zhu often bases his playing off of the dramatic feelings and messages that come with such plots. 

“I’m immersed in the music, so I do my best to either convey the feelings/messages of the composer (grief, heroism, joy… [It] really depends on the piece), mimic the scenery… or tell the story of the piece,” said Zhu.

In the future, Zhu hopes to take advantage of the erhu’s versatility to play in many different types of performances. He intends to use these opportunities to share his passion and talent with others.  

“Erhu is a versatile instrument so it’s great for performing in both formal and informal contexts. I’ll be looking to play in talent shows, community performances, and performances for social events. I always enjoy performing and sharing my music so I’ll be looking for more opportunities to perform,” wrote Zhu.

New to Andover, Zhu performed at his first Andover student recital at the beginning of the school year. Audience member Wooba Song ’26 described how he felt about Zhu’s playing. 

“Brian’s performance was very technically skilled and musically intriguing, and I really enjoyed his musicianship. I loved the variety of sounds he was able to portray throughout the different sections of the piece, as well as his ability to switch between fast sections and slower, melodic sections. As a Chinese person, I really appreciate how he is bringing a traditional Chinese instrument to Andover and sharing it with the students,” said Song.

Zhu shared that his love for the instrument also stems from its extensive range of sound, and thus, broad possibilities of repertoire. He described how the erhu can mimic many sounds from the natural world, as well as adapt to existing musical styles.

“Erhu has an earthly sound, compared to the violin, which has a more ‘heavenly’ sound. It sounds [like] the human voice, which is why I can ‘sing’ on the erhu… It can take on many ethnic musical styles from around China, and the world, and mimic different sounds like animal sounds, [such as] galloping horses, chirping birds, or human sounds, [such as a] weeping widow. That’s why it’s so fun to play,” wrote Zhu.