It is hard to describe the exact vocation of He Cui as he is expert in a hat-trick of areas. Not only does he manage the Beijing Global Audio-Visual Publishing House and studies for an EMBA at the Guanghua School of Management, Peking University, but he also plays the sheng, a Chinese wind instrument.
Such proficiency in the ancient musical instrument has taken him on a European and American tour of the Silk Road Project - led by world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma - to foster cultural exchange by uniting artists from Asia, the Middle East and the West in creative collaborations.
He was the only performer from China on the tour, playing the unique instrument of sheng, which has a history spanning more than 3,000 years.
"In Central and West Asia there are instruments similar to erhu (a two-stringed bow instrument) and pipa (a four-stringed Chinese plucked instrument), but sheng is a unique Chinese instrument," said He.
"It is one of only two wind instruments in the world that can produce more than one note at the same time. The other one is the Scottish wind pipe."
In the performances of the Silk Road Ensemble in April in France and in July in the United States, He played in two works: "Moon Over the Guan Mountains" by Zhao Jiping and "The Prospect of Colored Desert" by Jia Daqun.
"Moon Over the Guan Mountains" deftly combines Eastern and Western instruments in a spirited multicultural convergence. In this work the sheng complements the cello, the pipa and the tabla (a set of drums used in North Indian classical music).
The title refers to a mountain range in northwestern China across which the ancient Silk Road caravans traveled.
"The Prospect of Colored Desert" was composed in 2000 for the Silk Road Project new works commissioning program, in which the sheng is played together with a pipa, a violin, percussion instruments and a cello.
"The music of a nation is the showcase of its culture. But it does not belong only to the nation, it belongs to the whole world," said He.
"I was glad to participate in the project so more people in the world could hear the sound of sheng."
At the concerts of the Silk Road Ensemble, He also played his own arrangement of a folk song from eastern China's Shandong Province titled "Riding the Bamboo Horse" as an encore.
Born in 1969 in Changsha, capital of Central China's Hunan Province, He started to learn the erhu from his father during childhood.
He knew nothing about the sheng when he enrolled in the middle school attached to the Wuhan Conservatory of Music as a student of the sheng.
Most of the other students in his class had already studied the instrument for some time and they had a small concert at the beginning of their first semester in which everyone played except He.
Feeling unhappy at being left out, He became the most diligent student in his class. He used all his time to practice his sheng, even during breaks between classes.
By his third year, he was one of the best players in his class. When he went to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing in 1988, he had fully mastered the techniques of the instrument.
"My most important gain in the conservatory was that I read a great deal about philosophy and literature, which greatly upgraded my understanding of the arts," said He.
As a soloist, He has held concerts in Beijing, Wuhan and Guangzhou, and released several albums such as "Jin Tune" and "Phoenix Spreading the Wings."
However, He feels playing the sheng cannot realize all his ambitions.
As an instrumentalist, his music can only be appreciated by limited audiences. But what He also wants to do is to promote music, so more people can enjoy their lives.
In 1997, He became Vice-President of the Beijing Global Audio-Visual Publishing House, the biggest publishing house devoted to arts education in China.
Productions include teaching CDs and VCDs of music instruments, as well as painting and dancing.
"I believe if a child learns to play a musical instrument, the instrument will bring him or her happiness throughout their life," said He.
"Whether the person is rich or poor, the happiness is the same."
In September, He began to study for an EMBA at the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University. As the director of an audio-visual publishing house, He claimed to be good at music but weak at management and needed to turn this weakness into a strength.
He plans to focus on the promotion of arts in the future. As for playing the sheng, he enjoys occasional performances more than the busy life of a professional soloist.
"I like my work," said He. "I think I follow a wider road than both business people and musicians."
(China Daily July 09, 2002 )