Erhu. The word itself looks like gibberish, but to John Brown University junior Ethan Zuck, it means a challenge and talent. The erhu is a two-stringed musical instrument commonly played by various ethnic groups in China.
Zuck, a philosophy major with minors in psychology and music, has many hidden talents. Among being proficient in Russian and Japanese, being the leader of The Wells Project at the university and having 15 years of piano experience, Zuck has taught himself how to play the erhu.
“I just have been YouTubing tutorials; it’s the best way to learn! Right now I still have a lot more to practice,” Zuck said.
Zuck was originally inspired to learn the erhu because of his love for soundtracks and composers. Just a few of his favorites include John Powell, Akira Senju and John Williams.
“There isn’t just one film that inspired me. Any oriental-sounding music is beautiful, especially the erhu. It’s unlike the violin because the erhu is richer and it kind of has a singing quality that is smooth and yet somber,” Zuck said.
He believes the erhu is the most popular Chinese instrument.
Although many people would not know where to look for an instrument of this kind, Ethan found the instrument online and purchased it last year.
“If I go into music composition, it can help with certain jobs, and if I master the erhu, it will definitely be helpful. Instead of going to hire another person to play it for my composition, I could play it myself,” Zuck said.
Even so, he said it is a great hobby. Currently, Zuck is in Music Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), a class teaching students to compose and create music.
“You use sounds in digital libraries and can replicate sounds and instruments. There are so many different workspaces to create your own audio track,” Zuck said.
The online libraries contain digital erhu sounds, but his roommate of three semesters, Mario Escobar Albores, got to hear the erhu live.
“I remember the day he got the erhu, and he was so excited! He even played it for me. I tried it and the sound is very unique,” Albores said.
Albores said that Zuck had become one of his best friends and admires him for his many qualities.
“He will come back to the room at two, three or even four in the morning, just because he is playing piano. I really admire him because he is so disciplined in his practice. I wish I was more disciplined like him!” Albores said.
He added that Zuck loves sushi and appreciates authentic Chinese food. Albores, from Guatemala, witnessed Zuck’s interest in other cultures and his in-depth learning about them.
“He is so concentrated on being better, and when I ask him why he comes in so late, he says he was so focused he didn’t even realize the time. Yet he doesn’t like to show off his skills and he is humble,” Albores said.
Paul Whitley has been Zuck’s piano teacher every semester of his attendance at John Brown University. In both lessons and classes, Whitley said, “It’s nice because I don’t have to push him hard. He is so self-motivated, and his self-motivation speaks tons of him.”
“He pours himself into everything he does and he has an inner drive,” Whitley continued.
When asked to describe his student in three words, Whitley said, “Servant, teachable and caring. These qualities come out through his answers in class and in lessons. He is very humble.”
Zuck will present his final MIDI project at the end of the semester and will be performing in his spring recital accompanied by Whitley on May 1st.