Published: July 17, 2008
by: Donna Armstrong

UCLA adjunct assistant professor of ethnomusicology Chi Li was one of three individuals selected for the 2008 UCLA Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award for non-Senate faculty. This award is intended to increase awareness of UCLA's leadership in teaching by honoring "individuals who bring respect and admiration to the scholarship of teaching."

Since 1997 Professor Li has taught the performance course, "Music of China" (91/161D) in the Department of Ethnomusicology. For this course Professor Li teaches group lessons in all the major Chinese instruments, the most popular of which are the erhu (2-string fiddle), zheng (bridged zither), dizi (flute), yangquin (hammered dulcimer), and pipa (4-string plucked lute. Professor Li occasionally teaches less popular instruments such as the sanxian (3-string plucked lute) and qin (7-string bridgeless zither) to a small number of interested students.

Professor Li also runs several ensembles: a large ensemble in which all students enrolled in the course play, which performs relatively simple repertoire; a percussion ensemble in which students play pieces adapted from China's rich folk traditions; an intermediate ensemble of ten to fifteen students which explores regionally distinctive genres; an advanced ensemble in which the most skilled five or six students tackle really demanding repertoire; and small groups which work on repertoire from two standard opera genres. In addition, she arranges the music and creates the notation for many of the ensemble pieces she teaches (rather than relying on published scores), creates choreography and teaches classical and folk dances to students who are interested in dance, writes detailed program notes for the student concerts, and is able to maintain and repair all of the instruments in the Chinese instrument collection.

Professor Li's ability to teach all the major Chinese instruments is highly unusual and is due, in part, to her background playing in different groups with musicians from various areas of China during the 1960s and 1970s. She is a graduate of China's leading conservatory for Chinese music and spent three years as erhu soloist with the country's most prestigious Chinese instrument orchestra, the National Traditional Orchestra of China, before emigrating to the US in 1985. She is one of the top erhu performers of her generation in China. In North America, she keeps up an active performance career, having appeared at major venues such as the United Nations, the Lincoln Center, and Paramount Theater (Madison Square Garden) in New York, as well as numerous college and university venues through the US. Most recently, she and her students performed at the UCLA Chancellor's Inauguration (May 13). She was also director of the 2008 torch relay celebration for the Beijing Olympics in San Francisco (April 8).

Chi Li's greatest gift, however, may be her teaching methods and her ability to impart her vast knowledge to diverse groups of students. According to Professor Helen Rees, the department's academic Chinese music specialist, Mrs. Li "manages to combine a friendly, pleasant atmosphere in her classes with judiciously applied discipline to keep everybody on track." A student summed up her teaching by stating, "Professor Li is a skilled and dedicated instructor and consummately skilled musician with a knack for communicating the unique affective character of Chinese music even to those without a background in the tradition."

Congratulations Professor Li! Your talent and efforts on behalf of UCLA and the Department of Ethnomusicology are much appreciated.