Published: January 5, 2016
By: Donna Armstrong [PRINT]

Tsun Yuen Lui playing p'ip'a.

The family of UCLA emeritus lecturer and Chinese music expert Tsun Yuen Lui recently made a donation to the UCLA Foundation for the benefit of The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music Department of Ethnomusicology. The Tsun Yuen Lui Memorial Scholarship Fund, in the amount of $20,000.00, will support scholarships and fellowships for ethnomusicology undergraduate and graduate students. The donation will grant $5,000.00 to one student per year for the next four years, starting in 2015-16. Mr. Lui's family plans to replenish the scholarship fund in order to continue providing annual scholarships.

The recipient of the 2015-16 award is Cedric "Duke" Anderson, a fourth-year undergraduate major in ethnomusicology with a world music concentration. Anderson is a second-year transfer student out of Long Beach City College.

Mr. Tsun Yuen Lui joined the UCLA Music Department faculty in 1960 as an Associate in Music and became a Lecturer in 1964. He taught for thirty years at UCLA, retiring in 1991 [1]. During that time he taught a number of Chinese music courses, including both performance and Chinese music history courses, setting a firm pedagogical foundation for the study of Chinese music at UCLA.

Mr. Lui had a national and international reputation as a virtuoso on the qin (Chinese zither) and p’ip’a (four-stringed plucked lute), and performed widely in the United States, Europe, and Asia. He had first-hand knowledge of the classical Chinese tradition and, as a youth in China, sought out many master musicians, in search of the best versions of special pieces, and thus was able to gather together the final products of generations of musicians.

Among his other many distinguished professional activities, Mr. Lui presented a demonstration of the Chinese p’ip’a for renowned guitar master Andrés Segovia under sponsorship of the American String Teachers’ Association and provided music for several films and television shows. Over the years, Mr. Lui concertized extensively in venues as varied as the Guggenheim Museum, Hollywood Bowl Museum, Library of Congress, and the University of Hawai’i. His European tours included London and Paris. His broadcast appearances included programs on Pacifica Radio and performances on the Public Broadcasting System’s KQED in San Francisco, as well as the Steve Allen Show.

Tsun Yuen Lui playing qin.


Mr. Lui authored several academic articles, including one on the qin that appeared in the Institute of Ethnomusicology’s publication Selected Reports [2]. He made four LPs, which were distributed by companies in the United States and Hong Kong [3]. He provided additional service to UCLA by organizing the department’s “Spring Festival of World Music” for several years and the “Music and Dance in the Grass” festival for a number of years, and serving on M.A. thesis committees for two graduate students.

Tsun Yuen Lui graduated from King Yee College, Shanghai, China, in 1953. In 1954 he left mainland China for Hong Kong, where he remained for three years, studying and concertizing. In 1957 he went to Brazil and in 1959 to the United States. After a debut concert at Carnegie Hall in New York, he began a series of tours of the United States and Europe, which led to being hired to teach at UCLA in 1960. Upon the occasion of Mr. Lui’s retirement from his post at UCLA in 1991, he was presented with a commemorative gold medal by the dean of the College of Fine Arts.

Mr. Lui passed away in 2008. In his honor, the chancellor ordered that the University of California flag at Pauley Pavilion be lowered to half-mast on May 9, 2009.

During his thirty years at UCLA, Mr. Lui established the current Music of China program [4], which has been directed by adjunct professor Chi Li since 1997. Mrs. Li shares her memories of Mr. Lui: “There is a classic Chinese saying, ‘One generation plants the trees so that the next generation will flourish under its shade.’  Mr. Lui not only established the foundation for the Music of China ensemble for others to develop, but also continued to care for the program well into his retirement.  Mr. Lui was one of the greatest Chinese music educators and artists of his time, and generously shared his thirty years of teaching experience with me.  I will always cherish his insights.  He whole-heartedly supported any student interested in learning Chinese music, and I try to carry on the spirit of his passion for teaching.  Mr. Lui always encouraged students to pursue their dreams in any field while also maintaining a high standard of excellence.  Even now, I often encounter Mr. Lui’s former students who remain a testament to his life-changing influence and inspiration.”

Steve Loza, professor of ethnomusicology and current chair of the Department of Ethnomusicology states “I have nothing but very joyful memories when I think of Tsun Yuen Lui during his years here in the department.  I remember him both as a faculty member during my grad years in addition to being his faculty colleague years after.  Mr. Lui was a virtuoso musician and a very giving teacher, in both teaching Chinese music performance and lecture classes, and I feel that he had an indelible impact on our teaching in ethnomusicology.  I remember him talking about his daughter and family experiences, and I will never forget his kindness. For our department to receive this scholarship gift in his name is a great testament to him, his family, and to our students.”

Helen Rees, professor of ethnomusicology and Chinese music specialist states “Having myself arrived at UCLA only in 1997, I regret very much that I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Lui just two or three times when he came to China ensemble performances during the Spring Festival of World Music. He was always gracious and interested in what Professor. Li was doing with the group, and I personally treasure one particularly kind compliment. On learning that I had been the flautist for the Kunqu opera scene at one concert he attended, he told me that he had had no clue, hearing me play, that I was not Chinese. In a most generous gesture, soon after this he gave me several of his own Chinese flutes. Mr. Lui was one of those people I always wished I had had the opportunity to get to know better, not only because of his undoubted professional expertise, but also because of his kind and unassuming character. The China ensemble he founded has now been going for fifty-five years, and we hope it will continue for many decades into the future. The presence in the China Room of so many instruments he acquired for us back in the 1960s is a constant reminder of his benevolent spirit.” [5]

Interview with Angela Lui Walsh

Armstrong: Why did you and your mother decide to give a gift to UCLA Ethnomusicology in your father’s name?
Walsh: My mother and I wanted to give a gift to UCLA Ethnomusicology first and foremost as a gesture of gratitude to the department for providing our family with a livelihood for so many years, as well as a place for my father to showcase his talents and share his passion for Chinese music. We also wanted to support the department's mission of providing a place where anyone can learn about the music cultures of the world. I don't know that world peace will be achievable in our foreseeable future, but I strongly believe that fostering understanding among peoples through the sharing of the universal gift of music is a step in the right direction.

Armstrong: Why gift the entire department, rather than the Chinese music area only?
Walsh: While I love Chinese music of course, and appreciate seeing it being taught and performed at UCLA, I truly believe that ethnomusicology as a department presents a unique experience. I have fond memories of running around the department with my father, checking out the various rooms and music instruments. I loved watching my father and his group perform, but I was also thrilled to get to experience music and dance from different cultures. It really broadened my horizons as I grew up. The ethnomusicology spring festivals were always a highlight of my year, as was the Music and Dance on the Grass event, which I understand is sadly no longer held.

Armstrong: Do you know the names of your father's teachers in China?
Walsh: He studied the pipa with Wang Yuting and Xia Baochen, and the guqin with Wu Jinglüe and Hou Zuowu in Shanghai, China. Each of these teachers was renowned and respected.

Armstrong: Did your father play other instruments in addition to the p’i-pa and qin?
Walsh: My father was a virtuoso on the p’i-pa, and he also excelled on the qin, but he also played and taught quite a few other Chinese music instruments. These included the erhu, the sanxian, as well as percussion. He did not play the vertical and transverse Chinese flutes (xiao and dizi) but was able to teach them as well. My father also took advantage of his colleagues’ talents in the department, and spent some time playing the shamisen (similar to the Chinese sanxian) with Dr. Togi’s Japanese group.

Armstrong: How did Mantle Hood [composer, professor of music, and founder/director of UCLA's Institute of Ethnomusicology] learn about your father?
Walsh: Dr. Mantle Hood saw my father perform at Carnegie Hall. I believe he was recruiting for the new Institute of Ethnomusicology at the time, and must have felt that my father would be an asset.

Armstrong: Did your mother help your father with his UCLA classes?
Walsh: My mother did not help with the teaching of my father's UCLA classes, but she did help with the performances. She danced at several spring concerts. After I became a student at UCLA, I also joined my father's performance group and played the p’ipa, as well as sang and danced.

Tsun Yuen Lui with students and daughter
Angela, ca 1975.

Armstrong: What do you remember most about your dad?
Walsh: I have many great memories of him as a loving father, and all the fun times that we had. Remembering him as an artist, I recall how I loved to sit and watch him just play the p’ipa, forgetting the mundane details of life, just absorbed in his music. I remember feeling blessed that I could watch this master at his craft whenever I wanted to. Sometimes he would say he was too busy to play, but if I asked him to watch me play or asked him a question, he would inevitably end up sitting down and losing himself in the music. I also remember him as being a connoisseur of beauty, both in nature and in art. He enjoyed looking around him and just admiring the trees and the flowers. He was also a connoisseur of Chinese art.

Armstrong: What were your memories of your father’s time at UCLA, teaching and working with students?
Walsh: As a child, I enjoyed seeing my father in action, teaching and being in charge of performances. For a number of years, he also served as the coordinator of the ethnomusicology spring concerts. That made him especially busy, and I remember feeling proud of him for doing this work. His students were like big brothers and sisters for me, and I could tell that they were fond of him and respected him as a teacher. I think that his students knew that he really cared about them as individuals, and they reciprocated in kind. Many of them would keep in touch with him long after they left UCLA.

Armstrong: Do you play an instrument?
Walsh: I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to learn the p’ipa from my dad, and I played for a number of years. While I haven’t played in a while, I could pick it up again – and really should.  I’m sure it would come right back to me. I am also a vocalist, play the keyboard and am learning to play drums.

Armstrong: Do you have children? Have you told them about their grandfather’s legacy?
Walsh: I have two children, Michael who is 12 and Caitlin who is 9. Michael was almost 5 when my dad passed away. But he still has fond memories of his grandfather. They had a special bond and loved to spend time together, just playing and hanging out. My daughter was pretty young when he passed away, but photos and stories help her to remember him. Of course I have shared with them about their grandfather’s legacy. Right now they think it's pretty cool, and I hope they will come to appreciate it even more as they grow older and understand better his contributions. I think that honoring my father through this memorial scholarship will be a way to help them to appreciate who my father was and his gift to Chinese music and ethnomusicology.

Armstrong: Thank you, Angela.

Playing qin with students.
With opera students.

  Teaching dance in the Gamelan Room.
Playing erhu with students.

With students.
With students.

Retirement reception, 1991.
Retirement reception, 1991.
























Photographs courtesy Angela Lui Walsh.


[1] “Tsun Yuen Lui Retiring After Thirty Years at UCLA” (Ethnomusicology Newsletter 1991)

[2] “A Short Guide to Ch’in,” Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology, Vol 1, No 2, Institute of Ethnomusicology
(click “Front Matter” and scroll down)

[3] Chinese Classical Masterpieces, Lyrichord Archive Series

China’s Treasures, Lyrichord Archive Series

[4] UCLA Music of China Ensemble

[5] “Fifty Years of Ethnomusicology at UCLA: 1960-2010”