Lui Tsun-Yuen

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Lui Tsun-Yuen
Native name 呂振原
Also known as Tsun-Yuen Lui
Born 1931
Shanghai, China
Died January 8, 2008 (aged 76–77)
Genres Chinese classical music
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, teacher
Instruments pipa, guqin
Years active 1954–1991
Labels Lyrichord
Associated acts Lui Pui-Yuen

Lui Tsun-Yuen (Template:Zh; 1931 – January 8, 2008)[1] was a Chinese composer and teacher of Chinese classical music. He is known for his compositions and recordings of the pipa and guqin, and is recognized for bringing Chinese music to Western audiences.

Early life

Lui Tsun-Yuen was born in Shanghai. Though practitioners of music, Lui's grandfather worked as a doctor and his father sold mercantile goods.[2] At the age of ten, Lui took up the study of classical stringed instruments, namely the pipa (a four-stringed lute) and the guqin (sometimes called the qin, chin, or "Chinese zither").[3][4]

As a youth, Lui traveled around China to study with many generations of musicians.[3] His brother Lui Pui-Yuen (zh) (born 1932)[5] was also tutored in stringed instruments, and would later found the Chinese Orchestra of Hong Kong.[6]

Career beginnings

Lui graduated from Shanghai's King Yee College in 1953 with a degree in general education. In 1954 he left the People's Republic of China to work in Hong Kong.[2] While there he performed at recitals and on the radio.[4] In 1957 he moved to Brazil to work for a company run by a friend of the family.[2] While there he made appearances on television, performed for by Brazil's Ministry of Education, and participated in the 1958 São Paulo Music Festival.[4]

in 1959 Lui decided to leave the business world, declaring that he "would rather be a poor musician than a rich merchant." He traveled to the United States for a series of performance, beginning with the Interval Concert Series at New York's Carnegie Hall. He also began recording material for the Lyrichord record label, who released Lui's first LP Chinese Classical Masterpieces for the Pipa and Chin in 1960.[7] In 1961 a full U.S. tour included university engagements at Brown, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Wesleyan, and Yale.[2] He also traveled to London, where he cut a record for the BBC's permanent collections[4] and soon gained a reputation as the premier ambassador of solo pipa to the West.[6]

Lui briefly fell in with the American popular genre known as exotica and played as part of a Las Vegas stage show called "Oriental Holiday".[8] He also adapted western musical compositions for the pipa, such as his transcription of the English folk ballad "Greensleeves".[9][10] During his career he also appeared on Pacifica Radio, PBS and the Steve Allen Show.[2]

Teaching and later career

In March 1961, Lui accepted a position at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he taught in the Department of Ethnomusicology and Systematic Musicology. At UCLA, Lui began as an associate teacher of Chinese music, classical dance, and opera.[2] In 1964 he began lecturing on the history and theory of Chinese music,[3] and eventually sat on committees that reviewed theses and dissertations for masters and doctorate degrees in ethnomusicology. His teaching work was interspersed with performances at the Guggenheim Museum, Hollywood Bowl, Library of Congress, and a tour to Europe, as well as recording sessions that amounted to five albums of music during the 1960s.[2] The American String Teachers' Association sponsored Lui for a demonstration of pipa with guitarist Andrés Segovia.[3] In the late 1960s, Lui sometimes opened for rock music acts such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Sweetwater, and The Doors.[11]

In addition to playing classical compositions, Lui also wrote and recorded new music for the pipa.[4] Being in Los Angeles, he also composed and performed incidental music for seven Hollywood films, as well as Chinese cinema.[2] A 1967 tour took him back to Asia, with stops in Japan, Hawaii, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.[4] Lui's brother Pui-Yuen joined him in Los Angeles in 1973[5] after teaching Chinese classical music at UC Berkeley, Brown University, and Loyola Marymount University.[12] The two frequently performed together.[13]

Lui retired from academia in 1991, after 30 years at UCLA. At the retirement reception, UCLA's dean of the College of Fine Arts presented Lui with a commemorative gold medal.[3]


Lui died in January 2008. In 2016 his family established a $20,000 scholarship fund in his honor.[3]


  • Chinese Classical Masterpieces for Pipa and Chin (Lyrichord, 1960)[14]
  • Exotic Music of Ancient China (Lyrichord, 1964)[15]
  • China's Treasures: Lui Tsun-Yuen Plays Pipa and Chin (Lyrichord, 1965)[16]


  1. "Biographical files". UCLA University Archives Reference Collection. Retrieved November 17, 2017. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 "Tsun-Yuen Lui". Ethnomusicology Newsletter. UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology. 1991. Retrieved November 13, 2017. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Armstrong, Donna (January 5, 2016). "Family of Tsun Yuen Lui Creates $20,000 Scholarship Fund". UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology. Retrieved November 13, 2017. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 China's Treasures: Lui Tsun-Yuen plays the Pipa and Chin (Liner notes to LP). New York: Lyrichord. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Chou, Oliver (December 6, 2014). "Lui Pui-yuen, master of Chinese music, returns to perform once again". South China Morning Post. Retrieved November 14, 2017. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Myers, John (1992). The Way of the Pipa: Structure and Imagery in Chinese Lute Music. Kent State University Press. p. 28–29. ISBN 9780873384551. 
  7. Hentoff, Nat (June 1960). "Folk". HiFi/Stereo Review: 94. 
  8. "198 – L. Tsun-Yuen – Exotic Music Of Ancient China – – Music Reviews of Ambient, Vaporwave & Tiki Exotica Albums". Ambient Exotica. March 30, 2013. Retrieved November 13, 2017. 
  9. Davies, Stephen (2004). Musical Works and Performances: A Philosophical Exploration. Clarendon Press. p. 131. ISBN 9780199274116. 
  10. The Elements of Music Workbook (PDF). UK: Musical Contexts. p. 20. Retrieved November 14, 2017. 'Greensleeves', arranged for the Chinese lute (pipa) by Tsun Yuen Lui. (This is also a form of TABLATURE, but it is very different! It is written for the Chinese lute (pipa) and the two lines of characters in each column represent the pitch (indicated in cipher notation – using numerals) and the right-hand plucking technique to be used) 
  11. "The Doors | L.A. Forum 1968". 
  12. Epstein, Benjamin (September 20, 1983). "Master Musician to Lead at Bowers". The Los Angeles Times. p. 143. 
  13. "Lui Brothers to Perform". East West: The Chinese-American News Magazine: 14. 1975. 
  14. American Record Guide. 1968. p. 543. 
  15. Bell, Violet M. (1964). A guide to films, filmstrips, maps & globes, records on Asia. Selected and annotated. Asia Cociet. p. 74. 
  16. Schwann. ABC Consumer Magazines, Incorporated. 1989. p. C-672.