A Different Drummer

Zou Family Music Fund inspires new direction for SPS Music Program
Growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution, Yong “Wilbur” Zou, P’21’s ear was trained to the pentatonic sounds of the revolutionary Peking Opera. The instrumentation and vocals helped to mold a mindset in the communist country with an audio range that was as confined as the stories it told. When Zou was a young boy, external influences were forbidden in China. It wasn’t until 1976, following the death of leader Mao Zedong, that the regime became less restrictive and Zou awakened to a multitude of sounds he never knew existed.
“We started listening to western music,” recalls Zou. “It was so shocking.” Hearing the harmonies of Lennon and McCartney for the first time and the electronic beats of ’80s pop opened a creative universe for Zou. “You grow up listening to the folk songs, so your ear gets used to it,” he remembers. “Then you hear the Beatles; the new instruments, the sound.” At 15, he began teaching himself guitar. By college, the future businessperson had joined a band and became one of the most recognizable musicians at school, remembers his wife, Chenghong “Cathy” Wang P’21. “We could feel the beauty of the harmony and expressed it,” recollects Wilbur.
This enthusiasm for musical exploration has continued with their daughter, Kay Zou ’21, who is a current student at St. Paul’s School. In addition to classical piano training, Kay has ventured into improvisational jazz piano, as well as drumming the syncopated beats of samba and the driving backbeats of rock ’n’ roll. For the family, music education is not about achieving perfection, rather it is a gateway to lifelong learning through self-expression. “Through music you express yourself,” explains Wilbur. “If you study literature, you need to study Shakespeare. The goal is not simply to repeat Shakespeare, but to create your own (work).” The same, he says, should be applied to music education.
To that end, they have created The Zou Family Music Fund to empower the School’s Music Program and inspire the artist within each student. Their gift will help the School recruit and retain talented musicians through several forms of support, such as financial aid, and underwriting the cost of approved music camps and travel for the School’s musical ensembles.
The Zous believe mastering classical greats such as Beethoven and Debussy is a worthy accomplishment, but it’s not the only measure of success. “Think about the impact music has on people,” says Wilbur. “This music – we are humans – it is in all of us.”