Musical Journey Transcends Time and Place

Teacher and former student reconnect to celebrate legacy of music

Jeff Gao '93

Jeff Gao '93. Photo by Andy Gulati.

Twenty-four years have passed since Doris Hall-Gulati taught her first clarinet student at Franklin & Marshall College, but the artist-in-residence still remembers her first lessons with that student, China native Jeff Gao ’93, like they happened yesterday.

“I remember Jeff’s incredible enthusiasm and love for music,” Hall-Gulati says. “He was so excited to talk and learn. To me, he epitomizes the beauty of music as a universal language.”

Two decades after Gao’s graduation from F&M, music has reunited teacher and student. In May, Hall-Gulati’s classical group, Trio Clavino, toured eight Chinese cities on a musical outreach tour organized by the American embassy in Beijing. Gao composed one of the pieces the group performed—“The Journey,” a trio that incorporates classical, jazz and Chinese folk elements.

The title of the piece could not be more appropriate for both Hall-Gulati and Gao. Hall-Gulati has made several journeys to China in recent years with her trio, which includes Chinese-American pianist Xun Pan and Swiss violinist Simon Maurer. Meanwhile, Gao has enjoyed a 20-year career in the information technology field on two continents, moving from Chicago to Beijing to San Francisco to his current city, Shanghai, where he is director of business development for Cisco Systems.

Through it all, Gao has maintained a passion for music while remaining in touch with Hall-Gulati and others in F&M’s Department of Music, including John Carbon, the Richard S. and Ann B. Barshinger Professor of Music.

“I was fairly advanced in clarinet by the time I got to F&M, but under Doris, I grew technically and musically,” says Gao, who learned about F&M while he was a high-school student in New Mexico with United World Colleges, an international network of schools that enables young people to study around the world. “So many things I learned from Doris I didn’t fully understand until years later, as I became a more mature player.”

A self-described “classical music geek,” Gao owned more than 2,000 classical CDs by the time he graduated from F&M. He continued to play the clarinet after graduation and, with guidance from Hall-Gulati and Carbon, began composing music as a hobby during the 1990s. He also founded a community orchestra in Beijing, drawing on his experience of learning conducting from F&M instrumental conductor Brian Norcross.

Doris Hall-Gulati. Photo by Andy Gulati.

Doris Hall-Gulati. Photo by Andy Gulati.

When Hall-Gulati asked him to write a piece for her trio’s tour several months ago, he was ecstatic.

“For a composer, that’s the biggest thrill,” Gao says of the invitation to compose the piece. “It was a dream come true, the first time I composed something performed by professional musicians.”

Gao, who joined Trio Clavino on stage during the group’s performances in Beijing and Shanghai, says “The Journey” reflects his own background and upbringing. He considers himself “100 percent American and 100 percent Chinese,” an example of cultures becoming more connected. “Some passages in the piece are decidedly American, and others traditional Chinese. It also might come across as Turkish or Irish, but at the end of the day, it reflects that the world is a melting pot. It's about my own personal journey.”

Hall-Gulati knows how small the world is, too. During Trio Clavino’s two-week tour of China in May, the group had the unexpected good fortune of connecting with another F&M alumnus—Vlad Lipschutz ’95, U.S. consul general in Wuhan, China, who attended the group’s performance in Wuhan’s Hubei Museum. It was just one more memorable moment for Hall-Gulati on a trip filled with them, thanks in large part to her original clarinet student at F&M.

“It gives me a glowing feeling inside to see Jeff’s love and appreciation for music,” Hall-Gulati says. “I’m so focused on the technical aspects of performance, but Jeff reminds me why I love teaching. The reason I do this is because of students like Jeff.”


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