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KUNG FU for Wind Ensemble by SHUYING LI (China, 1989)

[#230] December 18, 2023

2020 | Symphonic Wind Ensemble | Grade 5 | 15’ – 20’ | Tone poem

Chinese composer Shuying Li

Kung Fu, by Chinese composer Shuying Li is our Composition of the Week.

Kung Fu was finished in 2020 and premiered on September 24, 2021, by the University of Michigan Symphony Band, Michael Haithcock conducting.

Kung Fu was commissioned by a consortium of 20 college bands led by conductor Glen Adsit and the Hartt Wind Ensemble.

It is cast in three movements,

I.Wushu Spirit; II.Tai-chi; III.Jiangju.

It has a duration of minutes, and it is scored for Wind Ensemble, including Contrabassoon, soprano saxophone, String bass, Piano, harp, as well as 5 percussion players.


“Whenever people talk about kung fu, they think of China. However, as a composer who was born and grew up in China, my understanding of the term kung fu was rather ambiguous. True, kung fu has a strong with martial arts, which has attracted hundreds of thousands of admirers and followers worldwide. However, on the other hand, kung fu has become an umbrella term that had come to encompass many aspects of Chinese people's daily lives, such as popular culture, exercise regimens, interpersonal relationships, aesthetics, philosophies, and so on. It was not until I encountered a documentary on Bruce Lee's journey with kung fu and Hollywood that I started to comprehend the core spirit that kung fu has in guiding one's endeavors and life pursuits. As a result, I decided to compose a work with my own reflection of kung fu and its spirit. In three movements, Kung Fu explores the different styles and levels of what kung fu represents to people in a rather universal way. A more general summary of the Wushu spirit in the first movement, a contrasting second movement focusing on the soft yet powerful Tai Chi, both lead to the final movement of Jiang Hu. As Bruce Rusk, a professor in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia, interpreted: "Jianghu … refers to a social space in which people are away from familial and local ties for extended periods that are governed by informal rules (officials away from home are not in jianghu). But I don't have a good catchall translation. In this case, it could be "the scene," as Kaiser Kuo suggests, or even "everyone" (implicitly, everyone involved in martial arts)." Jianghu, in this case, is also a representation of my ultimate understanding of kung fu. It represents a universal rule, belief, and practice that are rooted in all of us, as it serves as a catalyst to connect people in different backgrounds for a more harmonized society.” Program Notes by Shuying Li


Shuying Li began her musical education in her native China. In her sophomore year at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, she won a scholarship to continue undergraduate study at the Hartt School in Connecticut. She holds a doctoral and master’s degree from the University of Michigan.


Her prior composition teachers include Michael Daugherty, Evan Chambers, Ye Guohui, Robert Carl and Larry Alan Smith. She studied conducting with Glen Adsit and Edward Cumming; and studied piano with Paul Rutman. Additionally, Shuying has worked with Joseph Schwantner, Martin Bresnick, Christopher Theofanidis, and Steven Mackey.


Most recently, Shuying made her Carnegie Hall debut with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra for the premiere of a commissioned work. In addition, Shuying has been named one of the three resident composers in the Composer Librettist Development Program with the American Lyric Theater (ALT) in their 2017-2018 season, to write a one-act opera to be produced by ALT in May 2018. In 2014, after performances by the Hartt Wind Ensemble and the University of Cincinnati CCM Wind Orchestra, Shuying’s work for band, Slippery Slope, won the ASCAP/CBDNA Frederick Fennell Prize.


Other awards include recognition as a finalist in the 2017, 2016 and 2015 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers Award, awards from The American Prize, the Michigan Music Teachers Association Commissioned Composer Competition, and the International J. Dorfman Composition Competition, among others. She was the composer in residence for the Romania ICon Arts Festival during summer 2014.


A believer that music has an innate power to promote cultural diversity, Shuying founded the Four Corners Ensemble in 2017, which consists of seven top-level emerging performers who are from six different countries.



Other works for winds include:


  • Slippery Slope (2014)

  • The Last Hive Mind (2018)

  • Stacking (2019)

  • The Last Hivemind II (2020)

  • Luminance (2023)


View the score here:


More on Shuying Li




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