She has been called a guitarist with an ability and artistry that far exceeds her years. New SFCM instructor Meng Su shares her inspiration and what she wants for women in music.
By Mark Taylor
Many musicians come from a musical family but not Meng Su. Her parents did, however, push for her to explore music. After picking up the guitar at a very young age in her home of Qingdao, China, her talents were quickly noticed and developed. She studied privately with Professor Chen Zhi before entering the Central Conservatory in Beijing. By the time she finished high school she had entered and won four international guitar competitions. Today she is a multi-faceted guitarist who has performed at some of the most prestigious venues all over the world.
Now in her first year of teaching at the Conservatory she sits down with the SFCM newsroom to talk about her start in music, her advice for aspiring artists, and what she’s most excited for in the future of music.
Tell us about your introduction to music?
No one in my family is a musician but my parents both loved singing and I grew up listening to them. When I was 5 years old, my mother asked me to pick between the violin and the guitar, and I chose the guitar because the name sounded cool—I had no idea what a guitar was and how it was going to change my life.
What drew you to the guitar?
I had a lot of fun playing children’s songs and showed talents with more advanced repertoire. Soon after, my teacher took me to Shanghai to a national young guitarist competition and I won. That was the first time I realized that I liked performing. The sound of the guitar, the possibilities to paint with music attracted me. As life goes on I started to feel the power of music no matter in difficult times or happy times, the guitar is always my best friend, my oasis.
What were the major music influences in your life and what did you learn from them?
My teachers. I have studied with three different teachers who taught me everything unreservedly. My last teacher, Manuel Barrueco, whom I studied with for 13 years had the biggest influence on me. His passion and dedication to the guitar inspire me to this day.
How is your first year at SFCM going?
It’s only been a semester but I already started to feel a deep connection with SFCM. I have the nicest and coolest colleagues and students! And I loved the food, wine and art events around the city. I remember the first day that I received my faculty badge, and the excitement and the responsibility that I felt. I’m proud of being a member of SFCM.
Can you share a funny performance story from your career?
I try not to let any unexpected things happen to a performance but sometimes it’s just inevitable! Like the last recital I did in Shanghai in December, it was very cold on stage and I kept a hand warmer in my pocket as I usually do, only this time it got unexpectedly hot during the first piece! So about 900 people in the audience saw me get very antsy (literally) on the bench, and eventually I took it out between movements.
Do you have a career highlight so far? Tell us about it!
I had been touring with my duo since 2009 but winning the Parkening Competition in 2015 was definitely a highlight in my professional life that kickstarted my solo concert career. Looking ahead, 2022 should be pretty fun—I have a 22-city tour in January through February with a string quartet in China, and I will be playing with the Oakland Symphony in March as well as some recitals around the country through summer. In the meantime I’m planning for more collaborations and new works.
You've traveled and performed all over the world, any favorites come to mind?
Palau de Musica for its beauty, Concertgebouw for its acoustics and a small Church in Poznan, Poland for its wonderful audience.
What do you hope to pass on to your students?
I hope I could help equip them with all that is required to be singing on the guitar, so they could be inspired by the power of music and then share that energy with their audiences and their students.
Guitar is sometimes called a male-dominated space, what is your take on this and why?
Music has no boundaries so why should the guitar? I grew up in an environment where lots of girls play the guitar and I’m seeing more and more excellent young women guitarists.
What are you most excited for in the future of music education?
I’m most excited about the unforeseen possibilities, about what could happen with technology and music education.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
Be like a hermit when spending time with your instrument; Be like a sponge to absorb feelings with life; Be like a warrior to stick with your beliefs and go on adventures.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I left home when I was 9 to study in Beijing. I regret that I only spent very little time with my family, so I would tell my younger self to treasure the time being with them.
Learn more about studying guitar at SFCM.