“Music for me is all about the connection,” remarked Zibo Gao ’15. “I just feel the music really well. I can tell what the music wants to say.” Gao has been studying classical violin since he was five. Although his parents encouraged his music career, Gao’s drive stems from his passion to connect with others.
“[Zibo] has the mysterious gift of being able to communicate convincingly what he’s feeling to the listener. It’s a direct, non-verbal, abstract, powerful communication from his heart and gut to ours,” said Academic Dean Peter Warsaw, who conducts the chamber orchestra. “I’ve only known a handful of musicians—including professional—who had this gift.”
Although he is now a prominent member of the chamber orchestra, Gao came to Deerfield chiefly as a soloist. “Chamber music is like a team,” Gao said. “Before [when] I was only a soloist I didn’t know how to play with other people. I still am trying to learn how to play on a team.”
Gao has seen the chamber orchestra double in size since he came to Deerfield three years ago. He says the music program blossomed this year, partly due to the increased emphasis on the arts. The music program has benefited greatly from Zibo’s abilities.
“Because of his lofty accomplishment,” Mr. Warsaw said, “we’ve been able to tackle some extraordinary pieces over the last few years, so others around him have been lifted up by his talents.”
“Performing is my way of connecting with people. There is energy on stage,” Gao said.
A versatile musician, Gao also plays guitar and sings. “My favorite band is Coldplay,” he said. “They give such an uplifting message to the crowd. That’s why I want to sing. I want to be in a band like that and connect with the crowd.” Sometimes, Gao added, “It is hard for people to connect with violin.”
Gao is constantly looking for new ways to connect with his audience. He is trying his hand at composing, as well as listening to his favorite New Age composer and conductor, Yanni, for inspiration. (When Mr. Warsaw first heard Gao actually play Yanni, “[it] caused me to get so choked up I couldn’t talk.”)
Gao has even attempted writing rock and roll lyrics, but, he laughed, “My writing is too abstract. It’s even worse in Chinese.” Gao particularly looks forward to KFC, where last year, he performed in five different acts—playing guitar, violin, and singing.
Like many musicians, especially at Deerfield, Gao struggles balancing practice and other activities. “I love soccer, basketball and tennis,” he said. “But I can’t do it [all] because I need to practice. My finger or my elbow might be affected. I have tendinitis so I have to stretch a lot too.”
Gao’s afternoons are dedicated solely to music. But, he says, that isn’t enough: “If I wanted to be a good violinist, I would need three hours of practice every day.”
Last year, Gao misread the sheet music during a soloist piece with the orchestra at school meeting. This destroyed his confidence and was the lowest point in his career. “I became really scared of violin, and I felt like I was going to make a mistake every time I played, ” he recalled.
But Gao’s “determination to push through adversity,” as Mr. Warsaw described it, is what lifted him out of his rut.
To compensate, Gao completely absorbed himself in his music: “I practiced and practiced and practiced. Eventually at the end of the spring term I had the best performance in my life—fully present, not nervous at all.”
Gao wants a more typical college experience, as opposed to attending a music conservatory. Although he has incredible respect for people who devote their lives to music, he wants to keep it as a hobby, at least for now.
Still, Gao says, “Violin will always be a part of me. It is who I am.”