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Musician changing lives, one note at a time

By FENG ZHIWEI in Changsha and YE ZIZHEN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-06-14 09:48

Guo Weixiang sits in the back of a pickup on the way to deliver accordions to the school. [Photo/China Daily]

Master accordionist Guo Weixiang finds life after retirement teaching underprivileged students in Hunan province

Surrounded by an endless expanse of rapeseed flowers, a dozen school-age youngsters play the accordion in the spring breeze under the warm sun. From afar, the music sounds like nature itself.

They are students at the Shuangshiping Middle School in Shegang town, Liuyang, Hunan province, and their instructor is Guo Weixiang, a retired accordionist from the provincial capital, Changsha.

Ask yourself how long it takes to teach 1,100 students to learn to play an instrument. The 67-year-old Guo, who has the highest national qualification for the accordion, can tell you. His answer is eight years.

Before retiring in 2014, Guo played accordion at the Hunan Provincial Opera and Dance Drama Theater, which was founded in 1953.

"Not every child has the gift to play, but music can ignite their passion for life and study," he said.

In 2014, he told a friend about wanting to become a volunteer teacher. The friend, who is from Shegang, told him about Shuangshiping.

Guo soon realized that most of the school's students had no previous experience with the accordion.

"The infrastructure at the school was relatively poor, but it was exactly the place I was looking for," Guo said. "I wanted to do something meaningful after retirement and contribute to society."

Declining offers of a good salary, he said he would teach for free.

In 2014, he spent 30,000 yuan ($4,431) on 20 accordions. With another 10 bought by his friend and 10 more donated by a manufacturer, Guo drove for two hours twice a month from his home in Changsha to the school 122 kilometers away.

Founded in 1975, the school is located north of Changsha, and about half its students' parents are migrant workers.

Guo leaves home at 8 am, taking the expressway and country roads and arrives at around 11. He usually has lunch with his students.

Lessons start afterward at 1 pm, and end at 6 pm. He gets home around 8:30 pm.

"He is always passionate about teaching, even though the two-hour journey must be exhausting enough for a 60-year-old," said Zhou Runsong, the former headmaster of Shuangshiping.

"I had no idea how to thank him except by encouraging our students and teachers to learn carefully and study hard."

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