Women play Concerts for Compassion for war-weary refugees
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Jocelyn Zhu won the fiddling contest at the Mississippi State Fair when she was 5.
Onlookers called her “cute.”
Her mother saw something totally different.
“When Jocelyn played, I saw her spirit just flow out of her through the music,” says Jane Zhu, a native of Taiwan who teaches World Languages at Jackson Prep. “My husband (Jeff) said I was just being a proud mother, that everybody felt that way about their kids.
“But it was more than that. Jocelyn was different. She was special.”
Jocelyn, who grew up in Ridgeland and was home-schooled through age 13, entered Belhaven University at 14 and earned her undergraduate degree and master’s in violin performance while also taking pre-med courses.
She further studied violin at The Juilliard School in New York — generally regarded as the most prestigious music institute in the U.S..
Now at 23, Jocelyn and one of her former Juilliard classmates, Mariella Haubs, have formed Concerts for Compassion. It is a nonprofit, funded by grants and donations, that allows Jocelyn and Haubs to travel abroad and play music for refugees who have endured racism, violence and turmoil.
During the past few months, the duo has performed in Germany, Italy, France and Greece. They have dates set in Africa, Japan and the Philippines.
“This is about loving others, no matter their religion or political views,” Jocelyn says. “Jesus doesn’t tell us to love our neighbors because of their hair color.
“And what I’m trying to do, in my own way, is to use my violin to make the world a little better. It’s really as simple as that.”
She will go to great lengths to do so. The Red Cross asked them to do an additional concert in a town in Greece that was 20 hours away roundtrip by car. Haubs was sick and couldn’t go. Jocelyn drove to the show by herself and performed.
“She told me there was no way she was going to let those kids down,” her mother says.
She began playing at age 3.
“I wanted her to develop the same love of music that I’ve always had,” says Jane Zhu, who plays piano.
Her younger brothers also play — Jonathan (viola) and Jack (cello).
“Our mom wanted us to play together, but that caused some of our biggest fights,” Jocelyn says, laughing. “You know, ‘Don’t tell me what to do!’ and ‘You’re not playing your part right!’ ”
She found college at 14 “a bit intimidating.”
“I was probably the only student whose dad drove them to college every morning,” says Jocelyn, who lives in New York. “And, like a typical teenager, I would ask him to drop me off at the corner so the other students wouldn’t see.
“But I was very fortunate at Belhaven. I was surrounded by teachers who strengthened my education and also honed my view of the world.”
While a student at Belhaven in 2011, Jocelyn was selected to perform at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York.
By the time she had earned her master’s in 2013, Jocelyn knew she wanted to pursue a career playing the violin. She auditioned at three schools: Juilliard, the New England Conservatory School in Boston and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“New England was very, very interested in Jocelyn,” her mom says. “Johns Hopkins offered her a full scholarship. But when they were talking to her, they said, ‘No other school compares to us — except Juilliard.’
“Of course, that made Jocelyn want to attend Juilliard even more.”
“When I went to Juilliard, I had some doubt,” she says. “A lot of the students had been training for that school since they were 5 or 6. I didn’t have the repertoire of classical music that most of them had. I felt a bit out of touch.”
Granted, she was different than most of the other students. She had played select soccer for five years. She was a competitive swimmer and runner. She listened to all kinds of music, from indie to country.
“She’s a Mississippi girl,” her mom says proudly.
“Juilliard really pushes you to be something you never thought you could be,” Jocelyn says. “I ended up taking a third year of Master’s work, which they allowed because of my age and other factors
“And it was in that final year at Juilliard — I think over a large pizza — that my friend and I came up with the idea of Concerts for Compassion.”
When Jocelyn shared the idea with her parents, they were stunned — and worried.
“Of course, we thought about all the terrorist attacks around the world,” Jane Zhu says. “We’d seen the movie ‘Taken.’ A lot of things went through our minds. We asked her to really think about this.
“She was determined. And, finally, I told my husband, ‘We have to let her go. We have to let her try this.’
“We had always emphasized a strong Christian faith with our children, and we prayed for her. But the one thing I don’t think people know about Jocelyn is that she is a tough girl. She always has been.”
On their first trip abroad, Jocelyn and Haubs went to Greece.
“Most of the refugees there had arrived on a boat and were all waiting to see if their paperwork would go through,” says Jocelyn, who has been featured on “Good Morning America.”
“They came from probably 40 nationalities. And at first we weren’t sure how they would accept us playing. We didn’t want to be intrusive on their lives. But we were soon reminded that music transcends just about everything.”
They played on makeshift stages or sometimes while standing among the refugees. Their audiences were made up young and old.
Jocelyn and Haubs offered a smorgasbord of music — classical arrangements; Spanish dance songs, foot-stomping fiddle tunes, including “Orange Blossom Special,” the hymn “Precious Lord, Take Thy Hand.”
“The fiddlin’ songs always got the most reaction,” Jocelyn says. “But after we played, the people would come up to us and talk.
Jocelyn and Haubs were far from the concert halls most Juilliard students dream of performing in.
“But when we reminisce, those performances were the most meaningful experiences of my life so far,” Jocelyn says. ”... It sounds corny to say, but music really is the universal language. For those few minutes, it didn’t matter about a person’s religious or political views. We all felt the music together at the same time. And that’s the dream of a musician.”
Information from: The Clarion Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com