Meet Zhou Zhou

The famous conductor, Zhou Zhou, has been hailed a genius – after teaching himself to conduct an orchestra, despite not being able to read music. The 41-year-old, born with Down Syndrome, surprised onlookers one day when he gave an impromptu performance with a local orchestra.

Since he took the baton for the first time and the orchestra responded to his direction, his talent has continued to amaze the music world.

Today, he is a highly respected conductor worldwide and has played with many leading orchestras. His Down Syndrome has helped him to make his dream job come true, as he has a natural flair and “feels” the rhythm of the music.

 

Early life

Zhou Zhou (real name Hu Yizhou) was born in Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei province, in 1978. In the 1970s, disabled people in China did not have the best chances in life, as the culture didn’t allow them to fulfil their potential.

His father, Hu Houpei, was a professional cellist at the time. He would take his young son to his orchestral rehearsals. Zhou Zhou spent years watching from the side-lines, mimicking the conductor’s movements.

However, when he was a child, 40 years ago, the culture at the time meant youngsters with Down Syndrome were marginalised. At school, he was teased and taunted by other pupils. Some parents refused to let their children play with him and he felt excluded from the usual childhood activities.

As his father was a musician, he grew up listening to classical music. Loved and nurtured by his family, music was one of the few pleasures in his life.

 

Career

Zhou Zhou’s hidden talent was discovered by accident in the late 1990s, when a student film-maker asked to make a documentary about his local orchestra. During filming, he noticed Zhou Zhou standing at the side, mimicking exactly the conductor’s movements with the baton during a rehearsal of Bizet’s opera, Carmen.

The documentary-maker asked Zhou Zhou if he wanted to conduct the orchestra for real and invited him to step up on to the podium. The musicians went along with the suggestion – and to everyone’s surprise, he proved to be a masterful and talented conductor.

His skills as a conductor became national news in China and it wasn’t long before he was invited to perform at the Spring Festival Gala in 1999. In 2000, he achieved international fame by conducting the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and China’s National Symphony Orchestra.

Everyone who saw him conduct, and then subsequently learned his life story, was touched by the special bond he had with his family and with the members of his father’s orchestra, who had supported him from the outset. His family and friends never doubted him, they always stood by him and encouraged him to pursue his artistic dream.

 

Global success

Although Zhou Zhou couldn’t read a music score, he didn’t need to do so, as his natural flair for music made him world-class. His father praised the young man’s apparently innate ability to direct an orchestra.

Houpei attributed this to Zhou Zhou’s natural flair for “feeling the rhythm” of the music. He particularly enjoyed conducting an orchestral piece called Dance of the Yao People. The Chinese composition was inspired by the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony Number Nine, combined with ethnic folk songs.

Zhou Zhou played in five countries across three continents between 1999 and 2006. He also played in every provincial capital in China. In one year alone, he performed 168 times, including a concert at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York in the United States.

He has also been on tour with a group of disabled performers, has met several Chinese leaders and has shared the stage with other stars, such as Hong Kong singer and actor Andy Lau and American actor and former politician Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

Performances today

Since 1999, Zhou Zhou’s gruelling schedule has begun to take its toll on his health, and it has been reported recently that he has been battling arthritis. However, he still tries to perform up to ten concerts per year. He says he still takes to the stage when he can and describes life away from the orchestra as “boring”.

He lives with his father, who is now 79, in Shenzhen – an industrial city in southern China. His story has been an inspiration for millions of people, and in particular disabled people in China. For many years, they felt they were facing an uphill battle for any kind of recognition, but Zhou Zhou has given them the courage to succeed.

People with Down Syndrome can experience sleeping problems, including falling asleep at bedtime and waking up during the night. Kinderkey’s range of beds for people with Down Syndrome assures a safe sleeping solution.

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