Q&A with YaoGuang Zhai

Associate Professor for Clarinet YaoGuang Zhai reflects on the changing landscape of classical music, his teaching philosophy, and his love for jazz.

September 22, 2021

Associate Professor of Clarinet YaoGuang Zhai joined Boston Conservatory’s woodwinds faculty in 2019. A native of TaiYuan, China, Zhai is principal clarinet of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and previously served as the associate principal clarinet of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and principal clarinet of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. Here, he reflects on the changing landscape of classical music, his teaching philosophy, and his love for jazz. 

What drew you to the clarinet? At what point was it clear it was going to be your career?

My father was a classical music lover and he helped me to choose the clarinet. After learning the clarinet for a couple of years, I knew that I wanted to become a professional clarinetist.

How has the landscape changed for classical musicians since you started performing? In your view, what is essential to thriving in this field?

I think technology and social media has changed the classical music field very much, especially during the pandemic. It is necessary for musicians to keep up with new developments in technology, and to learn relevant skills.

Describe your teaching philosophy.

I believe whenever we play our instrument, we have to sing every single note from our heart, and to tell our story to the listeners through the instrument. But to be able to do that, we must have a strong solid foundation and fundamentals, and all the necessary techniques to make our instrument sing. 

What is your advice to clarinet students looking to pursue a career in music?

Be patient, be creative, and always stay humble. 

Aside from the music you perform, what music do you enjoy listening to?

I like listening to all kinds of good music. But I especially love listening to jazz music.

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