He was only 34. Jun Gao is being mourned by 40 of his South and East Bay students and their families because of the impact he had on them as a teacher of traditional Chinese instruments.
The families, many of them Chinese immigrants, are raising money on GoFundMe to help the wife and two sons of "Teacher Gao," as they respectfully call him. The boys are three and five years old.
David Zhang is among them. His daughter, 13-year-old May, has been a student of Gaos' for 5.5 years. May first learned the hulushi, a wind instrument made with a gourd, before Gao began teaching her the dizi, a Chinese bamboo flute. Like other parents, Zhang was grateful to Gao for helping to teach May Chinese culture and traditional music.
The GoFundMe campaign, started three days ago, has raised almost $87,000, exceeding the original goal of $50,000. The page was created by Vivian Cheng, one of Gao's students who played in an orchestra he started.
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May says Gao was more than a music instructor. He was a friend, who inspired her to practice the Chinese wind instruments daily and to attend an ensemble practice every Sunday afternoon. As her proficiency grew, May also would help Gao with beginning players on Sunday mornings. That's on top of weekly private lessons with Gao.
Gao provided the main income for the family. His wife is an artist and is busy raising the two young boys.
Zhang, May's father, said Gao's death is a big loss for families as they tried to instill cultural pride in their children. Zhang said Gao always smiled and enjoyed his work.
Gao also taught hundreds of aspiring musicians at the California Youth Chinese Symphony, Meyerholz Elementary, Stanford University and Laney College.
The GoFundMe campaign originator, Vivian Cheng, said, "the impact that he has left on the world of music is enormous, and we are all completely distraught to see him go. All he wanted to do was to spread his passion for music. I will miss his vibrant attitude and smile so, so much."