James Ma (1921-2014)
James was a piano manufacturer whose upright pianos, Excelsior, are still in use in the studios of Clarion Music Center. Born in Hong Kong, James learned to make the piano by reading books. He had a thriving manufacturing business selling his pianos locally and to countries like Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand. After he immigrated to San Francisco in 1975, James opened Excelsis Music and encouraged his daughter, Clara, to open Clarion Music Center. Father and daughter ran the two businesses together in the same Chinatown location, where James took care of wholesale and Clara in retail. James retired after a stroke in 1998 and sold Excelsis to Clara.
Clara practices the art of multi-dimensional being: mother, musician, purveyor of Clarion Music Center, traveler, translator and poet. After graduating from Westminster Choir College in 1979, Clara opened Clarion Music Center and worked first as a piano teacher, selling music books and instruments. As the business grew she focused in running the teaching studios, expanding the array of exotic musical instruments of the world, and produced World Music at Clarion, a performance series. After a ten-year hiatus (2005-2016) Clara is transforming Clarion Music Center into an inclusive space where music, theater, art and poetry come together.
Jien came to work with Clara and James in 1987 and became the owner of Clarion from 2005 to 2016. Her gentle manner, strong sense of duty, loyalty and deep caring earned respect and friendships from customers, parents and students. Now retired from the business, Jien is still visible at Clarion, becoming a volunteer helping Clara on Saturdays.
Lu is a Chinese dizi player who is also versatile in performing and repairing many Chinese and western musical instruments. Lu and Jien became business partners of Clarion from 2005 to 2016. With his Chinese connections he shifted the focus of the shop to specializing in Chinese classical and minority instruments. After Clarion, Lu continues to teach and perform in the Bay Area.