|A Brief introduction to Erhu (Two Stringed Violin)
Erhu is a kind of violin (fiddle) with two strings which, together with zhonghu, gaohu, sihu, etc, belongs to the "huqin" family. It is said that its origin would be dated up to the Tang dynasty (618-907) and related to the instrument, called xiqin originated from a Mongolian tribe Xi. During Song dynasty (960-1279), the instrument was introduced to China and was called "Ji Qin". Soon the second generation of the huqin was among the instruments played at the imperial banquets. During the Dynasties of Yuan (1206-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911), the erhu underwent a great development at the time of the golden age of the local operas. The erhu then developed in a different "schools". Two famous artists Hua Yanjun (1893-1950) and Liu Tianhua (1895-1932) made an exceptional contribution to the improvement of the erhu, and it was indeed due to the latter that the erhu, an instrument mainly for accompaniment in an opera, becomes a solo instrument. After the foundation of People's Republic of China (1949), the manufacture of the erhu, the playing techniques, the repertoire as well as the musical education of this instrument have undergone an unpresidented development. The repertoire has grown rapidly in the genres of solo, with ensemble as well as concerti with symphony orchestra. Erhu now has become one of the most popular instruments in China.
The sound body of the erhu is a drum-like little case usually made of ebony or sandalwood and snake skins. It usually has a hexagonal shape with the length of approximately 13 cm. The front opening is covered with skin of python (snake) and that of the back is left open. The functions of this case of resonance are to amplify the vibrations of the strings. The neck of the erhu is about 81 cm long and is manufactured with the same materials as the drum. The top of the stem is bent for decoration. The two strings of the erhu is usually tuned D and A. The two tuning handles (pegs) are found close to the end of the stem. There is no frets (as contrast to the lute) or touching board (as contrast to violin). The player creates different pitches by touching the strings at various positions along the neck of the instrument. The strings are usually made of silk or nylon. Nowadays, metal strings are commonly used. The bow is 76 cm long and is manufactured of reed which one curves during cooking, and arched with horse hair in the same way as the bow of violin. However, in the case of erhu, the horse hair runs between the two strings. In another word, one cannot take off the bow from the instrument unless one of the two strings is taken off or broken.
The posture which the player must adopt to play the erhu is the same as that adopted for the other kinds of huqin: the left hand holding the fiddle and the right hand, the bow. The erhu is put on the lap vertically, the left hand moves vertically to touch the strings for the right pitch while the left hand (with the bow) move horizontally to make the sound. The Erhu is mainly a instrument for melody in a sense like voice. The left hand slides up and down the instrument while fingers pressing the strings to create desired pitch and "sliding" effects. The right hand pushes the horse hair against this or that string while moving horizontally, to create the sounds on either of the two strings. Occasionally some musicians hold the instrument with the help of a rope, in the same way as for saxophone, in order to play standing or walking. However it doesn't look elegant with the sound body pressing against the belly of the performer and the stem of the instrument pointing up and outwards. Therefore, the musicians normally play sitted unless it's absolutely necessary. In the old days, street musicians often used this method in order to play while walking. Today, in some pop or rock bands, musicians use this method of playing in order to act on the stage.
The erhu sounds similar to human voice, and can imitate many natural sounds such as birds and horse. It is a very expressive instrument, most well-known for playing melancholic tune, but also capable of play merry melody.
The erhu often plays an important role in the national orchestras. In the smaller orchestras, there are usually 2 to 6 erhu, in larger ones, 10 with 12. In fact, the erhu plays the same role as the violin in the Western orchestras.
Prior to the 20th century, most huqin instruments were used primarily to accompany various forms of Chinese opera and narrative. The use of the erhu as a solo instrument began in the early 20th century along with the development of guoyue (literally "national music"), a modernized form of Chinese traditional music written or adapted for the professional concert stage. Active in the early 20th century were Zhou Shaomei (周少梅, 1885-1938) and Liu Tianhua (刘天华, 1895-1932). Liu laid the foundations of modern erhu playing with his ten unaccompanied solos and 47 studies composed in the 1920s and 1930s. Liu Beimao (刘北茂, 1903-1981) was born in Jiangyin, Jiangsu. His compositions include Xiao hua gu (1943) (Little flower drum). Jiang Fengzhi (蔣风之) (1908-1986) and Chen Zhenduo (陈振铎) were students of Liu Tianhua, the piece Hangong Qiuyue (Autumn Moon Han Palace) was adapted and arranged by Jiang. Hua Yanjun (A Bing) (华彥君-阿炳, c. 1893-1950) was a blind street musician. Shortly before his death in 1950, two Chinese musicologists recorded him playing a few erhu and pipa solo pieces, the best known being Erquan Yingyue.
With the founding of the PRC and the expansion of the conservatory system, the solo erhu tradition continued to develop. Important performers during this time include Lu Xiutang (陆修堂, 1911-1966), Zhang Rui (张锐, 1920- ) Sun Wenming (孙文明, 1928-1962), Huang Haihuai (黄海怀), Liu Mingyuan (刘明源, 1931-1996), Tang Liangde (汤良德, b. 1938), Zhang Shao (张韶), and Song Guosheng(宋国生).
Liu Mingyuan (刘明源) (1931-1996) was born in Tianjin. He was known for his virtuosity on many instruments of the huqin family, in particular the banhu. His compositions and arrangements include Henan Xiaoqu (Henan folk tune), and Cao Yuan Shang (On Grassland) for zhonghu. For many years he taught at the China Conservatory of Music in Beijing.
Tang Liangde (Tong Leung Tak, 汤良德, b. 1938) was born in Shanghai into a famous Shanghainese musical family. He won the "Shanghai's Spring" erhu competition and continued to be the soloist for the Chinese Film Orchestra in Beijing, his composition and solos can be heard throughout the Nixon to China documentary movie. Tang was the soloist and performed at the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, then went onto music broadcasting and education for the Hong Kong Government's Music Office making worldwide tours, and was named Art Educator of the Year in 1991 by the Hong Kong Artist Guild.
Wang Guotong (王国潼, b. 1939) was born in Dalian, Liaoning. He studied with Jiang Fengzhi, Lan Yusong and Chen Zhenduo, and in 1960 graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. He performed the premiere of Sanmenxia Changxiangqu (Sanmen Gorge Rhapsody) composed by Liu Wenjin. In 1972 Wang became the erhu soloist, and later art director, with the China Broadcasting Traditional Orchestra. He returned to the Central Conservatory of Music in 1983 as head of the Chinese music department. He has written many books and articles on erhu playing and has performed in many countries. Wang also worked with the Beijing National Instruments Factory to further develop erhu design.
Min Huifen (閔惠芬, 1945- ) was born in Yixing, Jiangsu. Min first became known as the winner of the 1964 fourth Shanghai Spring national erhu competition. She studied with Lu Xiutang and Wang Yi, and graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1968, and became the erhu soloist with the Shanghai minzu yuetuan (Shanghai Folk Orchestra).
Yang Ying (杨英, b. 1959) was the featured soloist for the Chinese National Song and Dance Ensemble (中央歌舞团) of Beijing from 1978-1996. She was a national erhu champion, frequently recorded for the Chinese film and record industry, and is listed in famous persons of China.
The erhu is featured along with other traditional Chinese instruments such as the pipa in the contemporary Chinese instrumental music group, Twelve Girls Band. They perform traditional Chinese music as well as Western classical and popular music.
A few groups have utilized the erhu in a rock context. The Taiwanese black metal band Chthonic uses the erhu; they are the only black metal band to do so. The New Jersey-based progressive rock band The Hsu-nami plays a variety of rock sub-styles including metal, psychedelic, prog rock, and funk. An amplified erhu takes the place of lead vocals. Chie Mukai of the Japanese improv unit Ché-SHIZU also plays the erhu.
Another group which falls more under Electronica/Drum & Bass is a musical duo from Parkdale, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The group, known as USS or Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker, uses an erhu in a different context. The USS sound is a mixture of drum and bass beats, grunge-like guitar riffs and 2-step rhythms. The erhu is one of their notable instruments they use in the course of their two released CDs, "Wielding the C:/" and "Questamation".
|Er Quan Ying Yue
Er Quan Ying Yue" (二泉映月 - The Moon Reflected In Er-Quan, or Moon Reflected on Second Spring, Moon Mirrored in the Pool) was composed and played on erhu (二胡) on by A Bing (阿炳), whose real name is Hua Yanjun (华彦钧), a blind street musician. Shortly before his death in 1950, two Chinese musicologists recorded A Bing playing Er Quan Ying Yue erhu solo. The recorded work won The Twentieth Century Classical Chinese Music Awards. "Er Quan Ying Yue" is a representative work of A Bing.
|A Brief introduction to Guqin
Guqin is seven-stringed zither without bridges, the most classical Chinese instrument with over 3000 years of history. It is literally called qin yet commonly known as "guqin" (where "gu" stands for ancient), whereas the qin has become a generic name for all string instruments today.
Guqin has the most well-documented history and best preserved repertoire among all the intruments from China. There are a lot of literatures around guqin, and the information about the guqin is plenty.
Guqin has been frequently referred to as the preferred instrument of the sages and literati. For instance, Confucius (551 – 479 BC) was a great master of this instrument. Another notable great master is Ji Kong (223–262) who is one of the "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove".
To learn to play qin used to be regarded as a very important element for education for the purpose of enriching the heart and elevating human spirit or spirituel communication (to associate with the values and attitude of the past sages). In Imperial China’s past, monks, scholars and ladies of the elite society were supposed to master the four traditional arts, namely, qin, qi, shu and hua.
Being on top of the four traditional arts, the guqin has historically been regarded as one of the most important symbols of Chinese high culture. Unfortunately only small number of people in China could play the instrument, because classical musical education of this kind has never really reached general public. The situation for today has not been improved much until recently. Due to this reason, a lot of ancient repertoire was lost with the pass-away of masters or the written scores were burned or destroyed in war or social turmoil. The situation for the Chinese lute pipa was similar. However, the guqin repertoire has been much better preserved than all other instruments. Since November 2003, Guqin has been registered as one of the master pieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of the humanity by the United Nations' Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO). (from: http://www.philmultic.com/home/instruments/guqin.html )
Qin pieces are usually around three to eight minutes in length, with the longest being "Guangling San", which is 22 minutes long. Other famous pieces include "Liu Shui" (Flowing Water), "Yangguan San Die" (Three Refrains on the Yang Pass Theme), "Meihua San Nong" (Three Variations on the Plum Blossom Theme), "Xiao Xiang Shui Yun" (Mist and Clouds over the Xiao and Xiang Rivers), and "Pingsha Luo Yan" (Wild Geese Descending on the Sandbank). The average player will generally have a repertoire of around ten pieces which they will aim to play very well, learning new pieces as and when they feel like it or if the opportunity arises. Players mainly learn popular well transcribed versions, often using a recording as a reference. In addition to learning to play established or ancient pieces very well, highly skilled qin players may also compose or improvise, although the player must be very good and extremely familiar with the instrument to do this successfully. A number of qin melodies are program music depicting the natural world.
|Playing the guqin was required of literati, nobility - Michelle Qiao
&ldquoIt's like a beauty in her sweet sleep, breathing and gesturing so gracefully.” Modern Chinese novelist Jia Pingwa thus described a guqin, a seven-stringed zither in his essay “Red Fox.” He was speaking of a gift from a friend that had accompanied him through his loneliest days after his divorce. He named the instrument “Red Fox” because of its red-colored wood; he bought a big bed for the zither that measured as long as 130 centimeters.
As far back as 3,000 years ago, the guqin played the same important role for the Chinese literati who considered it the most refined of instruments.
“The guqin is an extremely beautiful ancient flower, a mirror of traditional Chinese philosophies and cultures,” says Gong Yi, China's top guqin player, who will stage a recital at the Shanghai Oriental Arts Center tomorrow.
“Among qin (guqin) qi (chess) shu (calligraphy) hua (painting), the four arts of the gentleman of the old Chinese scholar class, qin specifically indicates guqin, not music or other instruments,” says Gong. “Most ancient Chinese literateurs were good at playing this instrument, such as Tang Dynasty (619-907 AD) poet Li Bai, Song Dynasty (960-1279) scholar Su Shi and even the great Confucius.”
Four years ago guqin was proclaimed by UNESCO as a masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity along with Kunqu Opera.
“This is because compared with other Chinese instruments, guqin is the only one that has both written and archeological evidence to prove its history of nearly 3,000 years,” says Gong. “Those guqins unearthed from thousand-year-old tombs are rather similar to modern reproductions in terms of the structure, shape and the performing methods.”
The guqin has no bridges and its effective vibrating length is longer than that of other instruments. The large vibrating amplitude and rich low tones is perfect for conveying the sounds of nature. More than 100 harmonics can be played.
“Guqin” is a beautiful instrument, and beautiful in an elegant way. The shape of the guqin is said to resemble the mythical phoenix. Actually, it's more like a rectangle; it consists of a long narrow upper board and a somewhat wider lower board; it does not have a “neck.” It is usually 130 centimeters in length and 20 centimeters in width. It has 13 studs on its sound board harmonic, and long, silky tassels.
With a range of around four octaves, guqin music is primitively simple, elegant and especially full of lingering charms. And its tone qualities are variable -- deep and vigorous in the low register, pure and mellow in the middle, bright and delicate in the upper register.
“In ancient China it was quite a high-class instrument played by the royal family, generals, ministers, literati and beauties from wealthy families,” says Gong. “Guqin is such a living musical fossil that it enables us today to know how the ancient Chinese express their feelings through music. For instance 'Hu Jia Shi Ba Pai' (18 Episodes of Hujia Music) tells the feelings of a mother who had to part from her son forever. 'Yang Guan San Die' (Parting at Yang Pass) is a quintessential piece about parting between two close friends, who were reluctant to leave each other.”
Unlike pipa (four-string lute) introduced in our column last time, which has only 20 ancient scores remaining, guqin has more than 3,000 scores and many legends and poems are left behind.
The most famous legend is about Yu Boya, a qin player in the Spring and Autumn Annals (722-481 BC), whose performing was deeply appreciated and thoroughly understood by his woodsman friend Zhong Ziqi for its spiritual nature. When Zhong died, Yu destroyed his guqin because he believed it was meaningless to play any more when nobody could appreciate his music as did Zhong.
Unlike the pipa that a new instrument after 10 years' playing, antique guqins produce a superb sound. Gong has several Song Dynasty guqins and a Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) guqin. He often played the latter for concerts.
“Those antique guqins which have were played by important figures, such as Song scholar Su Shi or Song general Wen Tianxiang, are more valuable,” says Gong. “The rifts and cracks on the ancient guqin are beautiful. But not all antique guqins are better soundwise than modern reproductions.
In fact, many mediocre antique guqins are not as good as new ones. They were probably made under the supervision of a housekeeper of a landlord, who was ignorant about the material selection or making techniques. Those made for the royal family are usually of the highest quality.”
Gong says an antique guqin is usually carved with the reign year of the emperor, the name of the wood material and the name of the craftsman. A thorough, round, smooth and aged sound is the standard by which to judge a good antique guqin.
Gong by chance bought a battered guqin during the “cultural revolution” (1966-76). He later found out that it was a famous guqin formerly owned by the abbot at the Agate Temple in Hangzhou.
Wide popularity among literati of yesteryear or World Heritage today cannot change the fact that the guqin popular with a small community in China right now, and it is seldom performed in public. Many Chinese even confuse the seven-string guqin with the much bigger guzheng, a plucked, half-tube zither with 21 strings.
“There's a problem that many guqin players look down upon musicians playing other Chinese instruments,” says Gong. “They limit themselves to a small circle and indulge in playing dozens of old pieces, never thinking of how to develop the guqin to modern times.
“It's even worse that some mediocre guqin players begin to show off their expensive antique guqin collections.”
It's true that there have been only around 50 new compositions for guqin over the past 50 years. Some new compositions have been strongly criticized by guqin traditionalists.
“In ancient China guqin was played in small gatherings for just several good friends. But today why not play for more people, dozens of guqin lovers or even an audience of 1,000?” says Gong, who has twice staged at the Golden Concert Hall in Vienna twice.
He adds that guqin pieces are perhaps like Beethoven's “Symphony No. 5,” not so easy for ordinary people to understand at first. But some homework beforehand will help them to know the music better -- the same is true for traditional Chinese music.
“Compared with the bright sound of pipa, the sound produced by guqin is deep, lingering and like something you can rely on, maybe just like the clock of the Longhua Temple,” says Gong. “You will have nothing in mind at the moment but only ticking clock sound. The lingering sound of guqin will make your heart as calm and pure as water, it will feel like home.”
He adds that pop music is like a bottle of zesty soda taken from the fridge -- it immediately quenches your thirst and stimulates your mind.
“But it's time to try another taste, especially living in a bustling city,” says Gong. “Guqin' is not soda, but a cup of green tea, which requires you to calm down and take some time to savor its light taste and lingering aftertaste.”
Well, no matter sleeping beauty, ancient flower or green tea, guqin condenses the essence of Chinese cultures in its seven strings, phoenix body and pretty tassels. Light a joss stick in an incense burner, a piece of light guqin music will help you remove the dust from the soul and get into the mood of an ancient Chinese literati 3,000 years ago.
|Yang Guan San Die (Adios at Yangguan)
"Adios at Yangguan" is a piece of music played with lyre according to a poem written by Wang Wei, a famous poet in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Wang Wei wrote the poem when he saw off a friend to serve in army at Weicheng, a small town in Yangguan neighboring the border.
The poem goes like this: "In the central town Weicheng, it rains lightly in the morning. All the houses and willows look fresh after the rain. I suggest you have another cup of wine, as soon as you go out of the Yangguan Pass, there are no friends." Instrument players made it a see-off song based on the poem. Even today, some people usually sing this song when they see off friends.
|A Brief introduction to Guzhen
The Zheng, commonly known as Guzheng, (pronounced "Goo-Zheng"), is a plucked string instrument that is part of the zither family. It is one of the most ancient Chinese musical instruments according to the documents written in the Qin dynasty (before 206 BC). Zheng is the forerunner of Japanese koto, Korean kayagum, Mongolian yatag, and Vietnamese dan tranh. Due to its long history, the zheng has been called guzheng or Gu-Zheng where "Gu" stands for "ancient" in Chinese. The guzheng has been a popular instrument since ancient times and is considered as one of the main chamber as well as solo instruments of Chinese traditional music. Since the mid-19th century, guzheng solo repertoire has been growing and evolving towards an increasing technical complexity.
The Chinese character for "zheng"(筝) is composed of two parts: the upper part means "bamboo"(竹) and the lower part is "argue" (争). According to a legend, there was a master of se (瑟), 25-stringed zither, who had two talented daughters who loved playing the instrument. Now there came a time that the master became too old, and wanted to pass his instrument over to one of them. However, both daughters wanted to have it. The master felt very sad that he had only one instrument, and in the end, out of desperate, he decided to split the instrument into two - one got 12 strings, and the other 13. To his amazement, the new instrument sounds mellow and even more beautiful than its original. The happy master gave the new instrument a new name "zheng" by making up the character with the symbolisms representing "bamboo" and "argue". The word "zheng", the name of this instrument, pronounces the same as the word "zheng" which means "argue" or "dispute". The origin of the Chinese character representing this instrument seems to indicate that the early version of the instrument was made of bamboo, which is different from that of today. However, this legendary story, though it might be true according to the origin of the Chinese character for this instrument, should not be taken too seriously. It might well be the case that the character 争is just "borrowed" here for the name of instrument 筝due to the fact that its pronunciation is a closer imitation of the sound the instrument produces. It is very common is Chinese literature, particularly in ancient poems, to described the sound of the guzheng as "zheng zheng", similar to the case of pipa.
Zheng (Guzheng) is build with a special wooden sound body with strings arched across movable bridges along the length of the instrument for the purpose of tuning. In the early times the zheng had 5 string (quite probably with bamboo sound body); later on developed into 12 to 13 strings in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907AD) and 16 strings in the Song and Ming dynasty (from the 10th to 15th century). The present day zheng usually has 21-25 strings.
Note that guzheng should not be confused with guqin, 7-stringed zither without bridges.
|Playing Styles and performers (from wikipedia)
There are many techniques used in the playing of the guzheng, including basic plucking actions (right or both hands) at the right portion and pressing actions at the left portion (by the left hand to produce pitch ornamentations and vibrato) as well as tremolo (right hand). These techniques of playing the guzheng can create sounds that can evoke the sense of a cascading waterfall, thunder, horses' hooves, and even the scenic countryside. Plucking is done mainly by the right hand with four plectra (picks) attached to the fingers. Advanced players may use picks attached to the fingers of both hands. In more traditional performances however, plectra are used solely on the right hand, reflecting its use for melodic purposes and its relative importance in comparison to the left hand which is used solely for purposes of ornamentation. Ancient picks were made of ivory and later also from tortoise shell. Ornamentation includes a tremolo involving the right thumb and index finger rapidly and repeatedly plucking the same note. Another commonly used ornamentation is a wide vibrato, achieved by repeatedly pressing with the left hand on the left side of the bridge. This technique is used liberally in Chinese music, as well as in Korean gayageum music.
In arrangements of guqin pieces, harmonics are frequently used, along with single-string glissandi, evoking the sound of the guqin. Harmonics are achieved by lightly placing the left hand in the middle of the string while plucking on the right end of string.
The guzheng's pentatonic scale is tuned to Do, Re, Mi, So, and La, but Fa and Ti can also be produced by pressing the strings to the left of the bridges. Well known pieces for the instrument include Yu Zhou Chang Wan (Singing at night on fishing boat), Gao Shan Liu Shui (High mountains flowing water), Mei Hua San Nong (Three variations of the Plum Blossom theme) and Han Gong Qiu Yue (Autumn Moon Over the Han Palace).
Two broad playing styles (schools) can be identified as Northern and Southern, although many traditional regional styles still exist. The Northern styles is associated with Henan and Shandong while the Southern style is with the Chaozhou and Hakka regions of eastern Guangdong. Both Gao Shan Liu Shui (High mountains flowing water) and Han Gong Qiu Yue (Han palace autumn moon) are from the Shandong school, while Han ya xi shui (Winter Crows Playing in the Water) and Chu shui lian (Lotus Blossoms Emerging from the Water) are major pieces of the Chaozhou and Hakka repertories respectively.
Important players and teachers in the 20th century include Wang Xunzhi (1899–1972) who popularized the Wulin zheng school based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang; Lou Shuhua, who rearranged a traditional guzheng piece and named it Yu zhou chang wan; Liang Tsai-Ping (1911-2000), who edited the first guzheng teaching manual, Nizheng pu in 1938; Cao Dongfu (1898–1970), from Henan; Gao Zicheng (b. 1918) and Zhao Yuzhai (b. 1924), both from Shandong; Su Wenxian (1907–1971); Guo Ying (b. 1914) and Lin Maogen (b. 1929), both from Chaozhou; the Hakka Luo Jiuxiang (1902–1978); and Cao Guifen and Cao Zheng (1920-1998), both of whom trained in the Henan school. The Cao family from Henan are known for being masters of the guzheng.
Many new pieces have been composed since the 1950s which used new playing techniques such as the playing of harmony and counterpoint by the left hand. Pieces in this new style include Qing feng nian (Celebrating the Harvest, Zhao Yuzhai, 1955), Zhan tai feng (Fighting the Typhoon, Wang Changyuan, 1965) and the guzheng concerto "Miluo River Fantasia" (Li Huanzhi, 1984). Contemporary experimental atonal pieces have been composed since the 1980s.
A more modern playing technique is using the left hand to provide harmony and bass notes, heavily influenced by the theory of Western music. This allows for greater flexibility in the instruments musical range, allowing for harmonic progression. This however also has its limitations, as it prevents the subtle ornamentations provided by the left hand in more traditional music. Students of the guzheng who take the Beijing Conservatory examinations are required to learn a repertoire of pieces both traditional and modern.
Twelve Girls Band is a contemporary Chinese instrumental group that features the guzheng as well as other traditional Chinese instruments such as the erhu and pipa. They perform traditional Chinese music as well as Western popular and classical music.
|Gao Shan Liu Shui
Gao Shan Liu Shui (高山流水, High Mountain and Running River), Guzheng (古筝, Zither) Solo, was composed by Bo Ya (伯牙) before 221 BC.
Listed as one of ten best ancient Chinese music pieces, "High Mountains Flowing Water" has lyre and zither versions, both inspired by the classical allusion: Boya encountering a person who understands his zither performance.
"Bo Ya was good at playing the qin. Zhong Ziqi was good at to listening to the qin. When Bo Ya's will was towards high mountains in his playing, Zhong Ziqi would say, 'How towering like Mount Tai!' When Bo Ya's will was towards flowing water in his playing, Zhong Ziqi would say, 'How vast are the rivers and oceans!' Whatever Bo Ya thought of Ziqi would never fail to understand. Bo Ya said, 'Amazing! Your heart and mines are the same!' When Ziqi died, Bo Ya broke the strings [of his qin] and vowed never to play [the qin] again. Thus, there was the melody of High Mountains Flowing Water."
|A Brief introduction to Pipa
The pipa (pronounced "pee-paa") is a four-stringed lute, one of the oldest Chinese musical instruments with over 2000 years of history. The term pipa consists of two Chinese characters symbolizing two playing techniques while their pronunciations p'i and p'a are imitations of the sounds produced accordingly. The latter fact is however not often mentioned in the literatures about the pipa.
The historical development of the pipa has been a progressive process from its very beginning with few major fusions. The earliest Chinese written texts about the pipa dated back at least to the second century BC. For instance, Xi Liu of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) described in his book, The Definition of Terms - On Musical Instruments, that the name of the instrument pipa originally referred to two finger techniques. The two Chinese characters p'i and p'a stood originally for the two movements, i.e. plucking the strings forwards and backwards, respectively. It is commonly known now that it is the generic name for all pluck-string instruments of the ancient times. For instance, in the Qin Dynasty (222-207 BC), there had been a kind of plucked-instrument, known as xiantao, with a straight neck and a round sound-body played horizontally, which is considered a predecessor of the pipa. In the preface to his verse Ode to Pipa, Xuan Fu of the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD) wrote: "...the pipa appeared in the late Qin period. When the people suffered from being forced to build the Great Wall, they played the instrument to express their resentment". By the Han Dynasty (206 BC -- 220 AD), the instrument developed into its form of four strings and twelve frets, plucked with fingernails and known as pipa or qin-pipa. In the Western Jin Dynasty (256-316), the qin-pipa was named after the famous scholar, one of "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove", Ruan Xian, who was a great virtuoso master on this instrument. (Note that Ji Kong, the grand master of the seven stringed zither qin, was among the seven sages who were great friends and often met for music and wine). The instrument has been to this day called the ruan(阮) whereas the name pipa specifically referred to a new version in the same family of instruments.
During the Northern and Southern Dynasty (420-589 AD), a similar pluck string instrument, called oud or barbat with a crooked neck and four or five strings was introduced through the Silk Road from Central Asia, known as the Hu Pipa (胡Hu stands for "foreign" in Chinese), which was played horizontally with a wooden plectrum. During the early Tang Dynasty, foreign music became very popular. A fusion of the original Chinese pipa and the "Hu pipa" took place such that the instrument gradually became what the present pipa looks like toward the middle of the Tang Dynasty. Meanwhile the playing method has been developed and repertoire increased. One of the greatest developments was that the left hand became totally free by holding the instrument vertically, i.e. the pipa rests on the thigh of the instrumentalist in an upright position, and was played vertically with five fingers of the right hand instead of horizontally with a plectrum.;
During the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), the pipa was one of the most popular instruments, and it has maintained its appeal in solo as well as chamber genres ever since. The Tang pipa was larger than the modern instrument. It usually had four or five strings and fewer frets (compared to the present day pipa). Probably influenced by the Hu pipa, the Tang pipa was often played with a wooden plectrum, a technique still used by its Japanese descendent, the biwa. Since the mid Tang Dynasty, and particularly since the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the instrument was gradually developed into the present form of a lute played with fingernails, while the techniques with the plectrum were totally abandoned. The strings of the instrument were made of silk. Musicians used their real nails of the right hand to pluck the strings. An exception to this is the Nanguan pipa which is popular in Fujian Province (South-East China) and Taiwan in a particular kind of traditional music called Nanguan which can be traced back to at least the Song Dynasty. Pipa players in the Nanguan tradition play the pipa horizontally and use one piece of plectrum just like the Tang pipa.
Another big change (fusion) occurred to the pipa during the first half of the last century: the traditional pipa with silk strings and pentatonic tuning has developed into the modern pipa with steel strings and chromatic tuning (by increasing the number of frets). The modern instrument is half-pear-shaped, with a short, bent neck, and has 30 frets which extend down the neck and onto the soundboard, giving a wide range and a complete chromatic scale. The usual tuning is A - E - D - A (La - Mi - Re - La). Since early last century, steel strings began to be used by some musicians while most still kept using silk strings. Since the 1950s, the making of the pipa has become standardized in measure and the strings are made of steel wrapped with nylon. Thus using the real nail becomes almost impossible. Instead, a little plectrum (or fake nail) is attached to each finger of the right hand. The plectrums are usually made of turtle shell or special plastics.
There was a huge repertoire of pipa music in Chinese history, particularly during the Tang dynasty. But most of the pieces were lost. Fortunately, there are precious pipa pieces handed down from one generation to another by individual artists and scholars. Some pieces have been preserved in Japan and other musical scores were discovered along the Silk Road in Gansu Province, China, around 1900. These musical notations, known as the Dunhuang scores from the Tang Dynasty (7-9th century) triggered great concern and interest within China as well as abroad. However, they remained a mystery until the early 1980s, when the scholar, Prof. Ye Dong from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, successfully "decoded" 25 of the pieces. The beauty and elegance of these pieces has thus first been revealed to the public after having slept for a thousand years.
Pipa music has been loved by Chinese people through the centuries. During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1645-1911) dynasties, various pipa schools with different styles flourished in the South, centered in Wuxi, Suzhou and Shanghai, and the North, centered in Beijing. The development of finger techniques for both hands achieved a high standard by the masters from each school. The present day pipa techniques are mostly the fusion of those different schools. Now the pipa is one of most popular instruments in China. Many of the compositions that make up the traditional repertoire, which were handed down from generation to generation through individual artists and scholars, date back hundreds of years, while others are part of a body of compositions that are dynamic and growing. In more recent times, composers have explored the possibilities for the pipa and other Chinese and Western instruments, even with orchestra. Nowadays, there are a number of celebrated pipa concerti.
|Shi Mian Mai Fu (Ambush from all sides)
With its highly virtuoso programmatic effects and tremendous power, this is the best-known piece in the 'martial repertory' (wuqu) for the pipa. It describes the glorious victory of Liu Bang over Xiang Yu in 202 BC, the same theme as "The King doffs his Armour", however, from a totally different view point. There is no information about the composer, but some researches suggest that this piece might be dated back as early as the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-917AD).
The earliest extant tablature found in Hua Qiuping's pipa score dated 1818 is a vivid description of the performance of a piece called Chu Han. That is about the Chinese Chu and Han states, and specifically the epic battle between their rival armies which in 202 BC secured the power of the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220AD). Chu Han is found in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) biography by the literatus Wang Quanding (1598-1662), Sizhao Tang Collection. The two pieces were based on the same story, and the sequence of sound and plot descriptions in Wang's record closely match the subtitles of the sections in the 1818 score. It is, therefore, possible to say that Shimian Maifu (Ambushed on Ten Sides) was in existence during the 17th century. existence during the 17th century.
Anyway, the powerful playing, excellent musicality – dramatic and emotional, "The ambush from all sides" (十面埋伏) is undoubtedly the most famous pipa master piece from the Chinese traditional repertoire.
|A Brief introduction to Suona
The suona (simplified Chinese: 唢呐; traditional Chinese: 嗩吶; pinyin: suǒnà); also called laba (Chinese: 喇叭; pinyin: lǎbā) or haidi (Chinese: 海笛; pinyin: hǎidí) is a Han Chinese shawm (oboe). It has a distinctively loud and high-pitched sound, and is used frequently in Chinese traditional music ensembles, particularly those that perform outdoors. It is an important instrument in the folk music of northern China, particularly the provinces of Shandong and Henan, where it has long been used for festival and military purposes. It is still used, in combination with sheng mouth organs, gongs, drums, and sometimes other instruments, in wedding and funeral processions. Such wind and percussion ensembles are called chuida or guchui. Stephen Jones has written extensively on its use in ritual music of Shanxi province. It is also common in the ritual music of Southeast China. In Taiwan, it forms an essential element of ritual music that accompanies Daoist performances of both auspicious and inauspicious rites, i.e., those for both the living and the dead.
The suona has a conical wooden body, similar to that of the European oboe, but uses a tubular brass or copper bocal to which a small double reed is affixed, and possesses a detachable metal bell at its end.
The instrument is made in several sizes. Since the mid-20th century, "modernized" versions of the suona have been developed in China; such instruments have keys similar to those of the European oboe, to allow for the playing of chromatic notes and equal tempered tuning (both of which are difficult to execute on the traditional suona). There is now a family of such instruments, including the zhongyin suona, cizhongyin suona, and diyin suona. These instruments are used in the woodwind sections of modern large Chinese traditional instrument orchestras in China, Taiwan, and Singapore, though most folk ensembles prefer to use the traditional version of the instrument. Chinese rock musician Cui Jian featured a modernized suona in his song "Nothing To My Name" (一无所有) (played by the saxophonist Liu Yuan).
The nazi (呐子), a related instrument that is most commonly used in northern China, consists of a suona reed (with bocal) that is played melodically, the pitches changed by the mouth and hands. Sometimes the nazi is played into a large metal horn for additional volume.
The suona is believed to have been developed from Central Asian instruments such as the sorna, surnay, or zurna, from which its Chinese name probably derives. It was originally introduced into China from central or South Asia. A musician playing an instrument very similar to a suona is shown on a drawing on a Silk Road religious monument in western Xinjiang province dated to the 3rd to 5th centuries, and depictions dating to this period found in Shandong and other regions of northern China depict it being played in military processions, sometimes on horseback. It was not mentioned in Chinese literature until the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), but by this time the suona was already established in northern China.
In Korea, a similar instrument is called taepyeongso, and in Vietnam similar oboes are called kèn.
In Japan, a similar instrument is called charumera. This instrument's name is derived from charamela, the Portuguese word for shawm. Its sound is well known throughout Japan, as it is often used by street vendors selling ramen.
A similar instrument is played during ceremonial occasions in India.
The suona is also used as a traditional instrument in Cuba, having been introduced by Chinese immigrants during the colonial era. It is known there as trompeta china and is used in some forms of son and carnival music. The American jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman often played the suona in his performances, calling it a "musette."
|Suona -- Eight-eyed monkey with the bad rap - Michelle Qiao
I've always hated suona music that reminds me of those vulgar music played during folk weddings or funerals. But there was an exception when I happened to hear a piece of suona music in the field at dusk during a trip to collect folk songs in North China. Facing a blood-red sunset glow, I heard the endless grand somber timbre of suona music. Perhaps that's another face of suona. Anyway it's still an instrument perfect for celebrations, like a carnival. -- Local music critic Wang Shu
The suona or Chinese oboe, sometimes called a trumpet, is the loudest Chinese instrument, and as it is passionate and lively it frequently sets the rhythm and beat for a band. It is the musical mainstay at weddings, celebrations, parades and funerals.
It has earned the reputation, unfairly, as a rustic, low-class instrument because of its often piercing loud sound. The suona, in fact, is capable of subtlety, of plaintive, sentimental performances.
It also can create a brilliant sound of hundreds of singing birds. All this depends on which size the suona and how it is played, of course, but the reputation stuck.
“The distinctively loud and high-pitched sound of suona was perfect for outdoor performances. It had been used for festival and military purposes and currently is widely used in traditional weddings and funerals in the countryside of North China,” says suona performer Hu Chenyun from the Shanghai Chinese Music Orchestra.
“That gave people an impression that it was not a decent instrument, but only created some bustling noise.”
The suona was originally introduced to China from Central Asia, developed from Central Asian instruments such as the “surnay” or “zurna,” from which its Chinese name probably derives. A musician playing an instrument very similar to a suona is shown in a drawing on a Silk Road religious monument in what is now the western Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, dating back to the third to fifth century AD.
“Suona was formerly made all of wood and it was used in military processions as bugles,” says Hu. “People later used brass or copper to make the mouthpiece for a even louder and brighter sound.”
But it was the unique loud and bright sound that had attracted French composer Krystof Maratka to write a concerto for suona., He was the youngest of the eight French composers, who were recently commissioned to write music about Shanghai using traditional instruments and Chinese melodies for a project titled “Presences China” last year.
“Other composers chose other instruments after coming to China, but Maratka decided on the suona when he happened to hear an album of the instrument in France,” says Hu.
After coming to Shanghai, Maratka asked suona performer Hu to demonstrate different effects on the instrument -- the lightest or the highest pitches, the most passionate or the saddest emotions.
“Suona's timbre is so loud and characteristic that during a concerto it could never be drowned out by a symphony orchestra. But it's also very hard to write a composition for suona because it's so characteristic.”
As a result, the suona concerto “Chan G'hai” won the first prize after audience vote. (Click Multimedia on the left to listen to excerpts of this piece.)
The humble suona is a simple and inexpensive instrument. It has a conical wooden body, similar to that of the European oboe. However, it uses a brass or copper mouthpiece to which a small double reed is affixed, possessing a detachable metal bell at its end. The best suonas are made of old rosewood, costing only a little more than US$100.
These instruments are used in the woodwind sections of traditional instrument orchestras in China and Singapore. Chinese rock star Cui Jian once featured a suona in his song “Nothing to My Name,” which was played by a saxophonist.
“But unlike Western oboes which have keys to control the pitches, the two-octave suona has only eight holes, and they rely on the breath and fingers of a performer to control the pitches and tunes,” says Hu. “But with such a simple structure, the instrument can vividly imitate the talking, singing or even Chinese opera singing of a human being.”
Mastering the suona is difficult and the eight-hole instrument has been called the “eight-eyed monkey” because like a monkey it is difficult to control.
Hu prepares a several suona in different sizes for performances.
“The bigger ones sound lower and deeper, with a more melancholy touch while the smaller ones sound more crispy and joyful,” says Hu. “Some composers tend to use suona of different sizes in different chapters of a concerto to express a variety of emotions.”
As a suona performer, Hu has encountered a lot of misunderstanding and even discrimination due to the stereotype of the instrument as simply loud and common, lacking sophistication.
“I was chosen by a musical teacher to learn suona during childhood but gradually I truly fell in love with the instrument,” says Hu. “I find playing suona, which allows me to breathe in a special way, is good for my health. It's such a magical instrument that can quickly stir up your emotions.
“It is very loud but it also can produce some very touching, deep timbres. Suona can perfectly express feelings, like the crying and shouting of a man, which gets you directly to the heart of the performer.”
|Bai Niao Chao Feng (百鸟朝凤, Hundreds Birds Worshipping The Phoenix, or numerous Birds Bow to the Phoenix, or How the Phoenix Got Its Plumage
Adapted by Ren Tongxiang, the piece is especially popular in Shandong, Henan and Hebei provinces. The perfect showcase piece for the suona, it evokes the singing, chattering and fluttering of all the birds at the birthday party for the Phoenix.
Once upon a time, the Phoenix was just a common bird, not flashy at all, with just ordinary feathers. However, it was so diligent that it always stored more food than it needed.
One year, there was a long drought and many of the birds died, many were hungry. Because generous Phoenix shared its food with other birds many of them survived. In gratitude the birds gave Phoenix gorgeous plumage, donating their most beautiful feathers. Thanks to the other birds’ gifts of thanks, the Phoenix became the most beautiful bird in the world.
The grateful birds decided to hold yearly gatherings every year to celebrate Phoenix birthday and give thanks. At the party, they bow to Phoenix to show their thanks.
The composition sounds like the song of numerous birds; the melody is pleasing and dynamic. Those who live in cities will find the song lifts their spirits, like a release into the countryside.
|A Brief introduction to Xun
The xun (simplified: 埙; traditional: 塤; pinyin: xūn) is a globular, flute-like, Chinese musical instrument. The xun is made of clay or ceramic, similar to an ocarina but without a fipple mouthpiece. Other Chinese flute-like instruments, such as the Wudu and Taodi, however, include a fipple.
The xun is made in several egg-shaped sizes, and is one of the oldest Chinese instruments. It has a blowing hole on top and generally eight smaller finger holes (three each for the index, middle, and ring fingers of each hand, and one for each thumb). The Korean equivalent is the hun (hangul: 훈; hanja: 塤). In Japan, the same type of instrument is called tsuchibue (hiragana: つちぶえ ; kanji: 土笛, lit. "earthen flute").
(From: Wikipedia )
|Sound of the Ancient Time –Xun
Last week, we heard the music of an ancient Chinese instrument -- the Xiao, or vertical flute, and today, we'll be hearing another ancient Chinese wind instrument, the Xun, a pear-shaped clay pipe, which is often referred to as the "Chinese Ocarina”.
The Xun is usually made of baked clay but you can also find instruments made of stone, and they have six to nine finger-holes. Its soft, resonant tone has a haunting tonal quality.
The music we are listening to is Of Heaven and Earth, composed and played by famous Xun performer Zhang Weiliang, who also plays the xiao. The piece is taken from his album "Of Heaven and Earth" released in 1997, which was the first album of solo xun.
That was Of Heaven and Earth, performed by Zhang Weiliang.
No one is entirely sure how old the xun is, but an instrument was discovered in east China's Zhejiang province which has been dated to around 7,000 years ago.
The earliest Xun was made of stones and bone, and seems to have been used by hunters to trap animals by imitating their voices. But the early instruments wouldn't have been used to play music as we know it on, as the oldest known instrument has only one finger hole.
The xun developed at a slow pace, and by the Shang Dynasty about 3,000 years ago, there were instruments with five finger holes, which greatly enhanced its expressive capacity.
Let's listen to Morning Chirps, another piece from Zhang Weiliang's album, "Of Heaven and Earth". In this piece, you can hear a variety of ancient wind instruments, including the gudi, or bone flute, gushao, or bone whistle, and taodi, or clay flute. They accompany five xun which imitate the songs of birds. Have a listen.
That was Morning Chirps, played by Zhang Weiliang
The Xun was an important instrument in ancient court music. As early as the Warring States period around 2,700 years ago, the xun was already being widely used in court music, especially during various sacrifice activities. But because of its limited range and its quiet volume, the xun was more often used for domestic court music.
The next piece for xun we'll hear is Bo Zhong Yin, a duet for xun and chi. Chi is another ancient wind instrument, which is made of bamboo and which is often used to accompany the xun. Here Bo and Zhong in Chinese means brothers. In the anthology "Book of Songs" of ancient China, there were such lines as "Brothers quarreling at home join forces against attacks from without", and this piece expresses brothers fighting as one man against external aggression. Have a listen.
That was Bo Zhong Yin, a duet of xun and chi.
The xun comes in various sizes, from the large "goose-egg shaped" instrument to the small "peach-shaped" ones, and the pear-shaped xun is now the most common instrument. In ancient court music, the xun is further divided into two kinds according to their size: the bigger one is called Ya-xun, which has a lower tone and was used in Confucian music ritual, and the smaller one is called Song-xun, which has a higher tone.
Next up is one of the most famous pieces of xun music, For Those Fallen for Their Country. Here, the xun is accompanied by the Guqin, a seven-stringed plucked instrument. The piece is inspired by the poem "Nine Chapters" by the famous poet Qu Yuan of the Warring States period, and expresses the deepest sorrow of the poet who saw his country invaded and the people made homeless.
That was For Those Fallen for Their Country, a duet for the xun and guqin. Traditionally, xun had between 5 and 7 finger holes in the body and one mouth hole at the top. The range of possible notes was quite narrow. And today, the xun typically has 6 finger holes on the front and 2 thumb holes on the back, giving the instrument a wider range than its ancestor.
In Beijing's Forbidden City, there is a six-holed xun from the Qing dynasty, about 100 years ago. It is 8.5 cm in height and 7 cm in width, covered with red paint and traced with delicate dragon and clouds.
Next is Chu Song. Xiang Yu was a tragic figure who lived over 2,000 years ago. This piece creates the moving scene of great military general who killed his beloved concubine when songs from Chu, his homeland, were played by the besieging army.
That was Chu Song.
As the Xun has a special haunting tone, it is good at creating an hollow and melancholy atmosphere, and these special characteristics make its music sacred, elegant, yet mysterious and a little sad, which were greatly favored by the ancient literati.
Next is an ancient piece composed by Song poet Jiang Baishi, who lived about 1,000 years ago. And this Chang Ting Yuan Man is filled with the sadness of separation, played by famous xun player Zhao Liangshan.
That was Chang Ting Yuan Man, an ancient xun piece played by Zhao Liangshan.
For various reasons, the xun fell out of use at the turn of the 20th century, and it almost disappeared in the 1930s.
Not until the past two decades, was the old instrument revived. A lot of musicians have made further physical improvements to the instrument. And the nine-hole boccaro clay xun is widely used in national orchestras. Professional players are able to play 26 notes on the instrument, and there is now a 10 and 12-hole xun.
Next is An Arduous Journy, played by Zhao Liangshan.
That was An Arduous Journy, played by Zhao Liangshan.
I'll leave you today with two cheerful pieces of Xun music, Lakeland in Early Spring Morning, and Caravan, the first one is a country melody describing people working on the Lakeland, and the second has a strong ethnic flavor, which depicts the exotic scenery of the western areas. The brisk rhythm is achieved by xun, clay flute, and plucked string instruments Guzheng and Pipa
(CRI.com August 10, 2004)