Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gu Zheng with Courtney Chen 6/7/09

I went to a lecture/demo of the 21 string Chinese instrument today. It was also about tea, and it was very interesting. It was a large range of sounds. I think it's like a piano meets guitar in a way. It's got an interesting twang. There's so much more in the invite below. It was awesome to get a little more info.

"Qin" means Chinese instruments. The "Way of Qin" is called "Qin Tao". Today we talk about Qin Tao again following our music lecture on May 17th by Dr Ye Mingmei through performance of old Chinese instrument -Gu Qin. We are going to introduce another Chinese music instrument – Guzheng today.

Qin is No. 1 skill to master among four literary arts. Most of those instruments have a long history. “Qin Tao” includes Tablature, Aesthetics, Music Scale and Notation. Learning “Qin Tao” and listen to the ancient music bring relaxation, beauty and virtue to life.

There are four types of ancient Chinese instruments: 1st. Wind - Dizi, Suona; 2nd. String-Er Hu, Jinghu, Banhu. 3nd. Plucked-string Gu Zheng, Gu Qin, Pipa; 4th.Percussion - Luo, Gu.

Unfortunately many beautiful ancient Chinese songs were lost. Today we still preserve some famous melodies, such as:

Ambush on All Sides (Shi Mian Mai Fu)

Spring Now (Yang Chun Bai Xue)

A hundred birds pay homage in the phenix (Bai Niao Chao Feng)

Spring river moon night (Chuang Jiang Hua Yue Ye)

The moon reflected on the second spring (Er Quan Ying Yue)

The Gu Zheng or Zheng is a traditional Chinese musical instrument. The “Gu” means “ancient”. Guzheng belongs to the zither family of string instruments. The Japanese “Koto”, the Mongolian “Yatga”, the Korean “gayageum”, and the Vietnamese “dan tranh” are all transformed from guzheng. It is the parent of all of these instruments.

The modern-day Gu Zheng is a plucked, half-tube zither with movable bridges and 21 strings, although it can be very from 15 to 25 strings. The Zheng strings were formerly made of twisted silk, though by the 20th century most Zheng players used metal (mostly steel) strings. Since the mid-20th century most players use steel strings wrapped with nylon.

The Zheng has a large resonant cavity made from Wutong wood (firmiana simplex). It existed since the “Warring States Period” and became especially popular during the Qin Dynasty. That’s why Zheng has another name called Qin Zheng. Until 1961, the common Gu Zheng had 16 strings, although by the mid-20th century 18-string Zhengs are also in use.

In 1961, the first (1st) 21-string guzheng was introduced by Master Wang Xunzhi. He also invented the “S-shaped” left string rest, which was quickly adapted by all Guzheng makers and is still is used by today. Master Wang Xunzhi is also the founder of the Zhejiang Zheng style. The “S-shaped” curve allows for greater ease in tuning the strings and for broader pitch ranges by adding more strings to the instrument. The 21-string Zheng is the most commonly used nowadays, but some traditional musicians still use the 16-steel-string Zhengs, especially along the southeastern coastal provinces of China and in Taiwan.

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 vibrations).These techniques of playing the Guzheng can create sounds like waterfall, thunder, wind howling and many more. Plucking is done mainly by the right hand with four plectra (picks) attached to fingers. Some players use picks on both hands. Plectra are used solely on the right hand for the use of melodic purposes and the comparison to the left hand which is used solely for ornamentation. Ancient picks were made of ivory and later also from tortoise shell. Unlike piano, 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.

The Zheng is like martial arts, has different styles. Two broad playing styles can be identified as Northern and Southern. The northern styles are associated with Henan and Shandong while the southern styles are with the Chaozhou and Hakka regions of eastern Guangdong. Now there is another new style call Zhejiang which I had mentioned before, was founded by Master Wang Xunzhi in 1960s.

Courtney Chen is our guest speaker and performer of Gu Zheng. She has been learning Gu Zheng for more than 10 years. She is going to play 3-4 classic Chinese music and also introduce the background of the beautiful classic music she plays.

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