Ancient Chinese Instrument Making a Comeback in Popular Culture

The traditional guqin is showing up in modern performances and in Chinese rock bands(Photo: Focus on China Culture)
The traditional guqin is showing up in modern performances and in Chinese rock bands(Photo: Focus on China Culture)

Pop, rock, jazz, blues…the styles are different, but most of the instruments are pretty predictable.  Guitar, drums, organ, keyboards, various winds.  In classical music, there are also certain instruments you expect, with few exceptions.  If you look at the Early Music and period instrument performances, you’ll find the predecessors of most of our modern instruments, along with a few really strange ones which, for obvious reasons, are rarely used.

In China, however, one ancient instrument, the guqin,  has once again made it’s way into the mainstream…not just for historical performances or in traditional celebrations, but in rock concerts, such as one you can see below by Zhaoze, aka The Swamp.  Facilities are popping up all over China to teach the instrument, while instrument makers are struggling to keep up with demand.

How long will it be before Bruce Springsteen fills the gap left by the passing of Clarence Clemons by hiring a crumhorn player?

Read Gugin Gathering (Gingdaonese)

Watch Zhaoze performing on the guqin in performance

What’s Your Favorite Instrument?

For most of us one instrument, or family of instruments, stands out above the others as a favorite.  In the Intelligent Life section of The Economist, one writer poses that question and finds it somewhat difficult to answer.  Why?  Because it seems in an upcoming edition of New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, the list has grown to 20,000.

Don’t Touch that Peg!

One of my favorite instruments to watch someone play is the banjo.  (Sorry Yo Yo, sorry Anne Sophie).  As a young musician in high school, intonation was pounded into our heads.  We had strobe tuners so we could check our pitch.  My high school band director even went so far as to loan me the barrel from his Buffet clarinet, because mine was just a shade too long, pushing me flat.

The recent passing of Earl Scruggs brought to mind the joy of watching him twist the pegs of his banjo while playing some hellbent-for-leather tune.  Another musician who does that, but on a guitar, is Junior Brown.  Every time I see it, it makes me chuckle.

While it is great fun to watch with some instruments, other musicians cringe if you even mention it.  For harpists, what violinists call scordatura, harpists call scordatorture.

Colin Holter is a composer who, in his quest for a degree, has asked many musicians to do things free which they often would not do, even if they were paid.  He says he swore after “Having written many semesters’ worth of unwarrantedly difficult music,” he would never put himself through this torture again.

One article he cites that helped his decision was called Detuning the Harp.  For any budding composer, (or harpist who thinks they can play Foggy Mountain Brakdown), this is a must read…and an entertaining one.

Read Judgement Call (New Music Box)

Watch Junior Brown abuse his guitar in Broke Down South of Dallas

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