Traditional Instruments in Beijing Opera

Continuing on the path of introducing my fascination for Chinese musical instruments, I have yet another treat for you. In fact they are the instruments used in traditional Beijing Opera which have recently captured my attention. According my studies, the wide array of instruments used has the unified purpose of creating a magical and intensive feeling during the performance. It is said to require a lifetime of hard training and dedication to become a skillful Peking Opera musician.

The music is known to vary between everything from fast tempo to slow ballads, from dark tunes to happy flute solos. This broad range in tone levels takes the audience into a magical journey of strong ancient emotions. The musical instruments themselves are divided into two categories, orchestra and percussion.

Percussion instruments are used to create that intensive feeling during the show. Clappers from hardwood and drums, cymbals as well as gongs of different types all play together to surround the audience in suspense. The castanets in the music can set the tempo of the performance, so that the rest of the instruments follow their rhythm. Indeed these mood enhancing instruments are known as the “military instruments”.

The next group also belonging to the “civil instruments” are the string instruments accompanied with the Suona horn. Jinghu and Erhu are said to be the two most important string instruments in Beijing Opera. According to one tale, the play is so beautiful that they are able to capture the hearts of lovers or even kill men.

In addition to these two groups the atmosphere is enhanced with a majestic presence through various gongs and rums. While they are not used in all performances, due to more rare usage they tend to leave a great impression when actually used.

This Summer I should have the opportunity of visiting the marvelous city of Beijing. Naturally I am looking forward to going to see the famous Peking Opera at the Liyuan Theatre. Once I hit the land of the Beijing Duck, I will certainly report from my musical adventures there.


The Chinese Ancient Tradition of Guzheng

Belonging to the group of Sitar instruments (name famous from Russia), the Guzheng or Zheng is a traditional Chinese string instrument played with the fingers. According to documents originating from 206BC, the Guzheng is one of the oldest Chinese musical instruments dating back to the times of the Qin dynasty. Its music has become world famous and indeed it has been played in China for 2500 years.

In the name Guzheng the “gu” means ancient and zheng means bamboo & dispute. According to the its tale, it once needed to be cut in half to settle a dispute inside the family. The rough sound of the instrument as well as its background portrays the notorious bad temper of the Chinese.

It’s particularly popular amongst women, although men are free to play the instrument. In fact many young Chinese women dream of learning to play the Guzheng, but due to the large size and great work of such an instrument, rarely one can afford it. We can only imagine how many skillful players would there will be once China gets more developed.

The instrument made of wood, has at least twenty strings. Historically it is told that it had a mere 5 strings, which gradually moved up to around 20-25. It is 35cm wide and 170cm long, making it difficult to carry. Looking at the instrument it is says that you can see both the sky and the earth. This keeps harmony with nature, according to Chinese philosophy.