Sunday, September 2, 2007

Traditional Asian Music

In China I had some good opportunities to hear some traditional Chinese music instruments, particular the Erhu 二胡 and the Pipa 琵琶. A good friend of mine from Shanxi Province played the Pipa which has a very elegant sound.

Pipa This instrument resembles the Spanish guitar in some ways, with long fingernails being cultivated to pluck the strings. The Pipa has a history of over 2,000 years spanned from the Han Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty. The most common pipa has a body with a short neck and a wooden belly. There are 19 to 26 bamboo frets called Xiang on the neck. The Xiang are either made of wood, jade, or elephant tusks. A pipa traditionally had 4 silk strings mostly with common tunes of A, D, E, and A. With the pipa held vertically in the lap, the player plays it using imitation fingers. This allows more freedom for the player to perform various techniques on the four strings. The range of techniques that can be used are the widest among all of the Chinese plucked-strings, making it the most expressive instrument in the plucked-string section. Some of the techniques include: fretted pitch-bends, tremolos, various double and triple, and a continuous strumming of the strings with four fingers.

Another instrument I like is called the Erhu.
he Erhu has a small body and a long neck. There are two strings, with the bow inserted between them. With a range of about three octaves, it's sound is rather like a violin, but with a thinner tone due to the smaller resonating chamber. In the 2nd orchestra they are usually divided into 1st and 2nd parts. The Erhu first appears about 1104 AD during the Song Dynasty. We bought ours in Zhengzhou in 1999. It hangs on the wall in our Great Room. You often see blind men playing this instrument in some of the big cities. I always enjoyed listening and gave them money for their efforts. Er is two in Chinese.

The Chinese 2-stringed, vertical fiddle has a history of more than 500 years. It started to be popular in Southern China during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 AD), which gave it another name "Nan-hu" (the word "south" pronounced in Chinese as "Nan"). Erhu is still the most popular bowed instrument in today's Chinese music. An erhu is quite different from a western fiddle. There is a vertical post with a fingerboard, which goes through the sides of a resonator at its base. This resonator is covered with a piece of stretched snakeskin (python), which results in a unique "whining" tone color of the instrument. The bow for the erhu is placed between its two strings. Traditionally the two strings are made of silk, although metallic strings are used as well. The player of an erhu usually sits, and the erhu is placed on his left upper thigh in front of his left hip. The instrument is played by moving the bow horizontally through the two vertical strings. Erhu's range spans about three octaves. It has some of the qualities of a violin, but having a more nasal tone. Erhu is capable of producing a gentle but firm tone.

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 second generation of the huqin was among the instruments played at the imperial banquets.

Recently I had the chance to hear a traditional Korean music concert. One of the
instruments used resembled the Erhu. The rousing performance was by the Cheongju City Korean Traditional Performing Arts (CCKTPA). It was hard to get a picture of the man playing an instrument that looked very much like an Erhu.

Do you know much about Korean Traditional instruments? I am going to post information in the future about the concert. Let me know if you know what this instrument is.

The convert was very powerful. The audience was non-Korean and I think they did not know what to expect. I made a recording and I will share some of the music with you in the future.

They gave a re
ndition of Arirang which I recorded on my MP3 player. The quality is not that good but I am sure you will find it interesting.

Arirang is arguably the most popular and best-known Korean folk song, both inside and outside Korea. Arirang means : Ancient native Korean word. 'Ari' means "beautiful" (example. 아리따운 native Korean word means "beautiful", "lovely", "charming") 'Rang' means "dear" so, arirang means "beautiful dear"

Literally hundreds of variations of the song exist,[citation needed] and they can be grouped into classes based on the lyrics, when the refrain is sung, the nature of the refrain, the overall melody, and so on. Titles of different versions of the song are usually prefixed by their place of origin or some other kind of signifier.

The original form of Arirang is Jeongseon Arirang, which has been sung in Jeongseon County for more than 600 years. However, the most famous version of Arirang is that of Seoul. It is the so-called Bonjo Arirang, although it is not actually bonjo (본조; 本調; "Standard"). It is usually simply called Arirang, and is of relatively recent origin. It was first made popular by its use as the theme song of the influential early feature film Arirang (1926).[1]

The table below gives the refrain (first two lines; the refrain precedes the first verse) and first verse (third and fourth lines) of the standard version of the song in Hangul, romanized Korean, and a literal translation into English.


아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요...
아리랑 고개로 넘어간다.
나를 버리고 가시는 님은
십리도 못가서 발병난다.


Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo...
Arirang gogaero neomeoganda.
Nareul beorigo gasineun nimeun
Simnido motgaseo balbyeongnanda.


Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo...[3]
I am crossing over Arirang Pass.[4]
The man/woman[5] who abandoned me [here]
Will not walk even ten li before his/her feet hurt.[6]

Download CCKTPA's version of Arirang recorded live.

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