[LISTENING GUIDE] Traditional Chinese Instruments – Chamber Ensemble of the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra
UMS is presenting the Chamber Ensemble of the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra on February 10. They perform on the zheng, dizi, erhu, pipa, and other Chinese instruments seldom featured in the West.
Chinese music is based on pentatonic scales. Most European scales have seven notes, but the pentatonic only has five. The pentatonicscale can be demonstrated by playing the five black keys in an octave on the piano.
Many instruments were brought to China from Central Asia by way of the Silk Road, but the form these instruments have now assumed is uniquely Chinese.
The Zheng was developed during the second half of the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BCE). It is shaped like a large trapezoid, with 13-21 strings that a musician plucks with picks attached to their fingers. It sounds and functions much like a harp, played horizontally rather than vertically.
The Dizi is of Han origin (206 BCE- 220 AD). It is a traditional bamboo flute with six finger holes and a blowhole. The blowhole has a kazoo-like membrane covering it that vibrates when the instrument is played, creating a buzz that accompanies the instrument’s hollow sounding tone.
The word Erhu literally translates to a “stringed instrument adopted from the northwestern barbarians of antiquity,” which suggests that it developed during the Tang or the Song Dynasty. It is a twostringed fiddle, which is played with a bow with strings made of silk. At the time of its conception, it was considered a “folk” instrument, which was not worthy of court music. The Erhu has an open, smooth sound.
The Pipa is a “pear-shaped” lute, modified from Central Asian instruments, particularly those in Iran. It is possible that Japanese dignitaries brought it to China in the seventh or eighth century. A member of the lute family, the Pipa sounds and is played much like a modern-day guitar.
Adapted from UMS Education & Community Engagement Teacher Resource Guide, distributed to teachers in conjunction with UMS Youth Performances.
Performances for the Whole Family: Filling the master calendar with UMS events
Part of the excitement of coming back to town at the end of summer is collecting all the calendars—Ann Arbor Public School’s holiday and half-day calendar, Huron High School’s band calendar, Clague Middle School’s orchestra calendar, King Elementary School’s PTO calendar, the crew calendar, the soccer calendar, the academic games calendar, University of Michigan’s football calendar, Washtenaw Community College Lifelong Learning calendar, Rec and Ed, Parks and Rec, etc.—whew!—and finally sitting down to map them all out onto one big master calendar in order to see what our year is going to look like.
My favorite calendar to pore over with the kids is the one from University Musical Society (UMS).
This year, the University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies is celebrating its 50th anniversary. As usual for an academic department, they have all sorts of lectures and films and special events and conferences planned. University of Michigan Museum of Art is supporting this celebration with a contemporary Chinese woodblock print exhibit. University Musical Society is supporting this celebration with an Asia performance series. I am excited.
When the UMS catalog arrives, the kids keep grabbing it away from one another. They dog-ear the pages that interest them. They recall other concerts and dance performances we have attended.
Little Brother is captivated by the photograph of the old woman and old man sitting in trashcans. What could that possibly be? (Gate Theatre of Dublin) How to explain Beckett’s “Endgame” and “Watt” to a seven year old?
Our pianist, Niu Niu, complains (again) that she likes playing piano but does not like watching piano, but when we begin discuss how the dazzling Yuja Wang recently rocked the Hollywood Bowl with her very short very tight very sexy orange dress, about which reviewer Mark Swed wrote: “Her dress Tuesday was so short and tight, that had there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult.” Oh, and her legendary speed, too. Now Niu Niu is convinced. Our first concert marked on the calendar.
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan is my choice. I have already heard many Taiwanese American friends discussing how the choreography is inspired by Chinese calligraphy and classical landscape painting. Local Chinese calligraphers will be demonstrating and displaying their work before the performance to connect these two artforms.
Hao Hao wants to go see AnDa Union from Inner Mongolia. I thought it was because her great-grandfather was born in Inner Mongolia, but really it is because she remembers the Mongolian throat singers we once heard perform at the Ann Arbor District Library.
M is intrigued by the Chamber Ensemble of the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra because she knows more about Chinese music than any of us, but the Ballet Preljocal looks amazing. An antithesis of Disney’s Snow White? It looks dark and grim and sexy and strange—irresistible for teenagers dressed all in black.
Now, big sigh, the tickets.
I was so grateful when UMS began their teen ticket program a few years ago, at last an affordable way to bring my teenagers to UMS programs. I was even more grateful when I was able to go with the children’s school field trips as a chaperone. This year, UMS is launching a new UMS “Kids Club” program for students in grades 3 to 12: “Two weeks before opening night, parents can purchase up to two kids’ tickets for $10 each with the purchase of an adult ticket for $20.”
Great! So now we can take the whole family.