He Gives New Life to Ancient Instrument

Authors: Feng Mi

2017-08-31

Amid thunderous applause, an old man stepped unto the stage to receive an ovation from the audience at the end of the concert, held on the evening of June 30, 2017, at the concert hall of Sichuan Conservatory of Music (SCCM).
Then he stood at the center of the stage and began to play the music with other members of the Houtu Xun Ensemble, all holding in hands the pomelo-like instrument that he invented himself. Melodies of the ancient times flowed from the instruments and lingered in the air, reminding the audience of a piece of the long tradition of the Chinese music and the old man's effort to revive it.
The old man is Wang Qishu, the inventor of the Double-Chamber Gourd Xun and professor of SCCM. He spent 27 years in making it possible for the music of gourd Xun, an instrument with a history of about 7,000 years, to come to the stage of modern concert.
One of the oldest musical instruments in China, the Xun was played in palace music performances in history, but it has showed an obvious inadequacy to meet the requirements to perform modern music for its narrow musical range — which covers only one octave — and a sound that is not loud and bright enough. In addition, it has defects in the temperament. So, it rarely makes appearance in concert performances of today.
Musicians have tried to overcome the Xun's defects and enrich its musical expressiveness. Dedicated to the research of Chinese Musical Instruments, professor Wang started improving the Xun in 1988.
By countless experiments with trials and adjustments, the double-chamber gourd Xun was successfully developed in 1990 and won the national invention patent in 1991. The key to the sound improvement of the Xun is to realize overblowing, a process that enables the free alternation of the pitches in the cavity of the instrument, and Professor Wang's solution is the two-chamber shape, a breakthrough to overcome the problem that has puzzled musicians for generations.
He still remembers the hard times during those years, when he taught at SCCM from Monday to Friday and spent weekends doing the research work on the Xun at the old pottery production base in Guihua Town, Pengzhou City, some 50 kilometers to the north of downtown Chengdu.
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