Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why I love the erhu...

It is said the erhu originated as far back as a thousand years ago and the chinese character of "er" which means 2, may come from the fact that it has only 2 strings. The unusual thing about the erhu is that the bow is in between the 2 strings rather than played on top of them like a Western violin.

There is also no definitive point where you must place the fingers to get certain notes because the fingers are pressing on a string in thin air (rather than on wood or frets) and both strings are together not separate so needless to say it's a highly challenging instrument. I fell in love with the sound of the erhu once I heard it. Almost like a human voice singing (once you get past sounding like a strangled chicken in the beginning ;) It's really soulful which is why this instrument is considered spiritual (it has been used for sound healing). It has such a unique oriental sound. I was listening to Buddha Bar in my house the other night and I suddenly heard a few haunting notes from an erhu fused with other modern instruments and I was telling my pugs "did you hear that?" but they kept on snoring. It's not something unusual for them to hear at home ;)

This is my ever growing notebook of songs beginning with Ba Ba Black Sheep which was painful enough to learn but worth every effort lol. I find playing the instrument so therapeutic and it forces you to be in the "now" coz it takes focus and patience. It makes me sit still, quiet (ok, I know that's rare ;) and meditative.

The songs look like strange numeric codes but these are actually my notes with 1 being do, re is 2 and so on but the difficult part is when you move into another chord, the rules change and everything is different aaargh! And you need to remember what SET you're playing with.

Believe it or not, these are the notes to "Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack go under limbo stick" haha you know the one? So, you see erhus can do fun and chirpy songs too, not just melancholic ones that make you cry coz they're so sad n yet beautiful. Limbo stick is a really cute one. The erhu can play anything a violin can but I find the oriental songs do it more justice.

Sometimes, while I wait for my lesson, I make a total nuisance of myself and start playing all the other ones in the school. The one below is a Yangqin which is played with 2 bamboo sticks. No idea how it works but I was banging away, quite fun!

I'm glad I decided NOT to learn the guzhen. Don't get me wrong, this plucking instrument is beautiful but you can't exactly swing it over your shoulder and carry it around with you. Oh, guess what happened on my previous Singapore trip?

I made friends with the erhu player in the underpass under Lucky Plaza in Singapore. He let me play his erhu for a few minutes (which drew a few stares). My friend stood there shaking his head saying, "yup, it's a recession, she used to be a model n everything but times are hard u know"...oh shut it Calvin, will ya?

Perhaps I will busk with him next time round for the fun of it and let him keep the proceeds ;) He's way too good for me right now (I may actually ruin his income in the underpass by turning people away haha) You know he refused to let me tip him? Ridiculous! and I was the one taking up time on HIS erhu. Such a sweet man and so patient with me considering I'm just a beginner. 

This is a pipa. Of course I have no idea what I'm doing but I produced a few interesting sounds!

This is my teacher. In a particularly tough lesson, I sometimes get stuck with my fingers not knowing where to go next and he says "relax la" but aaargh. Easier said than done. He's very strict with me and I need him to be so I don't pick up bad habits. U know how in chinese brush painting, the brush is held between the fingers in a very specific way? The erhu is something like that. Everything must be precise. Sometimes, he grabs the bow and just starts pulling it back and forth so I can FEEL the right angle coz when you're just a bit off, you could sound terrible!

But when you get it right, it's music to your ears. It's like you've hit the sweet spot, ahhh, that's the note! Have to search for it but there's no mistaking it when you get it! It's such a great feeling to hear a song forming on this ancient instrument. Patience is what it's teaching me and living in the present moment. I LOVE playing it. I'm sure my neighbours don't haha. Well, not yet anyway. Just you guys wait till I get better on this, don't mess! :)


Tekkaus said...

You can play Er Hu? Good for you Jojo. I have always been fascinated by Chinese musical instrument. And when all the instruments were played together...the quaint melody is really music to the ears. :D

Hayley said...

you know how to play erhu?? thats cool! i mean very less people will play this kinda traditional chinese instrument nowadays.
cant wait to see u perform! ;)

Anonymous said...

Hey Jojo,
since you are so interested with the chinese instrument, just update you with some info I got from my friend who's performing. ^^

Funtasia 2 - Family Concert

This is a music feast with the combination of Traditional Music, CartoonMusic, and Collective Creation, prepared of the whole family.

A group of young passionate musicians will present a dynamic full of joy. Lets find out the uniqueness of Chinese instrument!!

Performers will present their collective creation with their comedy funny body language. And also a narrator will lead you into a magical music space.

Funtasia 2 is especially for you and your family member.

Furthermore, We also cooperate with Multi Mutual Charity Association (http://www.mmca.org.my/). We will donate for them RM 1 from every single ticket. Your support is helping those poor condition families. Let us together lend a hand to the unfortunate one!

Thank You!

Date:2 days 3 Shows

2009 / 8 / 22(Sat)- 2pm, 8pm
2009 / 8 / 23(Sun)- 2pm

Venue: SJK(C) Chee Wen, Auditorium Lim Bee

Ticket:RM 21

Ticket Ordering :03 9285 5807

adam k. said...

cool hehe

Husen said...

here you are all grown up, a beautiful, independent and witty person. but the enthusiasm of a child. all the more adorable.

Jojo Struys said...

oh, I'm no where near ready to perform on the erhu. My only audience at the moment are my pugs! ;)

Anonymous said...

wow, you like the erhu! You are like the instrument, Jojo...unique!

YilingL said...

Hi Jojo,

Good to see that ur picking up a traditional chinese instrument. My sisters and I play the Yang Qin, Pipa, and Gu Zheng. But we started really young, about 5-7 yrs old. We're now in our 20s. It takes great pains and time to learn them well but I am sure it will be rewarding.


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