It was fascinating to learn about the Guqin (pronounced gu-chin) and Pipa instruments from the masterful virtuoso player Dr Cheng Yu recently at her lecture-recital at the MEAA.
The Pippa is a plucked string instrument, similar to a lute, where there are several strings strung across a pear-shaped wooden body of the instrument. The strings are plucked with the nails but in modern times players prefer to use 'plastic nails' to play the instrument which allows them to use all their fingers individually to play several strings simultaneously. The beautiful sound ha a kind of folksy quality to it that conjured up an image of the infamous Woodstock music festival of 1969 to me - although that is from far before my time!
The Guqin is another string instrument with the strings on a long board which is rested on the table and plucked with both hands. There are seven strings which it uses to produce a most wonderful sound. The Guqin produced sounds typical of China, to my ear reminiscent of the orient; it is a more ancient instrument and produces a simpler sound. The effect was to take us back to the times when the Emperor ruled in China and the crisp notes were played clinically with the addition of modern metal strings that could be played with an added modulating scratching-effect sound that lingered after the notes had been plucked. These would not have been possible to be produced on the original delicate silken strings that the instrument would have originally been made with. This instrument was very popular in ancient China but at the time of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s most of the players of the instrument were killed off for being subversive as it was feared that they would make mischief with their music. China is a superstitious country and it was feared that the musicians would relay messages to the birds that would have grave repercussions regarding auspicions. At one point there were only about 50 masters of the instrument left in the whole of China but in recent times the instrument has started to regain its popularity and there are now many players.