Chinese Ensemble of Yunnan Song and Dance Troupe
"That music circled the beams of the room for three days, and still sounded in my ears for three months following..." Confucius
In China's Dynastic past, music was an honored profession. As far back at the Qia Dynasty (2100 -1600 B.C.E.), musicians were part of Court and were included in envoys to the Emperor. Huge ensembles of musicians followed the rulers wherever they went.
The story behind Yunnan Instrumental Music is just how little is generally known about Chinese music. Shut off from the rest of the world for much of its past, Chinese music and instruments were allowed to develop on a path of their own.
China's remote mountainous southern Province of Yunnan borders Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand. Some 25 "minority nationalities" (as the government designates them) live there. Among over 700 unique musical instruments native to China, 500 were created by Chinese ethnic groups. This album is an attempt to recreate some of the music of the ethnic minorities. Much of the music is languid and evocative, sometimes bordering on sappy to the Western ear. It was written for the Yunnan Instrumental Group by its leaders, presumably based on indigenous folk songs. Each song reflects the music of a certain tribe or group, though these are mostly not folk songs. The melodies are based on the music and instruments of the minorities. In typical Chinese fashion, they attempt to invoke a feeling or a story, such as "Scoop the Loach Up" which tries to depict funny scenes of a fisherman trying to catch a fish with his hands. Never having been a fisherman, it took a lot of imagination.
What is best about the songs is how they feature the instruments in ensemble settings. The solo instrument takes the melody and the ensemble follows providing color and depth. The ensemble's sound is fluid and not abrasive. It includes the Ebi, the Bawu, and the Zhidi (single tube flutes), the Daimang (tuned pots played as percussion), and the Yangqin (xylophone), all of which provide a balanced orchestration. One song is based on playing a leaf! It's actually amazing how similar some of the instruments are to western counterparts. Duxianqin (zithers), zhidi (reed flutes), and bowed instruments have their counterparts in the west. But the niujiaoqin (a cow's horn covered with strings) and the hulusheng (a reed flute with a resonator) have no such correlation. The extensive liner notes, in English and Chinese, include descriptions of the fascinating instruments and the members of the Ensemble.
This is part of a series of new releases that are meant not just to entertain the listener, but also to enlighten. - Brian Grosjean
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