Monday, February 10, 2014

Horse-head fiddle for Chinese new year

This is the Year of the Horse for Chinese celebrating the New Year. For its annual Chinese New Year Concert, the Greater Cincinnati Chinese Music Society is presenting Jin Shan, a virtuoso of the matouqin – horse-head fiddle – a rarely-heard instrument, even for native Chinese.

The matouqin (pronounced ma-toe-chin) is a traditional stringed instrument, played with a bow, and sporting a carved horse head instead of a scroll. Its extraordinary sound has been described as unrestrained, like a wild horse neighing or a strong breeze in the grasslands.

Jin Shan, who performs in Corbett Auditorium on Saturday, answered The Enquirer’s questions about his art via e-mail from his native Inner Mongolia. His answers were translated into English by concert organizers Lizbie Lin and Julia Tang.

Question: How did you become interested in matouqin music?

Answer: I was much influenced by my father, who has a passion for the ethnic Mongolian music. I became interested in matouqin when I heard my father play at age of 7, and I was very fond of it. I was determined to learn the instrument, and I have developed a passion for it since then. My parents are not professional artists, but they are great enthusiasts of ethnic Mongolian arts. My father can play Matouqin, Sihu and many other instruments.

Q: How did you start your career as a professional musician?

A: I started learning matouqin at the Wulanhot School of Performing Arts when I was 12. I held my first concert and started my career at age of 18.

Q: Tell us a bit about your instrument.

A: Matouqin is a bowed instrument of the Mongolian people. It received its name “horse head” as it has a sculpted horse head at the top. In Mongolian it’s called “hur” (horse lute). Since the 1950s, the traditional smaller matouqin evolved into medium-sized and large-sized, as well as bass instruments, which greatly enriched the family of matouqin instruments.

In terms of tonality, all sizes of matouqin have a tender, deep, pure and rich voice, characteristic of the grassland lifestyle and are hugely popular among Mongolians. Matouqin is often used in solo performances, ensembles or as accompaniment for singing, dancing and storytelling. On some of the occasions it is used as a crucial string instrument in the ethnic music bands.

Q: What would you like the audience to feel when they hear your music?

A: I am from the grassland, where Mongolians have lived for centuries. All I want to do is to bring to the audience the sound of the grassland so that they can feel with their hearts the charms of Mongolian music.

Q: Please tell us about the two pieces you will perform: Gada Meiren and Ten Thousand Horses Galloping.

A:
Gada Meiren is a narrative folk song of the Mongolians, most popular in the Horqin grassland in the east of Inner Mongolia. It is a collective work of the Mongolian people and has been refined by numerous talented folk artists. It is a classic in the folk literature in China.

Ten Thousand Horses Galloping is a classic piece composed by a Mongolian matouqin master. Generation after generation of Mongolians have survived in companionship with the horses. The horses are spirited and like a wind when they gallop – plowing up the earth along with the flower petals, dust flying into rainbows. At jubilant gatherings, the racing horses are a show of power and hope, memories and dreams, passion and pursuits, faith and yearning.

Q: Is music of the matouqin popular in China?

A: It is most popular in the regions of Inner Mongolia, Beijing, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Gansu, Qinghai, Yunnan, Xinjiang and other places of Mongolian settlement. These days, there are matouqin lovers not only in Inner Mongolia, but across China. I hope to bring the voice of the matouqin to the whole world.
If you go

What: “Melodies of the Prairie,” 2014 Chinese New Year Concert, presented by the Greater Cincinnati Chinese Music Society. Featuring Jin Shan on matouqin; the CCM Philharmonia Orchestra, Mark Gibson, condcutor, pianist Hanqing Chang, soprano Wang Xi and the Sound of Joy Choir

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Corbett Auditorium, CCMTickets: $25; $20 family; $50 patron. 513-658-3852, 513-600-0143

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