AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following article was published in the Yellowknifer on May 21, 2010
“Yellowknifu Huangying Ni Si” is Chinese for “Yellowknife welcomes the four of you.”
This is how the audience at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre introduced Red Chambers, a musical journey into the history of Chinese string guitars. The performers certainly were welcome.
Red Chamber is made up of four Chinese-Canadian women who team up to introduce audiences to their traditional Chinese plucked string repertoire
. They led the audience through Chinese history with the help of five acoustic string instruments. Juno-
Last weekend the four virtuoso musicians enchanted their audiences with traditional Chinese music as beautiful and mysterious as a prowling tiger. They led the audience through Chinese history with the help of five acoustic string instruments. Junio-nominated artist Mei Han played the Chinesezheng, a 25-string zither.
The zheng was invented in the first century A.D. Imagine a harp held sideways and there is the zheng. Guilian Liu played the pipa, the large tear-drip lute. Liu’s performance on the pipa is a sight to behold. Her fingers float over the strings with such a light touch that it’s like watching a ballet. She can be seen in the Oscar-winning documentary From Mao to Mozart; Isaac Stern in China.
Zhimin Yu, a member of Vancouver’s Chinese Ensemble, performed on the ruan, the Chinese moon guitar. Geling Jiang played multiple instruments, including the sanxion, which translates as “three strings.” She demonstrated the similarities between the sanxion and the western banjo.
Throughout the show, the women discussedthe history of their instruments between numbers, such as the instrumental Dao Chuilian.
The poetic music runs from notes plucked on a single lute, followed by the echo of other guitars and then a tidal wave of intense strumming that resembles compositions by Ennio Morricone(The Good, The Bad and The Ugly; The Mission).
There is a bit of mischief in some of the music, as well. The music goes from slow, soft tunes to hard hitting tunes and even a toe tapping Metis jig. With every plunk of their strings the musicians brought the enlightening sense of mystery of Chinese myth. They were just as gifted while presenting bluegrass and folk tunes.
The stage was not cluttered with a flashy set to distract the audience. Four Chairs. Four Strands. Four Microphones. No LCD screens. No plugged in instruments. No flashy costumes. Just the plain necessities.
One of the magical elements of cultural concerts such as this is that the music awakens the imagination and brings to mind a private Fantasia.
The moment these women placed their fingers on their instruments the audience experienced an enlightening trip through an ancient temple.