Wednesday, February 25, 2009


In an article on the "reform" of traditional Chinese musical instruments (周大风 "民族乐器的改革," <<艺术科技>> 2001: 3), the musicologist Zhou Dafeng pointed out that the standard western symphony orchestra lacked a plucked string section, while China had plucked strings in abundance, with a well-developed set of playing techiques. He thus proposed that Chinese instruments such as the
yueqin, liuqin, pipa, zheng, ruan and others, once properly modernized, could fill the gap and create a new, truly international orchestra.

What Zhou did not consider was that the west had a full complement of plucked instruments already, though they have not generally been part of the line-up on the symphony concert stage. Abigail Washburn, Bela Fleck and others have noticed some of the comparabilities and compatiblities of old-time and bluegrass string bands with Chinese music (see their Sparrow Quartet collaborations; she even sings in Chinese).

Well, here's a full fledged sino-bluegrass string band, and it works pretty well. It reminds me of filling up for the day at the breakfast bar in a fancy hotel in Asia, where you can have some juk, pancakes, miso soup, bacon and eggs, a few shrimp dumplings, a glass of OJ, some seaweed, toast and jam . . . . It's a buffet of timbres.

Red Chamber and the Jaybirds: