Travels Through China Part 1.

2009 December 14
The Oriental Angels

The Oriental Angels

In 2007, I had the privilege of playing a concert at the recently relocated and beautifully renovated historic Shanghai Concert Hall. Yes, I did say relocated, as the Shanghai local government spent six million dollars to jog the hall over two blocks. This concert hall was in the 1979 documentary Mao to Mozart with violinist Isaac Stern. Our performance was part of the Shanghai International Spring Music Festival and featured my band along with The Oriental Angels, which is a traditional classical instrumental music group chosen from the top female virtuosos from across China. They play the Chinese erhu (2 string violin) the dizi (6 holed bamboo flute) yangqin (hammered dulcimer) zheng (21 string zither) and the pipa (4 string lute). Aside from concertizing, the Angels all teach music in either the Central or Shanghai Conservatories.

I stayed a week after the show to do some sightseeing. As I am always looking for new instruments, I asked my promoter if they could take me to a musical instrument factory. They obliged me and took me to The Dunhuang Musical Instrument Co., Ltd. makers of traditional Chinese instruments in Fengxian District of Shanghai.

Dunhuang makes a wide range of instruments including traditional strings (guzheng, yangqin, pipa, erhu etc.), woodwinds (dizi, bawu, xiao, hulusi etc.) and percussion. For me as a flute enthusiast, it was rather like Charlie finding the gold ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory.

We were met by the shop foreman Mr. Zhao Jin-gua and taken to the woodwind workshop upstairs. The craftsmen at the factory had all seen my concert the night before and said they really enjoyed it, however, those flutes I played by their competitor flute makers in Northern China just wouldn’t do. I was very impressed that they were not only producing old designs but also developing new ones like flutes with a curved headjoints similar to the silver bass flute. It was here that I got to try the world’s biggest Chinese dizi flute. It produced a very low quiet tone. Since it requires three people to operate it is not really practical for the road.

World's biggest Chinese Dizi Bamboo flute

World's biggest Chinese Dizi Bamboo flute

After the visit with the flute makers I went downstairs to the showroom to see the finished products. When I walked though the door a very determined young lady was in the midst of negotiating full tilt with the slightly annoyed salesman to get a bigger discount on a guzheng (Chinese zither). She was talking up a storm and kept saying she travelled a long way and spent many hours on the train to get there. The salesman then looked up at me and smiled and said, “He came all the way from Canada, so what is your point”? The storm cleared up and she quietly retreated to the corner to think of a restructured battle plan.

5 Comments leave one →
2009 December 15

Hi Ron … Enjoyed your post. Can’t decide if the giant dizi or the Oriental Angels are more fun to look at–Jeez, I must really be addicted to flutes. Anyway, I’ve been listening to Flute Traveller and Behind the Mask lately. Would love to see you perform some day.

2009 December 15

Hi Paul,

Thanks for the comment. Yes, you really must be addicted to flutes. If you were to ask my band, definitely they would prefer looking at the five ladies.

In fact, at dinner during their week in Shanghai, the topic of discussion would always be, “Who is your favourite Angel?” Their general consensus would change from night to night. Sometimes they would say,” You know, I really like the guzheng player,” and other nights they would say, “I thought it was a tossup between the pipa and the yangqin player but now I am leaning towards the erhu player again.”

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