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Linking Young Minds Together
     Volume 2 Issue 141 | October 25 , 2009|


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Sounds & Rhythm

Sheng -bamboo mouth organ

Compiled by Nazia Ahmed

It is said in a Chinese myth that the first female ancestor Nüwa or one of her followers called Sui invented the Sheng. It is classified as the guard category of the baby (eight kinds of materials for making instruments). This came from the fact that the early type had a calabash base with pipes mounted through the holes in its top. According to ancient literature, the sheng symbolises everything that breaks through the soil; the large type is called chao and the smaller he. The earliest type ever seen is a 14 piped from Zenghou Yi's tomb in Hubei province. The sheng played an important role in court music was used extensively both in folk instrumental ensembles and in the accompaniment to local theaters and popular narratives. The bowl-like wind chamber was large oarsman in size, equate or round in sharp, and variable in pitch arrangement as well.

Now the most common type has 17 reeds/pipes and the improved one for the contemporary compositions have 21 to 37 pipes, with keys and a metal resonating pot for the pipes to insert. The result is a bright and harmonious tone quality, a chromatically complete scale and an extended compass.

Several instruments were derived from the sheng, including the Japanese shô and the Korean saenghwang. The Chinese instrument plays melodies with occasional fourth or fifth harmonies (e.g. F or G above C), whereas the Japanese shô normally plays 11-note chords, a tradition that may have emerged from a misinterpretation of ancient court notations. Contemporary Chinese ensembles include the larger sheng, which is capable of playing Western chords.

Instruments similar to the sheng are found throughout Southeast Asia, notably the khaen of Laos and parts of Thailand and Vietnam. A sheng taken to Russia in the 1770s helped to stimulate the invention of European instruments using free reedsincluding the accordion, concertina, harmonium, and harmonica.

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