Guarding the lights amid the melody of the Qiang flute
The Qiang flute is a kind of vertical flute that is made up of two 15-20cm-long bamboo pipes with holes of the same size wound together with silk threads. Mainly for solo performance, the flute is a folk music instrument with a bamboo reed at the end of the pipe. There are a dozen or so age-old flute tune patterns, with a large repertoire covering a wide range of subjects, most of which are expressive of the Qiang people's homesickness and yearning wishes.
According to historical documents, there were four holes on the Qiang flute before the Western Han Dynasty. In the 1st century AD, another pressing hole was added to the flute for high-pitch tones by Jing Fang, a musician at that time. Thus the Qiang flute had five holes. The adding of a hole was also recorded in the Rhapsody on Long Flute by Ma Rong of the Eastern Han Dynasty. In modern times, another hole has been added, making the number of holes on the Qiang flute being six. Judging from these facts, the Qiang flute has been around for at least 2,000 years.
The Qiang flute sounds enchanting and soul-stirring. The Qiang ethnic people often use it to express their happiness, sorrow and all other feelings. Popular pieces include Breaking off a Willow Branch, Missing You and Salang's Tune etc.
When blowing the Qiang flute, the blower takes a breath using the cheek- bulging technique, which enables a few minutes' playing with one breath. Even a simple tune requires high skills. In addition, throat trills, finger-controlled gliding sounds, two-pipe sounds and the resounding effect of double reeds are combined to make the flute unique in tones and melodies. Arrow bamboo is the ideal material for making the Qiang flute, due to its straight and long poles, round tubes, even thickness at the head and end, perfect shoots, tough texture, compact fiber and the not-easily-cracked nature. The accuracy in pitch is determined by the length, thickness and size of the pipes. Meanwhile, the holes must be at an equal distance apart, otherwise the pitch accuracy will be affected.
As the Qiang people have no written characters, the Qiang history and culture have been handed down through word of mouth and the Qing flute became an important channel of spreading and inheriting the ethnical culture. The Qiang flute, which is quite unique in terms of its tones, sounds and playing skills, is a rare treasure of China's folk music instruments.