Bone flutes to play sounds from history

The sound of ancient bone flutes are to feature in a play about the development of China's oldest musical instrument. 
Ti Gong

Shanghai Conservatory of Music student Wei Sijun plays a replica bone flute, said to be China’s oldest musical instrument as well as the world’s oldest wind instrument. 

The magical sound of a bone flute can be enjoyed when flautist Tang Junqiao and her colleagues perform at the Shanghai Spring Music Festival next month.

About 30 flutes will be used in the performance with some of them reproducing the sound of bone flutes that were discovered at the Jiahu Relics in Henan Province and are said to be up to 9,000 years old.

More than 30 flutes made from bones of red-crowned cranes were unearthed at Jiahu Village in the 1980s and in 2001. They suggested that the bone flute was China’s oldest musical instrument as well as the world’s oldest wind instrument.

Zhao Songting, the renowned flute player, was invited to play the bone flute when they were discovered. He made a replica bone flute and planned to perform on stage but passed away in 2001.

Zhao’s student Tang is following in her teacher’s footsteps. With the help of flute maker Wang Jianhong, she and her colleagues tried to replicate a six-hole flute from the No. 253 Tomb of the Jiahu Relics with materials that included rosewood, China fir, bamboo and resin.

“It took us about a year, with repeated experiments, tests and comparison with the audio data, to find the voice closest to that of the original bone flute,” said Tang. “Fortunately, we succeeded in the trials with bitter bamboo and resin synthetic materials. The finished flutes sound very similar to that in the recording, but have better intonation.”

Tang and her colleagues will present the history of Chinese flute during the performance next month. The director Xu Ying said it will be a unique cross-over work with the participation of a traditional Chinese orchestra, symphony orchestra, chorus and multimedia support with the flute playing the leading role.


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