The students’ passion for the erhu brings its beautiful melodies to a wider global audience.
The sound of the erhu, the traditional Chinese musical instrument, is becoming better and better known in the world thanks to the efforts of a student.
Chen Yimiao, born in 2004, comes from a Beijing family steeped in musical tradition. Both his grandfather Chen Yaoxing and his father Chen Jun are well-known erhu players.
Unsurprisingly, as a child, the 17-year-old developed a keen interest in music, and in particular the erhu.
Currently a student at Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts, USA, she has also participated in various musical events at home and abroad, in addition to combining the erhu with contemporary music, exhibiting a greater number of people at the timbre of the instrument.
“Playing the erhu is part of my daily routine, like eating and sleeping. It’s an indispensable part of my life,” says Chen Yimiao, who started playing the instrument at age 4, although she admits that she was too young to remember exactly. when.
“As far back as I can remember, I practice the erhu for about eight hours a day,” she says.
She believes that her passion for the two-stringed bowed musical instrument comes almost entirely from her family. “The family environment has always influenced me and helped me to continue practicing,” she says. “Now not only can I not live without it, but I also hope that more people can enjoy it.
“It helps me express myself,” she says, admitting that she was an introverted and quiet person and that the instrument allowed her to express her feelings.
As his love for her grows, the legacy may become his life’s purpose.
Known as a traditional keyed Chinese bowed instrument, the erhu dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). However, its acceptance and recognition lag far behind popular Western instruments, such as the piano and violin. The difficulty in mastering its sound tones and learning to play them could well be one of the reasons.
Playing it requires unique hand dexterity, says Chen Yimiao.
“We mainly use the thumb, index and middle fingers in our daily life, however, playing the erhu requires flexible string pressure with the ring and little fingers.”
She points out that her most painful and unforgettable experience was in middle school when she played the same melody continuously for over 20 hours to get an ideal recording.
Even in the most painful moments, she never thought of giving up. She believes that the pain of practice comes from the pursuit of top-level performance. His efforts have indeed allowed him to show his talent on various stages.
Chen Yimiao first performed on China Central Television with her grandfather and father when she was 5 years old, went with her father to erhu concerts across China, and performed with renowned orchestras.
In the meantime, she has also brought the erhu to countries like the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and France.
Earlier this year, his performance at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of former US President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China, held at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in his hometown of Yorba Linda , California, saw her shine on stage. A landmark in the political history of the 20th century, the “icebreaker” trip fostered a relationship of mutual respect between China and the United States and the circulation of economy and culture. Chen Yimiao’s invitation to play the erhu further fostered cultural exchanges between the two countries.
After that, she gave a speech and performance—carrying her musical instrument with her—showcasing the charm of the erhu to the audience at a cultural event held at the Bowers Museum in California.
A video of his speech and performance, posted on the Bilibili video-sharing platform, has been clicked more than 1.86 million times by Internet users and won him strong support among young people. There she speaks fluent English and plays the erhu with grace, showing her emotions through the instrument, with which she imitates the sound of people laughing and crying, galloping horses and singing birds, as well as many other tricks that impress the public.
A user named Dengdeng commented on the video and said, “It turns out that playing Western music with an erhu is so wonderful, which really opens up a new world for me. It’s our pride.”
Chen Yimiao now has 237,000 followers on Bilibili.
“The feeling of practicing the erhu in different countries is never the same, because people have a different understanding of Chinese culture,” she says. “Some foreigners know the Chinese instrument, so they can immerse themselves in the performance, while more people don’t know it, and for them, it will feel very fresh and special.
“I see the great potential of the erhu, but I also realize that there is still a long way to go in the development of the musical instrument,” she adds.
During this process, she was interrogated all the time.
“Many people have asked me why I decided to choose such a niche instrument over other popular choices, such as the piano or the violin, but I believe such doubts stem from an incomplete understanding of the ‘erhu,” she explains.
According to Chen Yimiao, the erhu can adapt to different types of music and is particularly suitable for pop music. “It’s a melodic instrument, which can easily imitate the singing of human voices, and it was used as an accompaniment to traditional operas,” she explains, adding that Chinese operas were considered the “pop music” of China. their time.
Additionally, she says that the “explosive nature” of the instrument allows her to perform some world famous classical pieces very well.
To display the diversity of the instrument, since 2019, she began to associate it with contemporary music and released her own erhu record on which she also plays world-famous pieces.
As a freshman at Berklee College of Music, she considers promoting the instrument as her most important goal. “Maybe it’s not like the piano or the guzheng (Chinese zither), which can transmit a melodious timbre as soon as you start playing,” she admits.
Like many Chinese music enthusiasts, his foreign friends found it difficult to play at first. “Usually the first time a beginner plays the erhu, the sound is like chopping wood with a saw,” she says.
Most of his classmates and even some teachers in the United States had never seen the erhu before, but they showed great interest in it. “They think it’s amazing to play a song on just two strings,” she says.
In addition to influencing the people around her in the ways of the erhu, she learned composition and musical arrangement.
“There are so many people who want to play the piano or the violin because they can reproduce a lot of classical music, and I think to promote an instrument, beautiful and catchy melodies matter,” she says. “I hope to create beautiful melodies and music that reflect the timbre of the erhu.”