AMIS Members in China
By Dr. Bradley Strauchen-Scherer
AMIS was well represented at the first CIMCIM conference held in China. The Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan and the Oriental Musical Instrument Museum of the Shanghai Conservatory joined forces to host the meeting and offered delegates two distinctly different glimpses of urban life and Chinese culture. The fact that the Conference Guide in the information pack included descriptions of local food delicacies and points of interest gives some indication of the gracious and immersive welcome provided by our hosts! The program was further enhanced by collaboration with CCMI (The Committee of Chinese Musical Instrument Museums and Collections).
Surrounded by important archeological sites, Hubei Provincial Museum is home to an extraordinary collection of Bronze Age material from the Zhou Dynasty and is a leader in the field of musical archeology. This historic conference marked the 40th anniversary of the discovery of the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng in Hubei Province, which is given pride of place in the Provincial Museum. The music loving Marquis, who died ca. 433 BCE, was buried with an extraordinarily well-preserved set of instruments, including the largest known bianzhong comprising 64 bells, stone chimes, string instruments (se, qin and zhu) and paixiao, various flutes and a sheng. AMIS members were not surprised to learn that the Marquis was also buried with an elaborate and technologically sophisticated set of wine vessels and food containers! A number of conference papers addressed archeological instruments and participants had ample opportunities to hear the bianzhong and other early instruments. In a concert performed on facsimiles of Marquis Yi’s instruments, it was inspiring and fascinating to see how chime bells and other ancient instruments have been integrated into a living repertoire and are used in modern compositions as well as in historically informed performances. In a hands on encounter with a facsimile bianzhong at the local university, AMIS members experienced the unique capacity of the Bronze Age bells to produce two different pitches. The visit also included a guqin concert performed in a special classroom for teaching the instrument, complete with rows of elegant qin tables in lieu of desks.
AMIS members Tony Bingham (L) and Ken Moore, Sarah Deters, and Tsan-Huang Tsai (R) playing replicas of archaelogical bells in Wuhan.
A high speed train ride took participants to Shanghai for further paper sessions, museum visits and concerts at the Conservatory. Here, we were able to explore the other end of the Chinese musical continuum at the Oriental Musical Instrument Museum, which is notable for its collection of instruments developed for the modern Chinese orchestra. These include newly devised bass members of the huqin or fiddle family such as the gehu and keyed versions of wind instruments such as the sheng and the suona. Virtuosic performances by very young junior students at the Conservatory were a testament to the continued vitality of traditional instruments such as the pipa and guzheng. Our eyes and ears were able to explore the confluence of East and West in The Musical Instruments along the Silk Road, a special exhibition organized by the Conservatory for the conference. A short trip to the atmospheric water town of Zhu-jia-jiao allowed us all to hear Jiangnan traditional music, including a Silk and Bamboo ensemble, in a historically evocative setting.
Through the thoughtful efforts and attention of our hosts, the conference was a vivid and multilayered introduction to an extraordinarily rich and diverse musical culture and a community of musical instrument scholars, collectors and enthusiasts whose work and activities have been hitherto largely unknown in the West. The week revealed many different approaches to collecting, scholarship and museum work, but in the knowledge sharing and collegiality of the 70 delegates from 21 different countries, a shared passion for our field was immediately recognizable regardless of language.
Dr. Bradley Strauchen-Scherer is a curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and a longtime member of AMIS, CIMCIM, and the Galpin Society.