Coaxing the voice from an ancient instrument

Erhu virtuoso plays solo concert in Juneau

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2001

To internationally renowned Chinese musician Liu Jing, her instrument speaks with an almost human voice.

"Erhu has this character," Liu said, speaking through translator Miranda Coti last week. "You can really ... use it to express human feeling. Sometimes you have (a sound) close to human voice, so you can really express things in very good detail."

A bow is drawn horizontally across the two vertical strings of the erhu, which rests on the player's leg. It is the python-skin-covered resonator at the base of the instrument that lends the tone its distinctive "whining" quality.

Juneau residents can hear that tone for themselves on Monday, when Liu performs a one-hour concert at the Back Room.

"I'm going to play really traditional Chinese music," Liu said. She will perform alone, she added, gesturing enthusiastically with her hands.

"She's very good," said friend and fellow musician Jocelyn Clark. "She plays for a national company ... mostly for dignitaries and heads of state."

Liu is married to painter Feng Jialiang, whose oil paintings are currently on display at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council. The arts council is also sponsoring Liu's concert.

The couple came to Juneau last year at the invitation of Clark, co-organizer of the CrossSound concert series. Liu was a soloist at CrossSound 2000, and Feng served as a photographer.

"The concert Jocelyn organized had classical and modern music combined, and also had Chinese and Western combined," Liu said. "I'm really happy to bring traditional Chinese music this year."

The sound of the erhu is a unique one, Clark emphasized.

"I think that (the erhu) sounds very close to the human voice and it can mimic a lot of different sounds, like horses," Clark said. "It's very evocative of nature themes ... and she's really a master of the instrument."

Liu has been studying the erhu, pronounced "arhoo," since she was eight. The art has been passed down within her family; her father taught erhu at an arts college in Nanjing, Liu said.

"When I was little my father started teaching (me)," Liu said. "Erhu is a very popular instrument in China."

Liu studied under several other master musicians before graduating with honors from the Nanjing College of Art in 1990. Since that time, she has placed highly in a number of prestigious competitions and given many high-profile performances.

Varied shows like the CrossSound concerts and her Monday performance are both enjoyable, Liu added.

"In China, I play a lot of traditional music. But I understand because of the development of music, I probably have to play some modern music and try to help the development," she said.

Liu's show will take place at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Back Room of the Silverbow Inn at 120 Second Street. Tickets are available at the door; general admission is $10. Call JAHC at 586-ARTS for more information.

Genevieve Gagne-Hawes can be reached at

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