Stringed Santur has been adapted to create unique aesthetic in China

When Liu Yuening picks up the slender, bamboo baton in front of President Pratibha Patil next week here, a unique musical exchange will come full circle.

Three centuries ago, as the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) drew to a close, the Silk Road brought to China a curious instrument that would alter its musical history. (Watch Video)

The stringed Santur, as it was known in India and Persia, would captivate the Chinese: with its light, elegant, sounds, it became an indelible part of the Chinese culture, and over time, was adapted and moulded to create a unique aesthetic in China.

Known here as the Yangqin, one of China's four most important traditional musical instruments, its journey to this country is one of the best examples of the syncretic and assimilative traditions of the East, says Ms. Liu, who is one of the most well-known Yangqin performers.

Next week, she will play a first-of-its-kind fusion concert for President Patil during her state visit. The concert will bring together the light sounds of the Yangqin with the rhythms of the tabla.

“The Yangqin is a fascinating instrument for reasons that go beyond its sound,” Ms. Liu, also a professor at the China Conservatory of Music, told The Hindu.

When she isn't performing, Ms. Liu researches and teaches the history of the Santur, its journey from Persia to India and China and the story of how it was adapted in different ways by both civilisations. “Its history shows how music transcends different cultures, and is also shaped by different cultural values,” she says. “Music also helps us understand each other better. I want to bring this message across when I play for President Patil, which is a huge honour.”

The Yangqin's sound and style, after a couple of hundred years of assimilation into the Chinese culture, varies from the Santur, says Ms. Liu. It also differs in its use of a thin, bamboo baton to flick the strings, which gives its sound a different texture. Ms. Liu, who also spent considerable time studying the Santur's history and assimilation in India, says the Yangqin does not have the devotional aesthetic the Santur often invokes.

Fittingly, Ms. Liu has chosen to perform for the President a composition from Xinjiang, China's far western Muslim-majority region, which for centuries has served as an important stop along the Silk Road, standing at the meeting point of different civilisations.

(The video of Ms. Liu playing the Yangqin can be watched on http://beta.thehindu.com/news/international/article433752.ece.)

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