Silk and Bamboo

Silk and Bamboo
Traditional music genre/ensemble
The phrase ‘Silk and Bamboo’ is a direct translation of the term sizhu, which refers to any one of the various regional Chinese musical ensembles composed of a combination of mellow-sounding string and wind instruments. In the ancient Chinese system of instrument classification called bayin (eight sounds), which divides musical instruments according to the type of material producing their sound, string instruments fall under the category of si (silk) and wind instruments under zhu (bamboo). The term sizhu has appeared in poetry for a long time, but its common use by Chinese scholars to refer to a particular instrumental genre dates only from the 1950s.
Sizhu instrumentation varies in number and in kind, depending upon the region. An ensemble may have as few as two instruments—one string and one wind instrument—or as many as ten or more. The string instruments typically include bowed and plucked lutes, such as erhu, yehu and/or other similar types of two-stringed fiddles; plucked lutes such as pipa, sanxian (in two sizes), yeqin and ruan; and plucked as well as hammered zithers such as zheng and yangqin (see qin). The wind instruments may include either one or both of the transverse and end-blown bamboo flutes (dizi and xiao respectively) and/or a sheng mouth-organ. A few small percussion instruments may also be played for rhythmic accompaniment. These often consist of a woodblock, one or two small drums, a clapper and, sometimes, a pair of small concussion bells (see luogu).
Sizhu music is a form of chamber music that is often performed within the confines of a music club or a private home for self-entertainment. Its practice is typically accompanied by the adoption of Confucian aesthetic values and behaviour by its performers. These include performing this music strictly as amateurs without thought of monetary compensation; emphasis on simplicity, refinement and moderation in the rendering of the music as manifested by the judicious use of melodic ornaments, even rhythms, a restrained tempo and fine tone production; and, last but not least, communality and equality in the distribution and interaction of the various instrumental parts by means of heterophony which heightens the timbral differences. There are several Chinese regional sizhu traditions, most of them in the south, and aside from instrumentation they also vary from each other in terms of historical development and performance conventions. The major genres include Jiangnan sizhu, Chaozhou-Hakka sixian, Minnan nanyin and Guangdong yinyue.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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