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Sound of the past, note for the future

By Wang Ru| China Daily| Updated: May 24, 2023 L M S


Shen Yingbiao

"The xiao sound was too light, which weakened its expressiveness. Moreover, there was not a standard for its intonation. These all made the instrument gradually marginalized," says Shen.

"But the instrument kept its unique attractiveness, which paved the way for it to be revived. It produces heavenly music, and has a concise but profound temperament, which conforms to the traditional Chinese aesthetic idea that, 'the greatest music has the faintest notes'," he adds.

In recent years, the instrument has regained its vitality with improved tools and skills to make it, which means it can produce louder sounds now and can perform in solos. The criteria for its intonation has also been set.

"The xiao is such a good instrument. It's cheap, easy to carry, can produce gorgeous music and piping the xiao is healthy. I just cannot wait to make more people know about it," says Shen.

From his perspective, piping a xiao is also a way of cultivating yourself. "Compared with others, the xiao is an extremely simple instrument. It is only part of a bamboo with holes. Since it is so simple that you can hardly make any changes on it, you can only change yourself, like your posture and movement when piping, to make your music performance better and better," says Shen.

"It's actually an introspective process. You repeat and improve yourself, so that you are increasingly skilled, before finally you can create good music. The process is a big harvest that brings great joy," he adds.

After 40, he finally devoted himself to the cause full-time. "Before that time, the biggest difficulty for me was to strike a balance between pursuing my interest and supporting my family. I could only devote myself to it part-time to ensure my income when I was younger. But after 40, when I didn't have many economic burdens, I could wholeheartedly put myself into it," says Shen.

In 2007, the Xixi Xiao Society was renamed Qiantang (the old name of Hangzhou) Xiao Society, where people can learn to play the xiao and xiao lovers communicate with each other. In 2020, a free xiao course was started at the society, which has enabled nearly 1,000 people, especially old people who are retired, to learn the instrument, according to Shen.

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