The suona or Chinese oboe, sometimes called a trumpet, is the loudest Chinese instrument, and as it is passionate and lively it frequently sets the rhythm and beat for a band. It is the musical mainstay at weddings, celebrations, parades and funerals. If you are lucky enough, you may see the locals playing Suona along your China tours.
It has earned the reputation, unfairly, as a rustic, low-class instrument because of its often piercing loud sound. The suona, in fact, is capable of subtlety, of plaintive, sentimental performances. It also can create a brilliant sound of hundreds of singing birds. All this depends on which size the suona and how it is played, of course, but the reputation stuck. Many students particularly like to learn to play suona with the locals along their student tours to China.
“The distinctively loud and high-pitched sound of suona was perfect for outdoor performances. It had been used for festival and military purposes and currently is widely used in traditional weddings and funerals in the countryside of North China,” says suona performer Hu Chenyun from the Shanghai Chinese Music Orchestra. “That gave people an impression that it was not a decent instrument, but only created some bustling noise.” It is no wonder that many culture-lover businessmen like to enjoying the Suona performance along their business travel to China.
The suona was originally introduced to China from Central Asia, developed from Central Asian instruments such as the “surnay” or “zurna,” from which its Chinese name probably derives. A musician playing an instrument very similar to a suona is shown in a drawing on a Silk Road religious monument in what is now the western Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, dating back to the third to fifth century AD. Along your Shangri-la adventure, you may see the ethnic groups playing Suona ceremoniously.
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