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Perhaps the musical instrument most evocative of China is the Erhu, known in the West as the Chinese violin, an instrument beautiful in its simplicity and detail, most likely introduced to China around a thousand years ago. The bow and the instrument are the same length, around 0.8 of a metre. Unlike the Western violin, it has just two strings, as opposed to four, between which the bow is threaded and moved to create a continuous sound, or alternatively the strings can be plucked.
Its long stick like neck has no fingerboard and the different notes are made by the fingertips touching the strings. The neck is attached to a small resonator, sound box, that is made of dense hardwood, often from an old piece of furniture, and traditionally ‘topped’ with python snakeskin.
Signing up to UN conventions to protect endangered species, these python skins can now only be from certified farmed snakes so there is a limit to how many instruments a person can take out of China — two — but in the last few years they have developed a synthetic alternative.
Emerging from the back rows of the orchestra it began to take its place as a lead and solo instrument at the beginning of the 20th century, and as it was advocated by composers both lofty and street performers, its sound became more prominent. As a versatile instrument it is used in traditional and modern music and has made its way beyond the Chinese borders to be employed by experimental outfits like Canadian USS (Ubiquitous Synergy Seekers) and Nine Inch Nails use on their track ‘Disappointed’.
This Saturday, May 7, at 3pm, Ling Peng, a child prodigy and internationally renowned player of the Erhu will be playing at the Baltimore Fiddle Fair — what a privilege for our small and remote community, again punching so far above its weight. Declan McCarthy and his backroom crew have been working tirelessly over the last twelve months to bring us the best of the best to inspire and leave us in awe of the little beast in all its shapes and forms, opening on Thursday night with Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh playing a 10-string fiddle accompanied by Mick O’Brien on uilleann pipes.
Friday in Baltimore has three master fiddle players from Scandinavia bringing something else in the form of Fru Skaggerak followed by Frankie Gavin, Noel Hill and Arty McGlyn, who’s name I just love! And the weekend goes on and on, what a line-up, top shelf, such a treat. I know there are others involved but, as Declan is the one who drops the posters around to my place, I have to take my (imaginary) hat off to him.
Elsewhere, Connolly’s of Leap will be hosting Fish Go South for a ‘House’ night on May 14 after their sell-out show a few months ago, along with a pretty packed-out month from the intimate to the very very loud! Sam’s recommending that, “the Lisa O’Neill gig on the 15th will be stunning”.
De Barra’s in Clon have a month’s line up of local sessions, Irish, including John Spillane and Ger Wolfe, a Noel Redding weekend in the middle of it all, but of particular interest Oh Pep from Melbourne on May 4 and Treelan on May 26.
We are truly spoiled.