Gehu - Chinese Traditional Musical Instruments
19. Gehu - Bowed String Instrument
This is a mixture of the cello and the hu, using four strings, and similar playing technique. As the instrument uses a banjo-like membrane as the sounding board, the resulting sound is unlike the cello, however. The Bass Gehu is very similar in technique and usage as the double bass, with a different sound due to the variance in construction.
Gehu's name is made up of two Chinese characters. "Ge" meaning revolutionary, and "Hu" which is derived from "Huqin" the generic term for all Chinese bowed string instruments.
The Gehu comes in two sizes, the Da-Gehu (large) and the Diyin Gehu (bass). In a Chinese orchestra, they take the same roles as the cello and double bass in a Western symphony orchestra. The Da-Gehu is a hybrid of the cello and the hu. It has four strings. The tuning, bowing, fingering and other string techniques are the same as those for the cello. Because the Gehu uses a banjo-like membrane as the soundboard, the resulting sound is however unlike the cello. The instrument's volume and tone quality depends upon the snakeskin parchment that is attached to the body of the instrument. The Diyin Gehu tunes and plays like the double bass, but the tone color differs from that of the double bass.On to Instrument 20 Back to Chinese Musical Instruments Page 2
The Gehu came into existence in the 1950s, as a result of the influence of Western ideas of orchestration to Chinese music. Most native Chinese instruments tend to be high pitched and nasal, which suits very well with most traditional Chinese music. The Gehu was created to form an instrument that could produce a sufficiently full and low pitch sound, enlarging the scope of Chinese music The tone of the Gehu is clear and rich, but the instrument has many disadvantages. It has a tendency to go out of tune with too much increased pressure from the bow. It does not get louder as the player approaches the upper positions. Two Gehus are needed to generate the same volume of sound created by one cello. The large snakeskin parchment on the body is also easily damaged by humidity, thus affecting the tone quality.
Most Chinese orchestras in China have rapidly abandoned the Gehu in favor of the western cello and double bass. Today, the cello and double bass have been fully assimilated into the Chinese orchestra. Even so, some professional Chinese orchestras still prefer to the use of the Gehu, feeling that in a Chinese orchestra, the tone of the Gehu blends somewhat better with other traditional Chinese bowed string instruments than the cello and double bass, due to their resonance.