Guan - Chinese Traditional Musical Instruments

12. Guan - Wind Instrument

This is a cylinder fitted with a reed mouthpiece. It has a nasal sound quality and generally comes in a variety of sizes.

The guan was known as bili in ancient times. It was brought to China from Qiuci (a region in today's Xinjiang province) around the Sui Dynasty. The bili was a very important instrument in the Nine and Ten Genres of Music in the Sui and Tang Dynasties, hence it was called the "Head Guan". Nowadays it is usually called guan or guanzi. The instrument can be found all over China, and is mainly found in folk guchui (drum and wind) music and Buddhist and Taoist music. There are different varieties of guan, which are called differently from region to region. For example, it is called houguan in Guangdong and guanzi in the north. Generally a single guan is used, but sometimes two may also be used in performances. The tone quality of guanzi is expansive, whereas that of houguan carries strong nasal timbre. In the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, the types of guan in use are the keyed alto and keyed bass guans. The guan plays an enriching role for the middle register in an orchestra. Representative solo pieces include Torrents of the River and Herding Donkeys.

The Guan is normally divided into the Northern Guan and Southern Guan, which vary in both structure and tone color. The Northern Guan is made of wood while the Southern Guan is made of bamboo. The Guan has a very peculiar tone and is often used to add special colors to ensemble and orchestral music.

During the Sui and Tang period (581-907) the bili was adopted commonly in court orchestras. In the music teaching institutes of the Song dynasty (960-1279) a section for the bili was set up. Because of its frequent leading position in the orchestra, it was also termed as touguan (the first oboe). The type used in the folk music after the Song dynasty was mostly made of bamboo, and later of red sandal, and bound with metal rings or tin hoops on both ends. The instrument is suitable for an inspiring or sad mood.

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