Bamboo flute is the earliest known musical instruments in China, which is also the woodwind instrument that has strong ethnic characteristics. The history of flute can be traced back to 8000 years ago. In the age of The yellow emperor period(4000 years ago), there grew plenty of bamboos in the Yellow River basin. Ancient Chinese already started making bamboo flute at that time.
According to the famous ancient Chinese literature-Records of the Grand Historian,”The yellow emperor made his workers cut bamboos and chop them into flutes.” During the warring States period, flutes were primarily melodic instruments for god worship and festival ceremonies. In Qin and Han dynasty, seven-hole flute appeared. In 1987, archaeologist unearthed two bamboo flutes in Hubei Province, exactly the same as the record.
Why flutes are so popular in China? Speaking of this, the essence of traditional Chinese culture-Imagery can be missed out. Traditional Chinese painting seems silent but among those thick and heavy colors, strong and light stokes, streams can make joyful flowing sound, birds can sing happily, horses can run so fast, it is how the reader feel. In Tang poem Song jambic verse, poets combined objects, sound, image, time, scene, thought and heart perfect into one. Even reading those poems from hundreds years ago, they never fail to bring us to that age.
Flute is strikingly expressive when it comes to sound and melody. Not only it can play long and smooth yet powerful melody, with vast and broad feeling, it also does a great job playing light and gorgeous dance music as well as elegant and beautiful minor. It plays Legato, staccato, trills Portamento and other colorful musical notes.
Just imagine how many scenes it can take the listeners to and how many kinds of mood it could deliver. What’s more, flute is good at mimicking different natural sounds and bring listeners into that beautiful idyllic picture. no wonder it is one of the most popular musical instrument in traditional Chinese musical culture.
In ancient Chinese literature writings, flute also played an important part, especially in poetry. Poets often tried to write poem after they listened to some flute play. In a poem called Listening to Hu People Playing Flute by Libai, the flute with sad music suited the writers state of mind just fine. It goes like this,”Hu people play Jade flute, with echos of music everywhere. Early chilly morning of October, plum blossom music falls on pavilion Jing. Sad tears fill with my eyes and wet my toorie. Looking back to the road leading to Changan city, sighing my reminiscence for the emperor.
As the time goes, flute-making material has evolved so much. From the earliest bamboo and bones to todays stone, jade or red wood. And there is also a difference between southern and northern flute in China. Despite all the choices, bamboo is still by far the best material for flutes because it is easy to find and with great sound effect.