The erhu, a two-stringed musical instrument which is more commonly known as the Chinese violin, was created during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.). Considered one of the most popular Chinese musical instrument, the erhu is played with a bamboo and horsehair bow, a small sound box with a long upright neck, and strings held in place with tuning pegs.
Sophomore Andie Liu first learned to play the erhu during the summer of fifth grade. It quickly developed into a passion, as she now plays the instrument for CYCS (California Youth Chinese Symphony).
“In sixth or seventh grade, I went to China to visit my grandparents and there wasn’t much to do in their house,” Liu said. “So I was practicing during the day while my grandma would just walk around the house and sew things or stuff, and since she passed away, it’s a memory I have of being with her.”
Liu credits her parents with her interest in cultural music, stating that they were the ones who first introduced her to the erhu even before she was born.
“When my mom was pregnant with me, she would listen to this recording because she really liked it, too,” Liu said. “And it was the song ‘Liang Zhu,’ which is about these lovers, like Romeo and Juliet, who become butterflies. So I just really have a deep connection with that song, and when I grew up, my mom played it and I recognized it, but I [didn’t] know where [it came] from. But just listening to it calms me down, and I really enjoy it.”
Her initial experience with the traditional instrument came from her parents, who first introduced her to traditional Chinese instruments. She initially was interested in playing the pipa, a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument; however, after some time she was drawn to the sound of the erhu, and switched instruments.
Although the instrument is hard to learn at first, there are many aspects in which the erhu is different from other instruments, such as the sheet music and constantly having to tune it.
“With a string instrument, it’s not like a piano where everything is tuned,” Liu said. “So, you have to find the right tone yourself. Also, it constantly goes out of tune, and you have to re-tune it because you’re pressing on the string with different pressure. I am not a fan of putting rosin on the bow because it goes in between the strings. There are only two strings, and you try to get notes with each string.”
Liu fell in love with the instrument and began to participate in additional programs like the CYCS, frequently taking part in concerts and performances throughout the year. She is also a part of the Ambassador’s Orchestra, which only includes four erhus.
“I usually am looking down [when performing] and don’t look into the audience so I kind of forget they’re there and since it’s quiet, they’re quiet and I like to immerse myself into music,” Liu said. “Sometimes like if I’m practicing my mind will wander off ... but usually messes me up. So I try not to and clear my mind and it’s like meditation.”
Though Liu has been playing for over four years, she still finds it difficult at times despite years of practice. She believes that learning and practicing at her own pace, and resting, are the most effective ways to stay on track. Liu hopes to continue her passion in the future and has her level eight exam for the erhu coming up in a few weeks.
“There are 10 levels for the exam and then I’m on the eighth so it means I’ll finish like my senior year,” Liu said. “I want to continue playing through college hopefully because it’s really calming and I like playing throughout my day.”