Friday afternoon we went to a lecture at Willamette…a discussion of a collaborative faculty project with student involvement that proved quite fascinating. Heidi Grew teaches ceramics and Juwen Zhang teaches Chinese. Professor Zhang had gotten very interested in an ancient Chinese instrument…the Xun. A globular clay flute with 5 holes (quite like an ocarina) and with origins that are traceable to at least 7000 years ago, the humble Xun had nearly disappeared from Chinese consciousness. The three “elements” in xun music represent earth, sky, and the spiritual intermediary.
In conversation the two faculty members decided to try and reproduce a series of instruments that made xun music and also were symbolic representations. In the spirit of the west they chose the coyote as their “intermediary” (real coyotes producing their own haunting sounds!) With roots in Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist thought, the xun was initially used to communicate with the gods? as a hunting tool? to warn of danger? all of those?
Heidi Grew described her process of making the instruments, and then having her collaborator place the holes before firing…a trial and error process fascinating to both.
Two Chinese language students and one ceramics student joined the project and played for us. The music itself is haunting, moving and very beautiful…very much a musical “conversation” with elements of earth, wind, sky and more mournful voices.
Musician John Doan came with his own small and ancient xun which Prof Zhuang played…
the room filled with the ancient sounds of China, and of the earth itself.