Cultural Heritage
Published: Nov 13, 2022 07:23 PM
Suona performers in Gansu Province Photo: IC

Suona performers in Gansu Province Photo: IC

: Oboe-like traditional Chinese solo musical instrument with rich variety

Suona is a traditional Chinese double-reed woodwind instrument. Its loud, clear, bold and cheerful sound makes it one of the most popular musical instruments in China's rural areas.

In the 3rd century, suona was introduced to China from Arab areas along the Silk Road. Since the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), suona has played an important role in the music of traditional Chinese operas. Suona has become a representative instrument of the woodwind family in China and is well-known around the world.

Suona are mostly made of rosewood or sandalwood. Shaped like a long cone, the top of a suona is equipped with reeds that are connected with the wooden wind body through a copper or silver core. Its bottom is a copper bowl-shaped loudspeaker. There are usually eight holes in its wind body that allow it to produce 18 octaves. The alto, bass, and double bass suona instruments are characterized by a deep and rich sound. They are mainly used in ensembles played by folk and symphony orchestras. After continuous improvement, suona has become a distinctive solo instrument.

There are various kinds of suona in different parts of China. The smallest version, just 22-30 centimeters long is popular in the provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Hunan and Jiangxi and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Medium-sized suona, 32-40 centimeters long, is soft and popular in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces. 

The above two kinds are called "southern suona." Featuring melodious sound with moderate volume, they are suitable to be played as accompaniments for singing and dancing. The largest suona is 42-57 centimeters long and popular in northern and northeastern China. With a loud and strong voice, it is usually played for grand musical works.

Among all different kinds of suona, the Qinyang suona from Central China's Henan Province and Qingyang suona in Northwest China's Gansu Province are the most prominent. The former highlights large volume and a rough style. It is suitable for expressing extremely happy or sad emotions at exuberant events, such as weddings, funerals, birthday parties, ceremonies or religious rituals. The latter is often played together with percussion instruments. The most representative programs of suona are "Birds Paying Homage to the Phoenix," "Lifting the Bridal Sedan Chair" and "Ode to My Hometown," among others. 

In 2006, the well-known Qinyang and Qingyang suona were listed in the first-batch of national intangible cultural heritage of China.  

Global Times