The Cheng: Two Masters Play the Chinese Zither

Liang Tsai-Ping & Louis Chen The Cheng: Two Masters Play the Chinese Zither LP
(Summit Musical Industries, 1980)

As much as I listen to music, as much as I know about the history and sociology of music, I've never been able to fully grasp music theory. Much like the Babbitt who knows art when he sees it, I know music when I hear it. Still, it frustrates me to know that my understanding of the technical hows and whys of music is about as deep as my knowledge of calculus. So when I say I hear blue notes in ancient Chinese zither music, if I am not technically right, grant to me that The Cheng sounds like the Blues.

The Blues masters in this case are also zither masters. Laing Tsai-Ping was an expert on the guhzeng, a twelve-string zither, an instrument which originated in 20 BC China. From Taiwan, he established the guhzeng as a major instrument in Chinese traditional music and wrote a major work on Chinese music. He also was a teacher of Western composers such as Lou Harrison. Louis Chen was also a zheng master and plays on dozens of recordings. He called Hong Kong his home. As you will hear, both of these guys play a couple of mean zithers.

When you listen to these three recordings realize that only one of them was composed in the lifetime of the two masters. Baked Cakes and Fritters was written by Laing, a meditation on his childhood. Mutual Longing, inspired by a poem by the Taoist Li Po, was penned in the 700s. A Drunken Fisherman Sings in the Evening was first played in the 10 Century. The songs not only sound blue but the sounds are much stranger than what I expect ancient music to sound like. Of course, that expectation is based on nothing but ignorance and cultural blindness, but acknowledging my limits doesn't lessen the excitement I get when I stumble on sounds that are both odd and familiar to my ears.

I found this one in a record store that specializes in rare punk rock records. Because this did not conform to the rigid expectations of punk collectors it was priced at $2.50, the cheapest record in the store. The guy behind the counter smirked at me when I bought it. I doubt he had ever heard the thing.

Great blog! I'm putting up a link at http://purpleheadphones.blogspot.com

I've got some weird Chinese stuff and all kinds of things posted, including Chinese safety announcements on China Southern Air. What does this have to do with your blog? Nothing. Just rambling. Thanks for posting groovy stuff. Trade links?
Oh, thanks for this! Tsai-Ping Liang was my wife's grandfather and we lived with him in Taipei for 1.5 years in the 1990s. He was completely amazing and hilarious and is sorely missed. Before him, the zheng was primarly a woman's instrument (actually, I think it still is) and played in a very different style (much more vigorously). He was originally from the mainland (Beijing, I think), but emigrated to Taiwan the late 1940's (politics, you know).

I've been enjoying your blog for a long time now and today's post is a pleasant surprise. Do you also like CD? I'd be too happy to send you more of Prof. Liang's music, seeing how you've provided me with so much entertainment...
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