Day 45: While my Erhu gently weeps

Ancient Chinese Erhu

Ancient Chinese Erhu

What is it about the acoustics of a subway station that can make a lone guitar sound like Eric Clapton. Well, Eric Idle, anyway.

Is it the tiled walls? The cavernous tunnels? Or is my hearing going from standing too close to the edge of the platform while the train rumbles in?

Whatever it is, I do like to hear live music while waiting for a train. And some of the instruments I’ve seen below ground are quite unique. I got up close and personal with an interesting one last night (it was after midnight, so I’m including it today), thanks to my new “coins ready in pocket” plan.

Rising on the escalator to change trains, I heard the most hauntingly beautiful sound. Sort of a cross between a harp, a lute and a breeching whale. When I got to the top, there was a middle-aged Chinese man playing a long-necked string instrument with a bow.

It sat on his left thigh and he worked the bow with slow expert strokes that produced the other-worldly notes I’d been listening to on the escalator ride up.

I got the feeling he’d probably been part of an orchestra back home. I tossed my coins in his case and he stopped to give me a thank-you nod. I asked him what the instrument was called, but had to repeat the question a few times and use gestures because he didn’t speak English.

He pointed to a card in his case that explained that it was a Chinese Erhu. I tried to tell him how much I enjoyed his music and I think he got the message. My words might not have made sense to him, but I think my eyes and smile did.

Turns out, music isn’t the only universal language.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Day 45: While my Erhu gently weeps

  1. Well, gooddeedaday, I had a similar experience, and I wonder whether it was the same man we saw! My encounter was on Aug. 30th, 2008, roughly at 11:30 am at the underground station Yonge/Bloor in Toronto, Canada… I was enchanted too by the sound; listened to him; asked him what instrument it was. I did not understand what he said, but he showed me his CD and I read Erhu (or so) on it. As far as I remember his music was pentatonic, not very difficult but touching the heart. And since then, I wonder whether I should get such an instrument and learn it … even if I have to travel to China to do so!

  2. sam

    Yes, what a great instrument. It’s very soulful. I wrote a song featuring the magnificent Erhu. You can check it out @ http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/1twenty

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