The sheng is one of the oldest Chinese instruments and dates back to 1100 BC. Even a sheng from the Han Dynasty has been carefully preserved in a museum. It is a kind of wind instrument an often accompanies a suona or dizi and it usually appears in Kun Qu or other Chinese opera.
The Legend Of the Origins of the sheng
There is a beautiful story of the sheng among people about the legend of its origin. At the foot of a scenic hill lived a couple, of Mao ethnicity; the man was called Gaoque and his wife was Weiniao. They had a daughter named Bangqu whose singing is described as heaven like. However, she loved a hunter named Maosha secretly. One day he saved Bangqu from a ghost but he disappeared after that. Although Bangqu's parents were glad that she was safe and sound, she herself became sad and weak. In order to make his daughter happy again, Gaoque came up with an idea. He used bamboo and reed and invented an instrument which can be blown and create beautiful sounds. He taught every man in this village how to play the instrument and started a competition. When the day of the competition arrived, the liveliness of the scene drew in Maosha, prompting Gaoque to "introduce" him to her daughter. As is normally the case with a love story, the two became happily married.
The Chinese character for sheng (笙) consists of two parts. The top part means "bamboo" and the bottom part means "birth". Thus the whole character means "object made of bamboo".
Development of the sheng
The sheng was evolved from "Calabash Sheng". The problem was that it was too crisp and easily got wet so Miao people started to use bamboo to make it and added reed to it to make it stronger. With continuous adjustment,the sheng became more and more popular and it is also a part of the culture of Miao People.
Unlike single reeds or double reeds, sheng's reeds vibrate at a fixed frequency. If you cover your finger over one of its holes, it will cause the pipe to resonate due to the reeds' frequency. Otherwise, the resonance frequency would not match meaning it wouldn't produce any sound.
The sound of Sheng is clear, crisp and full of exotic culture features. It has expressive force and can be used in both solo performances and in the orchestra.