by Jorge Cantu
The Guqin is one of the most unique instruments I have ever encountered. It is formerly known as the Qin, and has been involved with famous Chinese philosophers such as Confucius. With a range of about four octaves, this ancient instrument is known to have 91 different harmonics, as indicated by the white dots on the side of the instrument. Being unique, and having a history, this instrument has made its way into the hands of one of Whatcom’s very own; musical instructor Christopher Roberts. He has just released a solo CD with the use of the qin, called the Last Cicada Singing.
Christopher Roberts describes on the inside panel how the Chinese used to take their qin into the mountains, and would develop string techniques to mimic the movements of birds, insects, streams, etc.
Mimicing nature; that is what this CD is all about. You pick up on the relaxing, soothing feel of the CD as soon as the first song starts. You can tell automatically Chris Roberts is taking it back old school, to nature. It feels as though the CD was meant to be listened to while lying down, or sitting out at night looking at the sky.
There really is no song structure, so do not expect to be snapping your fingers along to the beat. The feeling conveyed is rather, the feeling of nature. Roberts uses sliding tones on the instrument, as well as harmonics. It is filled with wondrous tones, all of them very soft, as the qin is a very quiet instrument anyway.
“Last Cicada Singing” doesn’t really differentiate between the sounds of the songs, more so it sounds to me like an ongoing song. It definitely feels like something I have never heard before. I would recommend to anybody, that before listening, look up the qin instrument, and study a little about what the Chinese were trying to convey with this instrument.
The qin is a very peculiar instrument, being the most revered instrument in Chinese history, and dating back about 5,000 years. It was so revered, that they even had qin “societies”, in which large gatherings of qin players would take place a few times a month.
Christopher Roberts has embraced the qin and it’s history, and created new pieces for solo qin, that in my opinion seem very hard to follow, but I feel as though that wasn’t what he was getting at. Rather he was getting at nature and in a way the feel for the Northwest and all of its beauty.