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Coconut Shell and Melody: The Art of Taiwan’s Kezaixian Instrument

Last Updated on 2023/11/30

Taiwan’s Musical Heritage: An Insight into the Kezaixian Fiddle.

The Kezaixian (壳仔弦), also known as khak-a-hian in Pe̍h-ōe-jī, is a traditional Chinese string instrument, specifically belonging to the huqin family. Originating from China, this instrument is more precisely classified as a type of yehu. It is distinguished by its two strings and is predominantly used in Taiwan opera.

Constructed traditionally with a coconut body, the Kezaixian’s design and sound are unique. Its form and size are somewhat similar to the board huqin but generally smaller. The instrument’s body, made from a thinner coconut shell, contributes to its distinct acoustic qualities.

Historically, the Kezaixian strings were made of silk, but in modern times, steel strings are more commonly used. The name “Kezaixian” derives from the Taiwanese Minnan language, translating roughly to “small shell huqin” or “coconut shell huqin,” with “huqin” being referred to as “hiân” in Taiwanese.

In the context of Taiwanese Luantan opera (a form of traditional opera), the Kezaixian plays a crucial role, often serving as the lead huqin instrument. It is also a leading instrument in the melody section of the Taiwanese opera orchestra, where it is one of the “Four Great Pieces,” alongside the Daguangxian, Taiwanese Yueqin, and Taiwanese Pizi.

In Hakka language and music, the instrument is known as “Erhuang.” In this musical tradition, the Erhuang leads the ensemble, often paired with the Hakka Dayehu, known as “Fat Huqin.”

In Taiwan, the Kezaixian is sometimes referred to as “Ye Hu” or “Xiao Ye Hu,” but these terms are more commonly associated with similar instruments in Guangdong and Chaoshan music.

Prominent players of the Kezaixian include Hong Yaojin, Chen Guanhua, and Lin Shuiquan, a student of Chen Guanhua. In ensembles where the Kezaixian is the leading huqin instrument, the player is referred to as “Head Hand,” “Head Hand String,” or “Main String.”

The primary reference for this information is the master’s thesis by Lai Da-Kui, titled “A Study on Taiwanese Gezaixi Huqin Music,” completed in 2003 at Nanhua University in Chiayi County, Taiwan​​.

Source: Wikipedia
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