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Xinjiang’s Khushtar: Stringing Together History and Modernity

Last Updated on 2023/11/30

Khushtar (胡西它尔): A Unique Musical Instrument of the Uyghur

The Khushtar (胡西它尔) is a distinctive four-stringed bowed instrument integral to Uyghur music in Xinjiang. This instrument is known for its pleasant sound, as reflected in its name, which translates to “pleasant strings.”

Creation and History

The creation of the Khushtar is attributed to Tursunjiang, a notable figure from the Xinjiang Arts School, who drew inspiration from Uyghur folk tales. Its design and sound are believed to have ties to the Buddhist period in Xinjiang and may share a common ancestry with the violin and ancient Indian and Nepalese instrument “Sarangi.”

Physical Description

The Khushtar resembles the Western mandolin in appearance, with a half-pear-shaped resonator box made from mulberry or apricot wood. The instrument’s total length is 68 cm, featuring a skylark-designed headstock, walnut wood tuning pegs, and a short neck fitted with a hardwood fingerboard. It uses violin strings for its main strings and steel strings for its sympathetic strings.

Development and Revival

The Khushtar experienced a revival in the 1970s through the efforts of Tursunjiang. Initially a forgotten ancient Uyghur folk instrument, Tursunjiang’s work in recreating and improving the Khushtar brought it back into prominence, leading to its renaming and adaptation for modern use.

Playing Technique

The playing technique for the Khushtar involves a seated position, with the instrument’s stand on the left leg. The style incorporates techniques from both Western and Eastern string instruments, like the violin and Erhu. The instrument’s tuning can be adjusted as per the music piece, with a sound range covering three octaves.

Contemporary Usage

In modern settings, the Khushtar is used for both solo and ensemble performances, adaptable to classical and modern music pieces. It has become a prominent member of Uyghur folk string instruments, with mass production in Urumqi and professional training offered at the Xinjiang Arts College.

Notable Repertoire

Significant pieces in the Khushtar’s repertoire include “Spring of Xinjiang,” a vibrant piece celebrating life in Xinjiang post the establishment of New China, and “Youth Dance,” an adaptation of a Wang Luobin song that embodies the youthful energy and typical dance rhythms of Xinjiang.

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