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The Tiexianzai: Taiwan’s Two-Stringed Musical Innovation

Last Updated on 2023/12/05

Tiexianzai’s Role in Taiwanese Opera and Hakka Music.

Tiexianzai (鐵弦仔), also known as guchuixian (鼓吹弦), is a unique two-stringed fiddle originating from Taiwan. It is distinguished by its metal amplifying horn and is prominently used in Taiwanese opera music, Hakka music, and Beiguan music.

Historical Background

The development of Tiexianzai dates back to 1937, during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. At this time, the Japanese government enforced the Kominka Movement, which included a ban on traditional Chinese music instruments featuring gongs and drums, known as “禁鼓樂” (ban on drum music). In response, local musicians Chen Guanhua (陳冠華), Su Tong (蘇桐), and Chen Qiulin (陳秋霖) collaborated to create this instrument.

Design and Construction

The Tiexianzai is notable for its unique construction. The instrument’s “qinma” (saddle) is placed on a mica disc, similar to that found in a gramophone. This setup is then bent in a reverse ‘B’ shape and extends into a long, straight tube, creating resonance. The tube’s top is fitted with a horn, similar to a trumpet, to amplify the sound. The body of the instrument is entirely metallic, made from materials like aluminum, tin, iron, and copper.

In the late 20th century, an improved version of the Tiexianzai emerged. This variant used portable loudspeaker horns for the body, resembling the shape of a traditional Huqin. The neck and pegbox were sometimes made of metal or wood, and the horns were constructed from aluminum or plastic. To reduce costs, some instrument makers began using fiberglass in place of mica.

Tuning and Sound

The Tiexianzai is primarily tuned in perfect fifths, although some Hakka music performances use perfect fourths. This tuning gives the instrument a high-pitched and sharp tonal quality. In Taiwanese opera, the Tiexianzai is often used in scenes expressing sadness, sorrow, or lyricism, usually led by the principal string player.

Usage in Music

Apart from its use in Taiwanese opera and Hakka music, the Tiexianzai is sometimes utilized in Cantonese music. It is employed in the Huqin section of Guangdong music, often as part of the background score known as “Guangdong Chuan” (廣東串). The instrument is also featured in Hakka mountain songs.

Notable Makers and Players

Prominent figures associated with the Tiexianzai include its creators Chen Guanhua, Su Tong, and Chen Qiulin. In terms of performance, notable players of the Tiexianzai in Taiwanese opera include Hong Yaojin (洪堯進), Cai Chun’an (蔡春安), Li Guozhi (李國治), and Xu Zaitian (許再添). Zhang Menghao is recognized as a skilled maker and player of the Tiexianzai.

Source: Wikipedia

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