|Sho and U
In the 8th century, a variety of Chinese sheng were introduced to the Japanese court. Some of these instruments, called u by the Japanese, are still preserved in the Shoso-In Imperial Treasure House in the ancient capital of Nara. The present day Japanese free-reed mouth organ, or sho, evolved from these instruments. Sho are traditionally used to produce a chordal texture in Gagaku, the music of the Japanese court.
The present day sho is much thinner than the sheng, although its design is similar, with the pipes arranged in a circular fashion extending from the top of a wooden wind chamber. It usually plays at least an octave higher in general, to the sheng. The sho is an extremely expensive instrument to purchase, as the pipes are usually constructed from blackened hundred year old (or more) bamboo that has been part of a thatched roof, directly above the kitchen in a traditional Japanese house. These houses are rare now, and as such, so are the pipes to make a sho.
Many contemporary composers, both in Japan and in the West, are writing for the sho, and sho virtuosi like Miyumi Miyata and Ko Ishikawa are performing these works internationally, on both the sho and modern reconstructions of the u.
|© R. Raine-Reusch, May 2002|