August 2007 Convention
Albuquerque, NM

Chinese Flutes

The mystery of playing early Chinese flute music was wonderfully explained and demonstrated by Lydia Ayers in her lecture-demonstration “Expressive Performance of Chinese Folk Flutes.”

Ayers explained that the dizi flute first appeared during the Han Dynasty (300 B.C.E). Five hundred years later during the Tang Dynasty, a membrane was added to the design of the instrument. This membrane, from a cane plant, covers a hole located between the blowhole and the six finger holes. Tone of the instrument was bright with a slight nasal quality due to this cane membrane.

Lydia Ayers

Lydia Ayers

The dizi flute comes in several keys (C, D, F, and G). Ayers recommends the one in G because fingerings are similar to those of our Western flute. Further encouraging the listeners, she explored Chinese ornamentation. Ayers discussed grace notes, mordents, microtonal/timbral trills, and harmonics, all techniques modern flutists are familiar with that are also played in Chinese music.

The demonstration was highlighted with recorded and live performance examples showing these various ornament types. Invaluable insight into reading Chinese music was discussed, and accompanied these performance examples.

The demonstration provided an insightful glimpse at the Chinese dizi, revealing that the instrument and music need not be held in the period of its initial popularity, but rather may be learned and enjoyed today.

More on the subject may be read in Ayers’s article in the summer 2007 issue of The Flutist Quarterly.

—Sharon Winton