The lusheng (Traditional Chinese 蘆笙, Simplifed Chinese 芦笙) is a mouth organ played by various minorities in China and neighbouring countries, such as the Dong, Gelo, Lahu, Miao (Hmong) and Shui. In older texts it is sometimes called by the name lusha (Traditional Chinese 蘆沙, Simplified Chinese 芦沙). It usually has six pipes arranged in two rows of three, ranging in size from the small example shown above, to instruments with pipes of up to four metres in length. Although the pipes protrude through the bottom of the windchest in a manner similar to the those of the hulusheng, the pipes are closed near the lower end. Often the upper ends of the pipes have additional resonators added to them and in some cases one of the pipes might be fitted with multiple reeds to emphasise a particular note.
The lusheng is most commonly used to provide the music for festivals, funerals and shamanic rituals, sometimes with large ensembles of differently sized lusheng playing in unison. Amongst the Miao (Hmong) people, the lusheng (known in the Hmong language as gaeng or qeej) is both a vitally important cultural emblem and a means of communicating with the spirit world.
The tuning is the lusheng is typically pentatonic. The small instrument shown above comes from the Dong minority of southern China and starts on the D above middle C and giving a scale of D E G A C D:
The reeds of this instrument are triangular in shape, about 8mm - 10mm (5/16" - 3/8") in length:
This larger example comes from a Hmong village in northern Vietnam:
Not surprisingly, it is considerably lower in pitch, giving a minor pentatonic scale starting on the F below middle C:
The reeds of this instrument are from 13mm - 19mm (3/4" - 7/8") in length, with an unusual chisel-like shape:
The highest pitched pipe on this instrument has a larger diameter than the others and has two reeds set into it, each tuned to the same note.
Inevitably, "improved" lusheng have been introduced with additional pipes to give a wider musical range and semi-professional groups of lusheng players are often to be found entertaining tourists with decidedly non-traditional pieces.
Lusheng leads Zhu to music world
Thai Vang: Qeej Music
The Hmong Qeej: Speaking to the Spirit World, by Gayle Morrison (.pdf file)
A Brief History of Mouth Blown Free Reed Instruments
What Is A Free Reed?
Origins Of The Free Reed
Eastern Free Reed Instruments
A Selective Discography Of Asian Free Reed Instruments
Western Free Reed Instruments
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