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Oliver Boekhoorn: Abing - Er Quan Ying Yue

The Calefax musicians enhanced a new video collection with a personal touch. This collection of existing as well as brand new clips of Concert Registrations and Tour Impressions offers a unique way to explore Calefax’s history of no less than 35 years.

Oliver Boekhoorn, oboe
Abing – Er Quan Ying Yue

Oliver: “Sometimes you accidentally discover a musical gem without realizing it. That was the case with one of the few compositions that I still cannot quite pronounce properly after more than 10 years: Er Quan Ying Yue.

When we go on tour abroad, we sometimes look for a composition or song known for that country. Like in 2007, the first time we went to China. We were recommended a few songs, all typical Chinese pieces, all sounding in the pentatonic scale, a scale with only 5 notes instead of our usual 7. If you don’t know what that sounds like, just think of a random film with the main character ending up in China. 9 out of 10 times you hear “Chinese music”, or rather, a parody of this. Or on a piano, just play the black keys.

At first hearing these Chinese pieces sound quite similar to us, which makes it difficult to choose the most beautiful. Our ears are simply trained only for Western music. Actually the same is the case when we listen to Arabic music where people play with different tonal distances. It sounds out of tune to many of us.

Er Quan Ying Yue was written by Huy Yanjun, better known as Abing, a street musician. A life for which he had not chosen himself had it not been that he became blind in the time he was attached to a temple as a musician. In the music he wrote, his grief and melancholy for his previous life can be heard clearly.

The piece is originally a solo piece for Erhu, a two-stringed string instrument, with an incredibly expressive sound. The glissandi and decorations that seem to come naturally from this instrument cannot easily be imitated by us. I listened a lot to famous Erhu players to ‘catch’ the characteristic sound, to give my arrangement of Er Quan just that recognition, so it does not feel like a Western musician playing ‘Chinese film music’. The intro is on Cor Anglais, then Raaf plays the melody on Alto Sax and later I continue on tin whistle. During our tour, this whistle was the biggest surprise for our Chinese audiences. After the concerts I got a lot of questions about it and some were baffled that this is an Irish instrument. Funnily enough, playing Irish melodies is not that far from the Chinese way of playing. The characteristic decorations and glissandi are similar – at least, as far as I have been able to figure out.

Anyway, at our performances in China we noticed that the tune evoked emotions and some tears were shed. Er Quan Ying Yue means something like: the moon reflected in the second pond. A friend of Abing beautifully articulated the meaning: “The piece conveys an inexplicable deep meaning of life and shows the complexity within life. The repetition of the motifs within the melody throughout the piece gives a sensation of continuity, but the variations within the melody hints at underlying changes that are not yet perceivable to the eye. The changes in the melody are subtle at first with a clear manifestation in the end of the piece in which Abing composes all of his sorrow into the music, but also conveys a determination to live on.

Click here for the original 1950 recording of Er Quan Ying Yue played by Abing himself.”