This performance was very unique because Gao Hong didn’t just play the Pipa, she interacted with the audience throughout the performance to teach us as much about the Pipa as possible. I learned that although the Pipa looks like a guitar it is played very differently. With a guitar, you strum the strings, brushing a finger against a string upwards or downwards to get it to vibrate. A Pipa the strings are plucked outwards away from the instrument, this makes it harder to play because it requires more work to play.
Gao Hong explained that the Pipa is about storytelling. The Pipa is able to mimic sounds, and she began by demonstrating different sounds of the Pipa. The sounds she made was that of blowing wind, clam and bubbling water, Chinese gongs, horses, and people talking and laughing. The diverse sounds of the Pipa especially came out in the songs, During the song “King Xiang Yu Takes off His Armour” her Pipa was not even making musical notes, simply mimicking the sound of clashing metal and bringing the audience to the playing field. Every song that was played had a story behind it for the Pipa would tell. My favorite song was “Chen Xingyuan Placates the Tribesmen”. This song was full of sorrow and I could hear her Pipa moaning as it played. During the song “Mother-in-Law Arguing with Daughter-in-Law” I closed my eyes and could picture slamming pots and a father trying to play a peacemaker amongst his wife and daughter.
Gao Hong also played an original piece that she had written about her life. She has been travelling playing music since the age of 12 and mentioned that she has experienced many lonely moments in her life. Seldom are single notes plucked on the Pipa, notes are usually played together in a stream of plucking. However, when single notes are played they are particularly powerful. Her composition “Flying Dragon” was powerful because of how many single notes she emphasized in the song.
After playing traditional Pipa songs, Gao Hong did something different by showing us a project she worked on, a video that she narrates and plays the Pipa for about her experience of driving in the US. At first, I was not a huge fan because of all the other sounds and music she was playing in the video. I only wanted to hear her Pipa and found the other sounds in the video distracting. My feelings soon changed as the video became my favorite part. Not only was it hilarious, authentic, and relatable especially for immigrants, but I realized that she was doing something different by combining her Pipa playing with everyday sounds and American music. I got to hear country rock songs played on the Pipa.
The Pipa is an extremely delicate instrument and is not meant for everyone to play. I am glad I was able to hear it played by an expert.