Think twice!

The Orchestra musicians take their seats on stage.


Confidently, the concertmaster walks out, acknowledging the audience by giving a slight bow. He cues the orchestra and leads them to tune. He sits down. The conductor walks out, offering a prestigious handshake to the concertmaster.

You can be on that concertmaster seat, if you are in the bowed strings section. To be specific, only those who are in the gaohu section, the (real) violin equivalent of the huqin family, will be given a chance to that seat of responsibility. The gaohu is usually the lead instrument playing mostly the melody, quickly casting the ever popular erhu into the shadow.

The open strings of the gaohu are G and D, an octave above the two lower strings of the violin. The gaohu has a brighter, sharper, more penetrating and piercing tonal quality. Performed in exactly the same way as the erhu, the gaohu is an instrument that demands even more delicacy, precision and control, mainly due to the higher pitch and piercing tonal quality – any mistakes or imperfections made while playing the gaohu are very obvious and hard to escape the ears! (Stress level UP!) To know more about the gaohu and instruments in Chinese Orchestra - Singapore Chinese Orchestra

In the school orchestra setting, teachers or instructors only endow this responsibility to those who show constant reliability in terms of intonation and rhythmic sensitivity. It is a challenging position, yet many students strive to be in that section for the prestige and to be able to play more interesting parts. Look at the below example of the difference in “excitement” between the three different instruments in the huqin family.

In Stringanza’s quartet setting, the importance of gaohu is tripled/quadrupled. With only four instruments, we try to achieve harmonic, melodic, rhythmic and stylistic elements. These meant that the gaohu position is not only to lead important melodies but also have the control over most of the elements of the music. The result – if the gaohu breaks down, the music will break down. Absolute truth, period.

Therefore, the gaohu musician practises the hardest, works the most during rehearsals, does the most homework analysing the piece, listen most to others, researches on other styles, etc… Think it is the end once you get to the gaohu section? No, its only the start. The work comes in after. With prestige and power comes responsibility.

Do you only see the prestige of gaohu, do you still want to be there. Think twice.