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Chi Bulico, Master of Horse-head Fiddle
    2008-12-04 16:31:52     CRIENGLISH.com

In 1907, a Japanese scholar mentioned an instrument in his journal describing it as a chordophone with a horse head carved on the top. He called it a Matouqin, literally translated as horse-head fiddle in English. A symbol of Mongolian ethnicity, the horse-head fiddle has been played by Mongols for centuries. Chi Bulico, an artist who has been playing the horse-head fiddle for more than 50 years, has brought about significant changes in the development of the ancient instrument. Our reporter XXX has more.

Chi Bulico [Photo: keerqin.gov.cn]


The horse-head fiddle was called morin khuur in Mongolian, and gained popularity among Mongols in the 13th century. The resonant and far-reaching sound made by the fiddle is described as "a wild horse neighing" or "a breeze in the grasslands". Some even say the notes produced by the instrument paint a better picture of the grasslands than any painter or poet. The horse-head fiddle is indeed considered the most important musical instrument of the Mongolian people.

The descendant of Jochi, the eldest son of Genghis Khan, Chi Bulico was born in 1944, and was made a living Buddha when he was 3 years old. At an early age, Chi Bulico showed his talent in music through his exquisite sense of sound.

"In the summer, the telephone lines set up on the grassland buzzed while they swayed in the endless winds. During the winter, the frozen lines made strident sounds. I was enchanted by all the different sounds in the grasslands, and could spend days listening to them. The first time I heard the music of a horse-head fiddle on the radio, I was deeply touched. My heart began to beat faster when I heard the instrument. It will always do, until the day I die."

At the age of seven, Chi Bulico got his first two instruments called "Chao Er" and "Si Hu" from his father. And he was able to play several dozens pieces of music with other folk artists the next year even without knowing the scores. After learning from a horse-head fiddle master San Duren, Chi Bulico got a much better understanding of music and the instrument.

In 1970s, Chi Bulico made several improvements to the ancient horse-head fiddle, and modernized it so that it could be used in the symphony orchestra. According to Chi Bulico, his ideas were inspired by the legendary Italian violin master Niccol Paganini.

"I admire Paganini the most. He took violin playing to the next level using his knowledge of the guitar. And I improved the horse-head fiddle using the violin. The improved bow can now play many different tunes. If I had not learned the violin, there would not have been these new techniques of playing the horse-head fiddle now."

With only two strings, the current horse-head fiddle can make quite a number of fascinating sounds.

Although he has never entered middle school or learned composing, Chi Bulico is considered the master of the horse-head fiddle. His playing skills are the standards of teaching materials today and over 80 percent of fiddle music has been written by him. Using just three notes - Do, Re and Mi - he has managed to compose a song that is 15 minutes long.

"I don't compose music according to the music theory. I compose because I am moved by the melody. I use different tunes to express my feelings and emotions."

In the eyes of others, Chi Bulico's performances are replete with expressions and emotion. Miyazaki Emi from Japan is one of them and is learning horse-head fiddle from Chi Bulico.

"My master is true to his feelings. Happiness, anger, loneliness... Whatever he feels, he expresses through his performance, holding nothing back."

In 2001, Chi Bulico created a Guinness World Record by performing a piece called Galloping Horses together with 1,000 horse-head fiddle players. And the once solo instrument became suitable for tutti.

Today, Chi Bulico has a collection of over 100 horse-head fiddles, among which the oldest one is an ancient fiddle he spent 28 years to get. It is considered the oldest fiddle existing in the world. Many people ask to leave their horse-head fiddles with Chi Bulico for a while, because it is said that will improve the timbre of the instrument.

Once a living Buddha in Inner Mongolia, Chi Bulico is still esteemed by many Mongols. However, he holds a different view of the Buddha.

"In my opinion, the real Buddha is the one who serves and helps the people. I play the horse-head fiddle with all my energy for the people, and they like it. I think that's what a living Buddha should do."



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