Chinese Stories and Ancient Flutes Featured at Douglas County Library Event – Alexandria Echo Press

ALEXANDRIA — The Douglas County Library featured a Minneapolis storyteller and traditional Chinese flautist at a COMPAS teaching event on Friday, October 21.

Storyteller Rhonda Lund and traditional Chinese flutist Ying Zhang, both of Minneapolis, taught and entertained an intimate group of people ranging from children to seniors at the Douglas County Library through folk tales and music from China .

“We love to show diversity, different cultures and different backgrounds. We are all one,” said library director Dawn Dailey. “Music is a language that everyone can understand…Music brings everyone together.”

Ying Zhang plays the Xiao flute before an audience at the Douglas County Library alongside his wife, Rhonda Lund, Friday, October 21, 2022.

Thalen Zimmerman/Alexandria Echo Press

Lund opened the event by providing information about Zhang, who is from Beijing. She said that when Zhang was 12, he snuck into a concert to see an “extremely famous” musician. After the show, Zhang approached the man and asked to be hired as an apprentice. Surprisingly, the musician said yes.

Fast forward to today, at age 83, Zhang has mastered 12 wind instruments and for the past 25 years has traveled with his wife, Lund, across Minnesota telling the stories and playing the music of the China for those who will listen.

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Rhonda Lund shows off a Gu Di – a bone flute – made from a turkey leg by her husband Ying Zhang.

Thalen Zimmerman/Alexandria Echo Press

Lund, an actress by trade, then recounted how Zhang made a flute from a turkey leg he picked up after a Thanksgiving meal followed by Chinese folktales. One was about a grief-stricken widow who lost her husband while working on the Great Wall of China, another was about how a monkey became the Monkey King by jumping through a mysterious waterfall, and a third was about a poor boy who used the power of a “dragon pearl” to fend off a greedy businessman and end a devastating drought.

After each story, Zhang would play a different Chinese flute, and Lund would explain how each is used in different ways with different meanings.

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Rhonda Lund presents a Lu Sheng to a crowd at the Douglas County Library.

Thalen Zimmerman/Alexandria Echo Press

The Gu Di was the turkey bone flute which literally means “bone flute”.

The Xun, played after the story of the grieving widow, is a clay flute that dates back nearly 7,000 years. Lund explained that the instrument was only discovered in the past 60 years after archaeologists unearthed the tombs of ancient Chinese emperors. She said that because it is so new, not many people know how to play it, but it serves to provide a sad or scary sound when telling stories.

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Ying Zhang blows a Xun during performance teaching at the Douglas County Library.

Thalen Zimmerman/Alexandria Echo Press

The next flute played is called a Hulusi. It is made of a gourd and bamboo sticks with a copper reed inside that produces bagpipe sounds. Lund explained that the flute originated in Yunnan province used by the indigenous Dai people for their traditional “peacock dance”.

The fourth instrument presented is the Lu Sheng. A flute made up of several brass tubes resembling those of an organ. Zhang said that traditionally the player of the instrument walks or dances while playing. It is not intended to be played seated or standing. Zhang played his own song on the Lu Sheng and, of course, he danced.

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Rhonda Lund, right, listens intently to her husband playing the Hulusi. It is a Lund favorite that closely resembles a Scottish bagpipe due to the copper reed in the middle of the gourd’s body.

Thalen Zimmerman/Alexandria Echo Press

The final instrument is a Xiao which resembles a traditional flute familiar to the western world. During the final performance, Lund and Zhang got some of the children present to play percussion instruments with Zhang.

“Anything that shows you the culture of a different people or a different country is hugely important,” Lund said. “It’s a real joy to hear and learn to play traditional instruments because all over the world, traditional instruments are kind of on the way out because more modern music, more electronic music, is taking over. top everywhere. It’s really important that this music survives.”

The event was sponsored by the Viking Library System and funded by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund of Minnesota. COMPAS, a nonprofit arts and education organization that teaches through art, works with Lund and Zhang and schedules their appearances statewide.

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