Materials: Wood, coconut shell, horse hair
The Chinese violin on display in the Music Room area of the Institute of Texan Cultures is a huqin or “Hu-Chin” which is a general term given to any spiked fiddle. One type of huqin, called the “erhu,” is identified by its distinctive hexagonal sound box. Hugin are two-stringed instruments often made of rosewood, with gut strings and a horsehair bow. The strings on the violin can also be made of silk in stead of gut. The two pegs at the top of the violin adjust the tension of the strings and can be used to tune the instrument. The sound box of this hugin is made of a coconut shell and covered with a thin piece of wood to help produce the sound, other hugin may use an animal or snake skin to cover the sound box.
When played it sounds melodic and ancient, which you would expect when looking at the violin. It has a long fret board but, unlike a traditional Western style violin, it is not played with the musician’s fingers pressing the strings against the board. Instead the musician uses their fingers to tighten the strings without pressing them against the fret board. The instrument is played vertically, while sitting on the lap of the violinist with the bow passing between the strings of the violin.
This instrument is not easy to master and takes many years and discipline to learn. Guiding the bow through the strings and using the other hand to control vibrato and pitch is not easy. Because the strings float on top of the board; intonation is not easy to achieve. With lots of practice, the erhu can produce sounds that imitate birds chirping, horses neighing, and other calmer sounds. It is a very expressive instrument.
Made from mostly natural materials it does require upkeep in order to maintain the instrument. If the sound box is covered in skin, every few years the membrane must be replaced because it will stretch out and lose its tension over the box. The horsehair on the bow must also be restrung because over time the hair will break or become loose. More modern types of bows have a screw to adjust the tension of the horsehair, so it can be left loose when the bow is not in use. This practice makes the hair of the bow last longer, so it doesn’t have to be replaced as often.
You can see people playing this instrument at Asian Festivals or in the Chinese orchestra where the erhu is usually a solo instrument. A higher-pitched version of the Huqin or “Hu-Chin,” with a smaller resonator surface and shorter post is called the gaohu, or nanhu. A larger, lower-pitched version of the erhu is called zhonghu. All three sizes are valuable members of the orchestra. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn McCloud]
Materials: Wood, metal, leather, plastic
This object is an accordion, a musical instrument invented in Europe in the 1800s. It was brought to America by European immigrants and is especially popular in French-Louisiana and along the Texas/Mexico border.
In Texas, the accordion is mainly used in a genre of music developed by working class Texas-Mexican peoples at the turn of the nineteenth century. This genre is known as conjunto music. In the 1890s, Texas had strong German, Polish, and Czech influences from all the immigrants settling in the area. These cultures brought their music and instruments along with the rest of their culture, and the local Tejanos began to pick up their musical influences – particularly the polka, which used the violin and the accordion prominently.
There were many prominent Texan artists famous for their skill in playing the accordion. Men like Narciso Martinez, known as El Huracan del valle or “The Hurricane of the Valley,” Santiago Jimenez, and Valerio Longoria made the conjunto style of music popular throughout the twentieth century.
San Antonio, Texas holds an annual International Accordion Festival which has been conducted since 2001. It incorporates not only conjunto style music, but Cajun, zydeco, Czech, and German styles as well. There is also the Accordion Kings and Queens concert that takes place in Houston, Texas, hosted by the Texas Folk Life organization. [Caitlin Bernstein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
Other Festival Info
Materials: Wood, Fabric, and Hair
This doll is a figure of a dancing woman wearing a stylized Hispanic dress. Dresses like these were typically worn in a traditional Mexican folk dance. Baile Folklórico is Spanish for “folk dance” and is the term for the various traditional dances of the Latin American people, from South America to Mexico and Central America. These dances are expressions of the lives and culture of the Latin American people, they use indigenous and inherited folk dances to make a religious, social, or political statement. The dresses used are typically brightly colored and have a long skirt with many layers so they flare out when the dancer spins.
With the end of the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century came a new era in Mexico, the war had ended but the culture and government was radically changing. The cultural renaissance happening in Mexico at this time provoked a dialogue on the social inequalities and the ambiguity of the Mexican identity. Famous modern artists, such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, expressed these inequalities through public art. Baile Folklórico dances became popular at this time as well, while dramatic changes were happening in society the dances revived the awareness of the native heritage.
The Ballet Folklórico de Mexico, created by Amalia Hernández in the late 1950s, was the first professional folklórico performing company. It is internationally recognized and serves as ambassador of Mexican folklore and arts across the world. The Ballet Folklórico has helped significantly in not only the preservation, but the growth of the Mexican Baile Folklórico traditions. Many of the Mexican States have their own distinct techniques and costumes, attributed to geographic differences or influences of indigenous or European groups. A variety of Ballet Folklórico dances are featured every year here at the Institute of Texan Cultures during the Texas FolkLife Festival.
The cultural renaissance in Mexico resonated throughout the 20th Century, no doubt inspiring in the Mexican American population in the U.S. During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Along with African Americans, all people of color including Chicanos began to assert their cultural and historical heritage through art during this time. The intended audiences of these works were la gente del barrio, or the people from the local communities or neighborhoods. These various art mediums confront and affirm traditions, beliefs, and practices of the culture. They are intended to not only express heritage, but to educate and empower people by celebrating their cultural identity and confronting social issues. Today, muralism is still popular in asserting the identity of a culture. San Antonio is known for its downtown murals where artists, such as Adriana Garcia, and other local artists unite and inspire the community through public art. The San Anto Cultural Arts, established in 1933, has a public art program that encourages members of the community to participate in the creation of murals, inspiring pride in the community. [Sara Countryman, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
Stuyvesant Piano Company
Materials: Wood, Metal, Plastic
This object is a Stuyvesant player piano, manufactured in 1922 in New York. It was gifted to the museum by a local couple, along with over 700 rolls of music that still work in the piano.
A player piano is a piano that plays itself. A roll of music was created with punch holes in a specific pattern. When the roll fed through a reader on the piano, a mechanism would interpret the punch holes as musical notes, and the piano would play itself- like a music box. Player pianos were hugely popular from about 1900-1930.
In the late 1800s, music was the most popular form of entertainment. People would attend orchestra concerts or traveling Vaudeville– or variety- shows, and many people had pianos in their homes. Although there were many talented musicians at the time, there was always a demand for live music at home parties, even if there wasn’t a talented piano player on hand.
In 1896, the first self-playing piano was introduced by Edwin Scott Votey, who invented the pianola– another word for a player piano- in his home workshop in Detroit, Michigan. Early models of the pianola were cabinet-like boxes that were sold as add-ons to traditional pianos. It wasn’t until 1902 that the self-playing mechanism was installed into the actual pianos, and by 1916, 60% of all pianos sold were player pianos. Some music rolls even included the words to the songs in the margins, encouraging sing-alongs at parties.
Initially, pianolas were marketed to rich buyers, with models costing around $250 (today that would be about $6000). Soon, cheaper models were launched, with a standard 65-note format. This excluded the 6-note range at each end of the piano keyboard, but was able to hit most standard notes. The Buffalo Convention of 1908 standardized roll formats, and broadened the key range to include all 88 notes on the piano keyboard.
Around this same time in Germany, an inventor named Edwin Welte developed a much more advanced version of the player piano, known as a reproducing piano. The reproducing piano allowed for a much more sophisticated sound, allowing for automatic adjustments in expression and volume of notes, reproducing the original performance of an artist. These models were very much the first sound recorders for music.
With this new advanced sound, many famous composers of the day- from Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin, to Claude Debussy and Sergei Rachmaninoff– were able to record their music specifically for the reproducing pianos. People were able to enjoy anything from classical music to ragtime in their own homes.
With the Wall Street crash of 1929, interest in player pianos effectively came to an end. Radios became a household convenience, and people found other forms of entertainment. However, in the 1960s, there was a renewed interest in player pianos, and Aeolian– one of the largest manufacturers of player pianos- even produced a modern version. Many households, including the donors of this piano, enjoyed the player piano at parties all the way through the 20th century. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
Unknown date, likely 20th Century
Materials: Cloth, hair, Ceramic
This Japanese doll is a depiction of princess Yaegaki-Hime, the heroine of a five-act drama called Honcho Nijushiko or The 24 Models of Filial Piety. This drama was originally preformed in 1766 as a Bunraku, a Japanese puppet theater originating in Osaka, and then became a popular drama in the live acting Kabuki theater. The character of the princess Yaegaki-Hime has gained fame through the Bunraku and Kabuki plays. The Yaegaki-Hime doll presented depicts her holding the legendary helmet that had been gifted to a samurai lord named Takeda Shingen by a fox god called Suwa Myojin. The helmet is enchanted to protect the samurai who wears it so that the samurai will always win and, when in need, the helmet would summon 808 foxes to protect the owner. In the famous scene of heroinism, Yaegaki saves her lover, Katsuyori, from the wrath of her father. He had sent two men to kill Katsuyori because of a family feud, Yaegaki prayed there was something she could do and mourned for her lover. She touched the enchanted helmet and became possessed by its power, with the protection of two white foxes she ran across a frozen lake to warn Katsuyori. The climax of both Bunraku and Kabuki plays is Yaegaki’s dance as she becomes possessed by the fox spirit and saves Katsuyori. The story ends as the family feud is resolved, the lovers marry and live happily ever after.
In the Bunraku tradition, scenes are narrated by musical chanting with the accompaniment of a shamisen, which is a stringed instrument of the lute family. The narrator voices the characters using a unique emotional vocal style for each character, sometimes for important scenes there may be multiple narrators chanting together. The puppeteer, or chief handler, also plays a role in narrating the story with his own exaggerated facial expressions, he would operate the head and right hand while 2 assistants, dressed and hooded in black, control the left hand and lower body movement.
The tradition of puppet theater in Japan stems from 11th century traveling story tellers and may have been influenced by Central Asia. The style of puppets has evolved from simplistic, hand-less and leg-less puppets to intricate full bodied puppets with moveable mouths and eyes. Japanese puppet theater was considered a sophisticated, adult pastime and was immensely popular the during the Tokugwa, or Edo, Period (1600-1868). The Japanese puppet theater did not gain the name ‘Bunraku’ until the late 18th century, it derives from the troupe established by Uemura Bunrakuken in Osaka, Japan. The plays for the puppet theater were written playbooks, published in authorized editions and, at the height of the puppeteering tradition over 1,000 plays were written and performed.
A new type of Japanese entertainment emerged in the beginning of the 17th century called Kabuki, where women would play both male and female parts in storytelling with song and dance. Many of the stories in the original Kabuki tradition were those of everyday life however, many of the successful Bunraku plays were adapted for the Kabuki stage. During this period, when women played the roles, Kabuki was not deemed as sophisticated as its puppeteering counterpart. The themes of these stories were often comical, suggestive and the women were usually prostitutes. The Shogunate banned women from acting to discourage prostitution and became a tradition of performance with a completely male cast. [Sara Countryman, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
Visit the Asian Festival at the Institute of Texan Cultures on February 4th to see live performances of Asian music and dance.
Unknown date, likely 20th century
Materials: Paper Mache
This is a Chinese Opera mask depicting Jian Wei, a character who appeared in the The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This traditional Chinese drama combines historic events, and legends, from the third century AD and the civil wars after the fall of the Han Dynasty. The wars between the Shu, Wu, and Wei kingdoms spawned stories of violence, betrayal, heroism, and romance.
Jiang Wei is represented with a red, white and black three tiled face with a taijitu, or yin yang, symbol on his forehead. The colors and symbols on the face of an opera character give the audience insight to the personality of the character. Red represents loyalty and courage in Chinese culture. Because his face is mostly red, it suggests an overall positive character. The taijitu on his head tells the audience that he is a Taoist master and has an immense knowledge of the universe. Jiang Wei was a historical figure who was originally a general for the Wei kingdom but his authority was not respected so he became a general of the opposing kingdom of Shu. He later became the successor to the famed Zhang Liang, however, he betrayed the Shu kingdom by manipulating them, allowing the Wei kingdom to overthrow the Shu.
Masks such as these have several purposes, they can be used for ceremonies, protection, festivals, and theater. In this case, the mask would be worn by an opera performer, today actors typically wear face paint rather than masks. Using paint is more difficult and requires skill, but it allows the actor to better convey emotion.
In the Chinese Opera there are four different types of roles. The first is the female role or dan usually young a maiden, elderly woman, or warrior woman. Second is the male role or , which refers to a young man, elderly man, or sheng combat warrior. Then there’s the clowns or chou which can be either male or female, the clowns are comical characters that can act as the villain or simply provide comic relief. Finally there’s the painted face roles, called jing, which are powerful male roles. The painted face characters usually include generals, villains, gods, supernatural beings, or other powerful characters. The singing style is different for the painted face roles, it requires a deep nasal voice. Their costumes are big and demand attention, with large shoulder pads and heavy fabric these characters take up a lot of space.
Tales like these have been an important part of Chinese literature for centuries with the opera being a form of historical education for many common, or even illiterate, Chinese peoples. However exaggerated and whimsical the operas appear, many of the stories contain historical fact in the events and characters. The legends told in the Chinese Opera have influenced the identity of the Chinese culture and people. During the mid-nineteenth century, China was in increasing contact with Europe though many western explorers. Europeans journeyed to China to learn about and study the Chinese culture, spread religion, or secure trade routes. The Chinese identity was challenged by the sudden and immense exposure to western society. The traditional tales performed in the opera encouraged and reinforced the Chinese identity. On an international level Chinese Americans brought the Peking Opera to America when there was an increase in immigration in due to the 1849 gold rush. The Chinese have used opera to continue and spread their legends and history. Today the Chinese Opera can be found in countries across the world and has influenced modern media. Chinese themes, stories, and characters play parts in video games like Dynasty Warriors, novels like Journey to the West, comic books, and some have been adapted into full-length feature films. [Sara Countryman, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
The 45th annual Texas Folklife Festival is just around the corner, don’t forget to get your tickets! Advance tickets can be purchased HERE. This year the ITC has collaborated with VIA Metropolitan Transit, Lyft, and B-Cycle to help everyone get to the festival with reduced fares and park-and-ride service from Crossroads Mall.
In addition to all the great music, dancing and food you’ve come to expect from Folklife over the years the museum is adding some great new attractions to the event. Be sure to check out the new El Zócalo, a specially curated area by Chef Johnny Hernandez. It will include Mexican artisans, food demonstrations by chefs from Culinary Institute of America and Pharm Table, as well as a a pop-up of El Machito.
Don’t miss out on this great RAIN OR SHINE event, June 10th-12th at the Institute of Texan Cultures.