Looking for the Sheng

You may well ask me, but what is the relationship between an accordion and the Silk Road? Because there is indeed one.

The accordion, or even the harmonica, are free reed instruments, meaning wind instruments which produce sound thanks to a vibrating metal strip (the reed). In the case of the harmonica, it’s the breath of the player which creates the vibration; in the case of the accordion, it’s the movement of air by the accordion bellows!

Coincidence, it so happens that the Chinese have used this type of instrument for already a very long time. Writings dating form 2000BC talk of an instrument, the Sheng – or ‘mouth organ’ – which functions on the same principle as an accordion. The reeds are placed in pipes (made from metal or wood), pierced with a hole and connected to a reservoir (a gourd, or metal) which the musician fills with air using his breath. The air circulates therefore in numerous pipes, and a sound is only produced when the hole is blocked by the musician.

Some copies of the Sheng were brought to Europe in the eighteenth century by European missionaries sent to China. Travelling the Silk Road until Paris, the Sheng would then inspire in the nineteenth century the creation of the harmonica, the harmonium and then the accordion!

Attaching all my certainties to this historic event yet related to the conditional, and taken by an irrepressible thirst for adventure, I am therefore setting off in search of this mysterious instrument, going back up the Silk Road just like Marco Polo in his day. 


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