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Date: 05/27/99
Author: Wu Xueqian

Lusheng leads Zhu to music world

WITH simple implements, a bronze plate, a piece of stone and a writing brush, Zhu Guomou created the world's first 25-tube lusheng, a reed-pipe instrument.

Zhu, 60, of the Mulao ethnic group, is known as "the king of lusheng," in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. He began collecting and improving lusheng in the 1960s and has mastered advanced skills needed to make and play the lusheng.

The lusheng is a wind instrument that is very popular among Miao, Yao and Dong minorities in China.

The traditional lusheng consists of six tubes that produce five tones.

However, the simple instrument led Zhu into the intoxicating world of music.

"The sound of the lusheng has had a strong appeal for me ever since I first heard it used in some local operas," said Zhu.

With his special interest and talent in music and musical instruments, Zhu had learned to play whatever tunes he knew with small pieces of leaves by the age of 12.

During more than 20 years of research, Zhu has developed 16, 20 and 25-tube lusheng. They widen the instrument's range and enrich its harmony.

Drawing on the experiences of ancient Chinese craftsman, Zhu created unique technological processes during which each tube is well tested during processing.

"Only in this way will the sound of the lusheng be smooth," said Zhu.

With experience gleaned in performances with several cultural troupes, Zhu has mastered many instruments including the suona horn, erhu, clarinet and oboe.

However, the lusheng has remained his favourite, although his earnings from performances are much lower than with other instruments.

Zhu is a professional lusheng player with the Guilin Diyuan Song and Dance Troupe of Nationalities.

At hotels where foreigners gather, tourists may view him playing various kinds of lusheng.

"I hope more foreigners will come to understand our Chinese music and its charm," Zhu said.

"He is so crazed by music that he listens to music or plays or makes reed-pipes all day," Zhu's wife Mo Juan said. "He seldom does household chores and never washes dishes,"she said.

Zhu has spent nearly all of his savings on his pursuits.

An outdated pipe which combined Chinese traditional and western instruments cost Zhu 500 yuan (US$ 60) in the 1980s when his salary was less than 40 yuan (US$4.9) per month.

"It deserved to be bought," said Zhu. "It was the last one in northern Guangxi."

He has no regrets about his choice. Lusheng has become a part of his life, filling every corner of his room.

Zhu's lusheng music is not only popular in China but has also won international acclaim.

His "Phoenix on the Wind" won a gold medal at an international instrument contest.

"I hope I can form a lusheng band and have my music and skills passed on through the generations," said Zhu.