Make your own music in the style of ancient Chinese musicians.
For thousands of years music has been an important part of Chinese culture, including religious and public ceremonies, scholarly pursuits, and entertainment. One or a group of bronze bells were designed to be suspended on a wooden frame. Striking each bell with a wooden mallet, ancient musicians played the bells from a sitting or kneeling position.
Cast nearly three thousand years ago, this bronze bell in the VMFA collection, known as Niu zhong, was likely once part of larger set of bells.
It would have been hung in an arrangement with other bells of various sizes from a wooden tiered rack and played by striking the outside with a wooden mallet.
Creating bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, requires a specialized workforce of miners, craftsmen, and metallurgists. Metal objects from the Bronze Age in China were created by using molds that are formed around poured wax models (lost-wax process).
A - Bronze makers would first carve designs into the sections of the outer mold.
B - The outer molds were then assembled around the inner mold to form one unit.
C - The space between the inner and outer molds was then filled with molten metal.
D - When the process was complete, the molds were removed to reveal the finished vessel.
The most famous complete set of bronze bells excavated in China are those found buried in the tomb of Marquis Yi. The Marquis, who oversaw the state of Zeng, was buried with a bianzhong of sixty four bronze bells.
Ancient Chinese burials included objects to take with the deceased in the afterlife. Royalty and high-ranking officials had very elaborate tombs which contained precious objects, jades, bronzes, weapons and musical instruments.
This set of bells has been recast and played at the Hubei Provincial Museum.
Hear the Hubei Song and Dance Ensemble perform a composition inspired by the traditional folk music of Hubei Province.
The bronze bells being played are reproductions of the ancient instruments found in the Marquis Yi's tomb.
Zhong were cast to produce two distinct tuned tones.
Touch each bell in the center and the side to hear two different sounds.