One of the instruments most unique, playful, and distinctively Chinese-sounding is the suona. The suona is a double reed woodwind instrument. A mouthpiece is connected to a wooden pipe shaft with holes and a flared copper end. Notes are played by fingering, and players use their mouth to control the suona’s volume, pitch, and timbre.
Skillfully played, the suona produces clear, bright notes that sometimes resemble birdcalls. Not surprisingly, one of the most famous suona pieces is called “Hundred Birds Paying Homage to the Phoenix.”
The suona is a popular sight in many traditional Chinese folk rituals. It heralds the bride’s arrival in Chinese weddings, accents rites in funerals, and commemorates abundant harvests in festivals. Along with the erhu and pipa, the suona is one of the cornerstones of Chinese music.
In the Shen Yun Performing Arts Orchestra, the suona adds that extra flair to a special character in a story—sometimes to wonderfully humorous effect.