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The Question of the Past Quarter of a Year:

Dear Mr. Chen, what is a "zheng?"

"The zheng is an historical plucked instrument from China and is also called gu (early or antique zheng). During the part 2300 years it has been used in folk music as well as in the orchestras of court music. Several strings are stretched across a long body; during the early stages of the instrument, five strings were used and from the sixth to the tenth century, over thirteen were used. Later the number of strings was increased to sixteen; at present, the standard number of strings is usually twenty-one.

"The instrument's simple sound reminds one of the harp; it differs markedly from the harp, however, when the notes are coloured by using the left hand, extending the spectrum into microtonal regions. The zheng is very popular with the public today. Many composers like to write for it because it offers virtually unlimited possibilities in musical expression and aspects of technique as well."