By Wu Yilong
Putting a fresh leaf between his lips, Qiu Shaochun blows out one melody after another, enchanting the audience with rhythmic vitality and delicate expression.
“Leaves may be the oldest, simplest and most convenient musical instrument in the world,” said Qiu,51, a well-known leaf-blowing musician in China.
In his home village of Fuyang of Shanghang, a mountainous county in southeast China’s Fujian province, Qiu as a child started to enjoy leaf music.
And he soon decided to learn the art from his father, a talented all-round high school music teacher.
However, it was impossible to think of playing leaf music as a life career. So Qiu chose to major in erhu, a traditional Chinese string instrument, in the Fujian Provincial Art School in 1981 and entered the Fujian Provincial Song and Dance Theater after graduation in 1985.
The following years saw Qiu rise as an accomplished erhu player.
But he never gave up his childhood dream of leaf music, neither did his father, who bequeathed him a manuscript on the theory and practice of leaf music in 1994.
Qiu began trying commercial performances of leaf music in 1996.
The waves of applause has pushed him further into exploration and perfection of the genre.
“In addition to Chinese music, I played tunes familiar to the local people, like My Sun, Turkish March and Come back to Sorrento,” recalled Qiu. “Their response was really overwhelming.”
The audiences just wanted to see and touch the magic leaves and left with some as souvniours.
He blew the leaf music into symphony Echoes of Tulou in 2001 and opera Tulou in 2006.
He took it upon himself to further promote the art. “Our ancestors learned to blow the leaf more than 10,000 years ago, both for amusement and for communication,” said Qiu. “But to blow out music needs a lot of practice in the right way.”
Qiu is confident in his own way of playing the music by emphasizing most controlling and adjusting his breath.
“Once you can direct the flow of breath at will,” said Qiu, “music just flows out through the leaf.”
Though any kind of leaves can be blown, Qiu himself prefers the tough,smooth,thin leaves of banyan, the city tree of Fuzhou where he lives.
“Some people suggest plastic or fabric substitutes,” said Qiu. “They may be all right. But just as the electronic organ can not replace the piano, fresh leaves are irreplaceable.”
Qiu often goes to schools and colleges to give lectures and train young people.
Not long ago, he was invited to the Chinese University of Hong Kong and cultivated a group of 15 amateurs musicians including several professors.
Meanwhile, he travels around the countryside to give sessions and in his home village,10 farmers, aged between 48 and 61, have become regular band players.
“Thanks to leaf-blowing, we’ve been to many places undreamed of in the past,” said Qiu Xinfa, the 59-year-old band leader. “Wherever we went, we were quite popular.”
While the amateurs and musicians are increasing in China, Qiu is leading the cause to enlist the art as the world intangible cultural heritage.
“We’ve commenced the odyssey of enlivening an ancient folk art," he said.