CHINESE VERSION OF THE CELLO AND DOUBLE BASS
This instrument is called a Gehu, (pronounced Ger-hoo). The name is made up of two Chinese words "Ge" meaning revolutionary, and "Hu" which is derived from "Huqin" the generic term for all Chinese bowed string instruments.
The Gehu comes in two sizes, the Da-Gehu (large) and the Diyin Gehu (bass). In a Chinese orchestra, they take the same roles as the cello and double bass in a Western symphony orchestra. The four strings of both sizes are tuned exactly like the cello and double bass and are attached to a machine head with gears. Cello and double bass strings and bows are normally used. However, the instrumentās volume and tone quality depends upon the snake skin parchment that is attached to the body of the instrument. Great care must be taken to prevent the parchment from being damaged by humid weather. Failure to do so will result in the severe deterioration of the tone.
In the 1950s, Chinese music underwent a great change. Chinese musicians and composers were increasingly under the influence of Western ideas of orchestration. In order to create an ensemble capable of playing the new type of music, native instruments were modified and grouped in a more organized fashion. Previously, only regional folk ensembles existed, and the instruments were designed to exclusively play the music of a particular region. Now, a new type of ensemble that could play music of a pan-Chinese character was born.
However, the concept of the bass sound was alien to the Chinese. Most native Chinese instruments tend to be high pitched and nasal. What was needed was an instrument that could produce a sufficiently full and low pitch sound. Instrument makers made many experiments. Hybrid instruments were created, as well as enlarged versions of native plucked and bowed string instruments. However, the most successful of the resultant experimentation was the Gehu.
The tone of the Gehu is clear and rich (akin to the viola da gamba), but it has many disadvantages. The instrument has a tendency to go out of tune with too much increased pressure from the bow. Consequently, one cannot afford to "dig in", or the instrument will start sounding hoarse. Unlike the instruments of the violin family, the Gehu does not get louder as the player approaches the upper positions. Hence, the tone of the instrument tends to be weak. In fact, two Gehus are needed to generate the same volume of sound created by one cello. The large snake skin parchment on the body is also easily damaged by humidity, thus affecting the tone quality.
In the last twenty years, most Chinese orchestras in China have rapidly abandoned the Gehu in favor of the western cello and double bass. Today, the cello and double bass have been fully assimilated into the Chinese orchestra. Professional Chinese orchestras in Taiwan and Hong Kong still insist on the use of the Gehu, as it is felt that the tone of the Gehu blends better with native Chinese bowed string instruments (the cello and double bass have a tendency to stick out as a result of their resonance). However, most Gehu players were trained as cellists and double bassists before they attempted to take up this rapidly obsolete instrument. Even so, the use of the cello and double bass is increasingly common in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as many youth Chinese orchestras have begun to abandon the Gehu. In hot and humid Singapore, where there are more than 200 amateur Chinese orchestras, the Gehu has totally fallen out of use. Today, only a certain place in Shanghai continues making Gehus to supply the Taiwan and Hong Kong market, but demand is falling.