Mr. Tong Chaj is playing a qeej and singing. The song is about a boy who doesn’t’ have any parents. Mr. Tong learned to play the qeej by a qeej master player that was Hmong. Mr. Na Yee was dancing with the qeej, which sounds sounds soft and beautiful.
Mr. Na Yee showed us other instruments. He brought 2 flutes to show us. One was short and the other was long. The flute is to blow for someone you miss.
The k’eng is a long, thin-tubed instrument made out of a light wood, that resembles bamboo. The singers sang in a voice that sounded quite similar to the k’eng, a low and high pitched tone with jumps here and there. While singing, some of them danced in circles, fast, then slow; one way, and then the other.
My first session was on the k’eng music and its significance in Hmong culture. We learned that K’eng was mostly played at funerals. They used to play it at weddings, but now they don’t. We learned that even the most talented K’eng players have to practice almost everyday. K’eng players used to battle with one another to show that they were the best. But now they don’t.
There is other Hmong music, too. Much of it has to do with courtship between young men and women. The young man would come down to his girlfriend’s house, and play the jaw harp – a twangy instrument that fits in your mouth.
The k’eng player helps give the spirit of the dead to the other world.
When that guy played K’eng(traditional Hmong instrument) I thought the sound was like a bird singing and a human voice.
Another thing is … that usually after you play the song [on the Hmong instrument], you sing the same song you played.
It is a real honor to play one of these instruments at any ceremony, especially to play the k’eng at a funeral. To the Hmong, it is a belief that the K’eng player talks to the deceased person, and the music is taking them in harmony to the other world. They have a conversation like this: “Should I go to the other world?” “Yes, there is nothing else for you here.”
The person that passes away and blows the k’eng gives them good wishes.
Only very good k”eng players can do this [play at a funeral] because they need to play for the right amount of time. If they don’t play long enough the spirit will never get there. If they play too long, their [k’eng player’s] spirit will go with the spirit of the dead person to the other world.
The k’eng has this nice rhythm. Now he is singing what the k’eng sound means. His voice is not that low and not that loud. The k’eng has words to it when it is played.
The first k’eng player learned to play the k’eng when he was 9, 10 or 11, and it took six or seven months to just learn. It took much longer to master.
The k’eng, made of bamboo, sounds to me slightly like a bagpipe, but in a strange way.
Both the k’engs that we saw had decorations on it, like coins and bead, I think to show wealthiness.
Music has been part of the Hmong culture for ages. They have beautiful instruments that make incredible sounds when played. Take the k’eng — it can talk. What I mean by that is the tone. Very excellent players can tell a fake from a real player. And a good player can tell whether or not the person is happy or sad.