Alongside the tourists, wistful melodies meander the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown. The fluid tones are familiar to me, heard before in movie soundtracks and traditional Chinese music, but the instrument is not.
The “erhu” or two-stringed fiddle has the shape of a crude golf club or croquet mallet, but in the hands of a practiced musician, produces sweet haunting notes that glide like a soft insistent breeze. Played vertically with the sound box resting on the left upper thigh, the instrument has a range of three octaves. The bow hair is permanently inserted between two strings, and tones are produced as the musician slides the bow against the strings at right angles to the upright neck.
The gentleman in the photograph played elegantly and kindly paused to show me how the erhu is played.