The suona, also called laba or haidi, is a Chinese sorna (double-reeded horn). It has a distinctively loud and high-pitched sound, and is used frequently in Chinese traditional music ensembles, particularly those that perform outdoors. It is an important instrument in the folk music of northern China, particularly the provinces of Shandong and Henan, where it has long been used for festival and military purposes. It is still used, in combination with sheng mouth organs, gongs, drums, and sometimes other instruments, in wedding and funeral processions. Such wind and percussion ensembles are called chuida or guchui. Stephen Jones has written extensively on its use in ritual music of Shanxi province. It is also common in the ritual music of Southeast China. In Taiwan, it forms an essential element of ritual music that accompanies Daoist performances of both auspicious and inauspicious rites, i.e., those for both the living and the dead.
ConstructionThe suona as used in China has a conical wooden body, similar to that of the gyaling horn used by the Tibetan ethnic group, both of which uses a metal, usually a tubular brass or copper bocal to which a small double reed is affixed, and possesses a detachable metal bell at its end. The double-reed gives the instrument a sound similar to that of the modern oboe. The traditional version has seven finger holes.
The instrument is made in several sizes. Since the mid-20th century, "modernized" versions of the suona have been developed in China; incorporating mechanical keys similar to those of the European oboe, to allow for the playing of chromatic notes and equal tempered tuning (both of which are difficult to execute on the traditional suona). There is now a family of such instruments, including the zhongyin suona (Alto suona), cizhongyin suona (Tenor suona), and diyin suona (Bass suona). These instruments are used in the woodwind sections of modern large Chinese traditional instrument orchestras in China, Taiwan, and Singapore, though most folk ensembles prefer to use the traditional version of the instrument. It has been used in modern music arrangements as well, including in the works of Chinese rock musician Cui Jian, featuring a modernized suona-play in his song "Nothing To My Name" (一无所有) (played by the saxophonist Liu Yuan).
The nazi (呐子), a related instrument that is most commonly used in northern China, consists of a suona reed (with bocal) that is played melodically, the pitches changed by the mouth and hands. Sometimes the nazi is played into a large metal horn for additional volume.
Ranges of the orchestral "suona":
The tenor and bass varieties are normally keyed; the alto and soprano varieties are sometimes keyed. The highest varieties are not normally keyed.
OriginsAlthough the origin of the suona is unclear, with some texts dating the use of the suona as far back as the Jin dynasty (265-420), there is a consensus that the suona originated outside of the domains of ancient Chinese kingdoms, possibly having been developed from Central Asian instruments such as the sorna, surnay, or zurna, from which its Chinese name may have been derived. Other sources state the origins of the suona to be Arabia, or India. A musician playing an instrument very similar to a suona is shown on a drawing on a Silk Road religious monument in western Xinjiang province dated to the 3rd to 5th centuries, and depictions dating to this period found in Shandong and other regions of northern China depict it being played in military processions, sometimes on horseback. It was not mentioned in Chinese literature until the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), but by this time the suona was already established in northern China.
Other instruments related to the suona may have also descended from the Asian zurna, such as the European shawm. Other examples include the Korean taepyeongso, the Vietnamese kèn and the Japanese charumera. The latter's name is derived from charamela, the Portuguese word for shawm. Its sound is well known throughout Japan, as it is often used by street vendors selling ramen.
Use outside ChinaThe suona is used as a traditional instrument by Cubans in Oriente and Havana, having been introduced by Chinese immigrants during the colonial era. Known locally as corneta china, it is one of the lead instruments in the conga carnival music of Santiago de Cuba since 1915. In Havana, the term trompeta china is sometimes used.
In America, jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman often played the suona in his performances, calling it a "musette". English bassist and saxophonist Mick Karn used the instrument crediting it as a dida.