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Ger Xiong, Qeej Player

Mark | Pao | Sarah M | Nico | Dylan | Cristina R.

Ger Xiong brought two Hmong flutes and a qeej. He started off by playing the small flute, the most popular [instrument]. He played a lovely song [that goes like this] "I left my land to this land, I miss my homeland, my friends and relatives..." The flutes were used to communicate from far distances long ago, when they Ger Xiong plays the Qeejdidn’t have phones or anything...

When there is a funeral, you need a qeej player to guide the dead person. The qeej talks to the spirit...[to guide it] to ancestors. It’s really difficult to play the qeej and learn the many different songs [for] funerals...Ger Xiong’s dad taught him how to play the qeej, so he got good at it...There are not many qeej players. About 50 or 60. I’m just estimating. That’s not very many Hmong guys...Me and Pao are learning how to play the qeej!!!

Ger won first place at the tournament for doing nice keng playing. He can do lots of stuff while playing the keng like jump, hop, stand on his neck, and flips. He said he is the best keng player in the world. He also said that he learned how to play when he was small like our age.

Ger Xiong is a k'eng player, a flute player, and also a really neat guy. Ger has lived in Eau Claire since 1991 and works as a machine operator. He plays the keng at Hmong New Year and at funerals. He says it is very difficult to learn how to play the keng, since there isn’t written music or even notes. You learn from a “master” and copy what he does. If you don’t study hard, you can’t play. Ger thinks it is very important to pass on the keng playing tradition, because if it is dropped there will be no way to talk to the spirits.

Ger Xiong himself is a very talented player. He won first place in the Hmong International competition. In order to be a good keng player, Ger not only had to learn how to play the instrument, but how to dance. When he plays the keng he swoops his body around and crosses his feet. He can do pretty fancy things while playing the keng, like flips, somersaults, and headstands. Ger also brought two flutes to show us. The flutes are played when a boy comes to a girl’s house at night and tries to beckon her outside. Ger Xiong was a really awesome guy. I’m glad I got to see him.
–Sarah M.Drawing of qeej by Pao. Click for larger image

The flute was used to communicate through the mountains, and to communicate between a boyfriend and girlfriend. It is very, very complicated to learn.

As Ger Xiong played, his fingers moved quickly, and he moved his lips up and down to control the amount of air going into the flute.

Ger Xiong has been living in Eau Claire since 1991, and he works as a machine operator. He and his kids sometimes do cultural shows. He learned how to play the qeej from his dad when he lived in Laos. He brought two flutes and played them for us. He moves his mouth up and down to make different sounds on the flute. He also played a qeej and told us about playing the qeej at funerals. Normally the qeej players are people known by the family of the deceased. It is very hard to play the qeej. You have to be very good to play it at a funeral. He thinks it is important for youngsters to learn the qeej, so that the tradition can be passed down and kept alive.

Ger Xiong wore Hmong clothes in bright colors like white, yellow, pink, orange, green and blue. One of his flutes was made out of part of a soda bottle. Ger Xiong put it there so the sound would come out better. Back in Laos, instead of using soda tops they used tall fat bamboo. The qeej needs six or seven pieces of bamboo with a hole in it for different sounds. Ger Xiong said that the flute and qeej say words. To understand, he said you have to be Hmong.
–Cristina R.

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