Sarah M. | Izzy
L. | Erika | Benjamin
| Pao | Emma | Martha
When Thai was the ripe age of 7 he was taught
the qeej. He is now a master at it and can identify the old
Hmong played through the deep, low pitches of the qeej. Many
people his age and older cannot match his ability. One reason
is he has a talent of course, but what made it easier was
that his grandpa, father and brother played it and he grew
up hearing the qeej. To be a master qeej player you have to
know 50 or 60 songs, as well as the words. As he plays he
tells himself the words he is playing. The qeej is played
mainly to talk to spirits, because unless you’re a shaman
you can’t directly talk to them. Thai Vang is only 17
and already is a master at the qeej, as well as the movement
or dancing that accompanies the qeej playing.
Thai’s father had two wives because
he played the qeej. In those days, if you played the qeej,
you were like a superstar. Then all the girls’ parents
would want her to get married to him, because then he could
take care of her and things like that. That’s why his
father got two wives.
The qeej was passed down in Thai’s family. Thai and
his brother inherited it. The qeej is an instrument with 6
pipes, one large, short pipe and 4 long, skinny pipes. The
last pipe is skinny, but it’s shorter than the large
pipe. Inside each pipe is a metal reed. There are 8 different
notes you can play on the qeej. It is usually used in funerals,
New Years, and it used to be played at weddings, but they
lost the music to weddings. So they don’t play the qeej
in weddings anymore.
The rooster song is played at funerals. It talks about how
the sun and the moon would not come up. The people tried and
tried to make them come up, but it was no use. Finally, the
rooster came and with his cry he called the sun and the moon
up. He played the story on the qeej. That sounds sort of cool,
playing a story.
Long, long ago the qeej was only used for
weddings but as time went on it was used for more. Next it
was used for funerals then even more. Now it’s used
for New Years and other celebrations. On New Years the songs
are joyful and the qeej is used to show off and attract girls
and people. At funerals the qeej plays slow mournful music.
It’s used to call the spirits and tell them to leave
this place and not come back. A real qeej master can hear
what the qeej is saying. The master can then tell if it is
a real qeej player that he is hearing. Antoehr thing about
the qeej is that women are not allowed to play it. The reason
is tradition and also they’re not able to call as well
so spirits may not leave. So men play the qeej.
The Qeej is probably the best known Hmong
instrument. It is used for funerals, weddings and Hmong New
Year. The qeej talks in a way to the spirits. The person playing
the qeej senses the spirits through the qeej. Qeej songs have
different meanings. In funerals it is mainly about being reborn.
At New Years it is wishing people a good year. The qeej can
also tell stories. Very few people can understand the words
to the qeej music. It is very old. To play the qeej at funerals
you need to know 50-60 songs because you can be playing at
a funeral for weeks!
Years ago, the qeej was only blown at weddings,
but now, the qeej is blown at funerals. Thai has been to a
lot of funerals. The qeej can talk to the dead spirit to help
it get to another world.
The qeej is culture. The first time people
would play the qeej was four hundred years ago and they were
only played at weddings. The qeejs talk with the spirits at
funerals and also at Hmong New Years. The way to make a qeej
is out of special bamboo. If you bought one it would be $200.
You have to take your time when you play the qeej; if you
rush, it will sound bad. The qeej is like a Hmong bagpipe
in sound and in the way you blow.
Thai’s qeej playing was excellent.
I wonder if Mark and Pao will sound that good after ten years.
I bet Thai is almost a master. To me, all qeej music sounds
the same. I wonder if Hmong people who are learning qeej think
that or have they heard it before and can tell it apart.