It took a relocation to the United States to help Min Xiao-Fen coax a whole new sound out of a centuries-old instrument.
"Here, there is so much more freedom ... so many different ways to have expression in your music," she said, during a recent interview from her home in New York City.
Min, who was born in Nanjing, China, and now lives in Queens, N.Y., is a preeminent player of the pipa, a traditional four-stringed instrument that had its beginnings more than 2,000 years ago. With such a heritage, the repertoire tends to be classical in nature, with an emphasis on traditional technique.
However, for the past 20 years, since moving to the United States, Min has steadily built a contemporary repertoire for the instrument, integrating jazz, blues, bluegrass and even rock with the classical repertoire and folk songs, as she experiments with improvisational techniques.
"It has been really fun," she said. "You can do things here you could never imagine you could do when you are in China."
Min first learned to play pipa from her father, Min Ji-Qian, a professor and pipa master at Nanjing University. At 17, she was selected to join the Nanjing Traditional Music Orchestra of China, serving as its principal pipa soloist from 1980 to 1992.
Min will be the featured guest when the Chamber Players of the Greenwich Symphony come together for their Nov. 10 and 11 concerts. On tap are several of Min's original compositions, "ABC (American Born Chinese)" and "Tan Tan, Chang Chang," as well as a couple of Chinese folk songs -- "Horse Roundup" and "Love Song on the Grassland" -- and a contemporary piece, Concerto for String Quartet and Pipa, by Chinese composer Tan Dun, whose music can be heard in such films as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Hero."
This will be Min's first performance with the group, and she said she is looking forward to it.
In program notes, Min described the song selections, some of which have historical relevance, such as "Love Song of the Grassland," a folk song from the Qinghai province.
She states: "During the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-76), I was a little child, and the only music I heard was `reformed' Bejing operas and folk songs dedicated to workers and soldiers. After the Revolution, one of the first love songs that I heard was this one. It highlights melody and lyrics which are so beautiful that they melt my heart."
On "ABC," she will only use those three notes, A, B and C, relying on her many years of training to utilize the techniques that will give the song depth. Min's second composition, she said, is influenced by American blues singer John Lee Hooker.
"In China, we have a similar kind of the blues ... from my region, the Southeast," she added.
On the day of the interview, she was busy at work arranging the folk songs.
"I'm hoping to highlight the elements and sound of the instrument," she said of the pipa, though she also will play the sanxian, a three-stringed traditional instrument, during the program.
"It sounds more like a banjo," she said, adding that it is recognizable for its long handle and lack of frets.
In the flow of cultural traditions from West to East, Min said she and her music have definitely benefited, though she is also hopeful she might inspire others to pick up the pipa and perpetuate the tradition.
"We are getting smaller," she said, of those who have worked to master its sound.
Christina.email@example.com; Twitter: @xtinahennessy
St. Barnabas Church, 954 Lake Ave., Greenwich. Sunday, Nov. 10, 4 p.m.; Bruce Museum, One Museum Drive, Greenwich. Monday, Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m. $25. 203-637- 4725 or 203-869-2664, www.greenwichsym.org/chamberplayers.