This is a wooden Ho Sho, or Japanese Mouth Organ. The Ho Sho is like a miniature bagpipe in that the player blows air into the short cylindrical dark wood chamber at the bottom of the instrument with an open round hole. Gold decoration in the shape of a Phoenix enlivens this wooden chamber. Arising directly upward from the mouthpiece and chamber connected by short gold bands, are 17 lacquered bamboo pipes of varying lengths. Each bamboo pipe has a small hole at various heights close to the bottom. All 17 pipes are kept snugly together and upright by a single gold ring around the center.
A plain brown rectangular box and shallow lid house the Ho Sho. The box is tied with a dark green ribbon and on the lid are two Japanese Kanji characters inscribed in lacquer, translated meaning “Ho Sho.” The inside of the dark brown box and lid reveals a lighter brown interior and soft off-white cotton-like cushioning upon which the Ho Sho rests. A rectangular pouch probably meant to cover the instrument is made of black fabric decorated with gold phoenix figures and a maze-like background of gold lines. A long looped cord is attached to the side of this pouch.
Phoenix Mouth Organ (Ho Sho),
Lacquered bamboo and wood, with gold decoration, silver
39 cm (15 3/8 in.)
The sho is a mouth organ. Like a bagpipe, it produces sound through a chamber that a player keeps filled with air by blowing into a mouthpiece. It is a Japanese adaptation of the Chinese sheng, brought to Japan’s imperial court during the Nara period (710 - 794 AD). Seventeen lacquered bamboo pipes extend from the wind box, to which a silver mouthpiece is also attached. The maker of this instrument chose to decorate the wind box with a phoenix, likely because the pipes were thought to resemble the wings of the mythic bird. Isabella was fond of the phoenix, an emblem of immortality, and one even decorates the crest of the museum designed by artist Sarah Wyman Whitman. Gardner displayed this mouth organ along with other musical souvenirs in the Franz Liszt Case in the Yellow Room.