Clarion Music Center in San Francisco,Äôs Chinatown

Clarion Music Center in San Francisco,Äôs Chinatown (Dona Hageman)

SAN FRANCISCO — Do you need an erhu? How about a didgeridoo? Heck, everybody needs a didgeridoo.

Erhus and didgeridoos — respectively, a two-stringed bowed instrument from China and a wind instrument from Australia, both developed more than 1,000 years ago — are just two of the treats that can be found at Clarion Music Center in San Francisco's Chinatown.

"We have everything, but we specialize in Chinese instruments," said owner and manager Jien Ha, seated behind the counter of the small shop at Waverly Place and Sacramento Street.

Indeed, the walls are lined with masks, drums, suonas (a member of the woodwind family) and other Chinese instruments. There also is a nice selection of Chinese table harps. But there also are taiko drums (Japan), doumbeks (a Middle East or North African drum), djembes (a West African drum), Hmong healing gongs (from Southeast Asia), shakers (from Africa) and cymbals from various cultures. There's even a set of bagpipes. World music takes on a whole new meaning.


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Clarion Music Center (clarionmusic.com) is in a building that once was a Salvation Army church. Opened in 1982, it used to focus solely on Chinese instruments. But musicians would trade in their old instruments for new ones, taking home an erhu and leaving behind their zither. After 31 years, Clarion Music has developed quite an inventory as well as reputation. Its customers, like its instruments, are global.

Of course, walking around with a dizi (a traditional Chinese flute) under your arm is cool; knowing how to play it is even better. So Clarion offers Saturday lessons in a host of instruments. There also are workshops for kids as well as instructional videos.

And if you just want to listen, there are CDs of music from around the world.

If you're visiting San Francisco's Chinatown, block out some time to search out Clarion. You really need that didgeridoo.