When Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympics, it fielded 2,000 musicians for the opening ceremony. Beijing yesterday upped the ante by eight, and that was before the official ceremony started. A total of 2,008 musicians created a field of drums on the floor of the National Stadium last night, beating out a thunderous countdown to the exact moment for the start of the Games, accompanied by a roar of approval from the crowd. The musicians used identical, table-sized Chinese drums called fou - a clay vessel with a skin stretched over the top. But the drums had a modern twist: they lit up in the dark, and percussionists used red luminous sticks to play. At the Athens Games in 2004, two drummers - one in the Olympic stadium and the other projected on a screen from ancient Olympia - launched the opening ceremony. The sheer number of drummers reflected the penchant of director Zhang Yimou for mass performances, seen throughout the opening ceremony. It also recalled a scene in the 1984 movie Yellow Earth, for which Zhang served as cinematographer, of drummers performing in unison on a dusty plain. Traditional instruments made appearances throughout the opening bash. A musician plucked a stringed instrument called a guqin, a type of zither, at the beginning of the artistic programme. For the 'Rite of Music' segment, musicians displayed pipa, pear-shaped stringed instruments that resemble lutes. Pianist Lang Lang , 26, whom The New York Times has described as the 'hottest artist on the classical music planet', ushered in the modern age for the cultural performance. Born in China, the musician and performs on concert stages worldwide.