Mongolian art and culture
INFORMATION FOR TRAVELERS
MONGOLIA ARTS AND CULTURE
With Mongolia's historic shift to a market economy and democratic
society, the nation's approach to the arts changed. The culture and art
community was not prepared to face the new trends. This brought a few
years of practical collapse of the arts.
But with the changes, a new approach to national folk music, especially
to the disappearing unique songs and music of Mongolian tribes, was
initiated on the part of the Government of Mongolia. A project was
implemented jointly with UNESCO to audially and visually document the
oral music heritage of the Mongols and set up a national fund of
recordings, which now resides in the National Archives. The most
successful performance groups at the moment are the Tumen Ekh Ensemble
(a private traditional performance group), the State Circus, which
travels around the world, and the State Morin Khuur Ensemble, which has
also enjoyed international and national success in recent years.
The flourishing of ballet and classic music development in the 1970s and
1980s was indeed a unique stage in the history of the national arts.
Some groups that thrived during socialism are now struggling. The
Symphony Orchestra, for example, only plays concerts by reservation. The
Mongolian State Philharmonics, an organization founded in 1972 which was
the face of Mongolian music abroad, doesn't serve the same place in the
new society which encourages individual ventures.
There are three fully state-run organizations: State Academic Theater of
Opera and Ballet, the Academic Theater of National Drama, and State
Academic Ensemble of Folk Dance and Music. These operate regularly but
are dependent on the state budget. World classics are still displayed on
the Mongolian stage regularly, as well as Mongolian productions. In the
summer of 2003, a new opera premiered, "Chinggis Khaan", by B. Sharav.
It teslls the story of Chinggis Khaan in his youth, and weaves
traditional Mongolian elements with Western classical opera.
TRADITIONAL MONGOLIAN SONGS
Mongolian music is a reaction to our surroundings and life. Caring for
a baby provokes melody. Seeing a calf being rejected, its mother is
convinced to return by singing. Seeing white gers spread across the
green pasture inspires a proud melody. Traveling a long way on
horseback, riding sets a pace, the pace delivers rhyme, and here again
the song is involuntary. Hurrying to one's beloved, the heartbeat
composes another melody. The sources of song are endless. Birthdays,
weddings, national holidays, winning a horse race or wrestling
competition, celebration of the elderly, mare's milk brewing, wool
cutting, cashmere combing, and harvest comprise an endless chain of
reasons for singing and dancing.
Through the ages, music has spread around Mongolia through home teaching
and festivities. Any family or clan event was a good chance for
musicians and singers to gather together. Coming from different areas,
most often representing different tribes, people had the opportunity to
perform, to learn from others and to take home a new melody or song. In
this way, the ancient patterns of various corners of Mongolia have been
preserved by local masters for the whole nation.
Some specific types of Mongolian
- Labor song. These are melodies sung while working.
The hunter's call attracts the animal by imitating its call in order to
select a specific type of animal and to hunt with certainty, without
Various herder's calls manage the flock by signaling to go to pasture,
return home, generate more milking, encourage insemination, bring a mother
back to her calf, and so on.
- Buuvey song. A buuvey song is a lullaby, or any sweet melody
expressing a mother's boundless love for her baby. "BuuveyЕ buuveyЕ buuveyЕ"
is repeated while caressing a child to make him or her sleep. The melody may
come from the heart of mother and be improvised. There are also lullaby
songs with legends already composed, learned by the family and distributed
to other families and generations.
- "Uukhay" or "guiyngoon" song. These are encouraging and provoking
calls, connected with seasonal events. As warm days arrive, mare's milk
flows and the horse race training reaches its peak, the "guiyngoon" songs of
little riders is heard in every direction. It is followed by songs of
victorious winners, be it a rider, a wrestler or archery master. Fans chant
the "uukhay!" encouraging song, which roughly means "go ahead".
- Mongol Hoomii. Mongol hoomii involves producing two simultaneous
tones with the human voice. It is a difficult skill requiring special ways
of breathing. One tone comes out as a whistle-like sound, the result of
locked breath in the chest being forced out through the throat in a specific
way, while a lower tone sounds as a base. Hoomii is considered musical art -
not exactly singing, but using one's throat as an instrument.
Depending on the way air is exhaled from the lungs, there are various ways
of classifying hoomii, including Bagalzuuryn (laryngeal) hoomii, Tagnainy
(palatine) hoomii, Hooloin (guttural) hoomii, Hamryn (nasal) hoomii, and
Harhiraa hoomi: under strong pressure in the throat, air is exhaled while a
lower tone is kept as the main sound.
Professional hoomi performers are found in only a few areas with certain
traditions. The Chainman district of Hovd aimag (province) is one home of
hoomii. Tuva, a part of Russia to the north of Mongolia, is also a center of
- Long song. Another unique traditional singing style is known as
Urtiin duu, or long song. It's one of the oldest genres of Mongolian musical
art, dating to the 13th century. Urtiin duu involves extraordinarily
complicated, drawn-out vocal sounds. It is evocative of vast, wide spaces
and it demands great skill and talent from the singers in their breathing
abilities and guttural singing techniques.
Long songs relate traditional stories about the beauty of the native land
and daily life, to which Mongolians offer blessings. These feelings are
formed into majestic, profound songs, such as "The Pleasure Sharing Sun of
Universe", "The Old Man and the Bird", "The One and Only Real Love", "Sunjidmaa,
- Epics and legends. This ancient genre, enriched by generations,
combines poetry, songs, music and the individuality of each performer.
Singers may sing with or without a musical instrument. These sung stories
are told from memory and may have thousands of quatrains. Such long stories
are usually performed on a long winter night.
By combining stories, music and drama, herders organize a kind of home
school. The children, while playing various collective games with bone and
wooden toys, listen to the songs and learn about history, life and folklore.
"Geser", "Jangar", "Khan Kharakhui", and "Bum Erdene" are classic legend and
story songs. Each is a library of folk wisdom and national heritage.
TRADITIONAL MONGOLIAN MUSIC INSTRUMENTS
Traditional Mongolian instruments include:
- morin-khuur" (horse head-decorated 2-string cello)
- modon tsuur" (string instrument)
- yatga" (psaltery-like horizontal string instrument)
- limbe" (flute)
- shudarga" (3-string sitar-technique instrument)
- yochin" (multi-string horizontal instrument with echoing box)
- khuuchir" (cittern-like string instrument)
- tumurkhuur" or "khulsankhuur" (metal or bambuu leaf resonance based
- buree" (trumpet-like instrument)
- bishguur" (cow horn flute)
- tsan khengereg" (drum)
CLASSICAL MUSIC IN MONGOLIA
Beginning in the 1920s, the European styles, techniques, and
instruments introduced by the USSR radically changed the understanding
and views of Mongolians. Musicians, singers, and dancers studied in the
USSR, and there were a number of state supported theatres, opera, and
ballet troupes. New forms of music introduced include:
- Songs for broad public;
- National opera;
- Symphonic works;
- Philharmonic works;
- Film music;
- Circus and band music;
- Rock Pop Music;
New visions, new ways of life, and a new social order provided new challenges
for the development of professional music. The Mongolian State Philharmonics,
founded in 1972, was an organization comprised of the National Symphony
Orchestra, the "Bayan Mongol" jazz band, and "Soyol-Erdene" Traditional Song and
Dance Ensemble. The Philharmonics introduced European music and music by
Mongolian classical composers to Mongolian audiences and foreign countries.
B. Damdinsuren, S. Gonchigsumlaa and L. Murdorj are some of the greatest
contributors to modern Mongolian national music. Bileg Damdinsuren (1919-1992)
composed the first classic Mongolian opera "The Three Sad Hills". (See photo No.
5) Sembe Gonchigsumlaa (1915-1991)was the first to write Mongolian ballet music.
Luvsanjants Murdorj (1919-1996) is the father of Mongolian symphonies.
Music by N.Jantsannorov, Ts.Natsagdorj, B.Sharav, S.Baatarsukh and H.Bilegjargal
has marked a new stage in the development of modern classical music in Mongolia.
Mongolian composers and choreographers are infusing Mongolian elements into
European classical forms of art in different ways.
- Mongolian Art and Culture. //www.mongolart.mn
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