Mongolian Music by the ENSEMBLE EGSCHIGLEN
ENSEMBLE EGSCHIGLEN (“Beautiful Melody”) was founded in 1991 in Mongolia, by students of
the Conservatoire of Ulaanbaatar. The music of a country is shaped by its
landscapes and how the people live. Mongolia, in the heart of Asia, is a vast
country about five times the size of Germany. In the South the boundless grassland
transforms into the arid beauty of the Gobi desert. Clear rivers flow from the
snow-covered mountains of the Altai and the Khangai through the forests into
the plains. A large percentage of the just over two million Mongolians today
still live as nomads, in harmony with nature and together with their “five
jewels”: their horses, camels, cattle, sheep and goats. The music of the
Mongolians breathes the vastness and freedom and the power of a life in harmony
with nature and the elements.
The khoomii-singing technique is also called ‘overtone singing’ or ‘throat singing.’ It demands great mastery in using the voice. Physiologically, khoomii is a complex co-action and control of the peritoneum, the diaphragm and the lungs, of the vocal chords, larynx, tongue, lips and oral cavity. In throat singing the singer forces air through the tightened vocal chords, in order to produce notes. By changing the oral cavity, overtones of these notes are made to resonate and are amplified so that a melody can be formed.
There are three different basic khoomii techniques:
1. Chest-khoomii — with a relatively bright, high basic note, which sounds like whistling and is like a ‘voice rejoicing in the loftiest heights.’
2. Throat-khoomii — creates a rough, almost rasping bass note.
3. Kharkhira-khoomii — uses the resonance of the chest. The note lies an octave below that of throat-khoomii.
Many new styles and sub-styles are created by combining these techniques. In Mongolia one may only call himself a ‘master’ of khoomii if he masters all the styles.
MORIN KHUUR (HORSEHEAD-VIOLIN)
The instrument has a trapeziform wooden frame. In the past the body was covered with sheep or goat skin but recent instruments are made entirely from wood. The morin khuur has a long, fretless neck and is strung with two horsehair strings. The top of the neck ends in a carved horse’s head. The instrument is regarded as a representation of a horse, the most noble animal of the Mongolian nomads. One of the strings is made from 80–95 horse hairs. The other string consists of about 100 hairs. They are played either by placing the fingertips on the strings vertically, or by placing the fingernails on the strings at an angle. The history of the morin khuur goes back to the 12th century. Even 750 years ago at the emperor’s court there was a morin khuur orchestra of 300 players. Three members of the group Egschiglen play this instrument.
TOBSHUUR (SWAN NECK LUTE)
The tobshuur is a two-stringed, plucked lute used to accompany heroic songs and songs of praise. The topics of these songs include landscapes, victories in wrestling, heroes, animals, artefacts, such as bows and arrows, jurts, etc. The tobshuur is used mainly in Western Mongolia. Even Marco Polo may have heard and seen the instrument in Mongolian war camps in the late 13th century.
The joochin is a trapeze-shaped dulcimer. The strings are struck with two hammers.
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