Sounds of Mongolia by Egschiglen : Arc Music EUCD 1652 (September November 2000)

Amra’s fine khöömii both his native Mongolian and heavily Tuvan influenced graces at least five tracks on this CD. The tracks that are less arranged show his techique better as sometimes the khöömii gets lost in the mix.




1. Huhu namyil (trad. arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj) See: Story of "Cuckoo Namdshil'

2. Ayaz (trad. arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj)

    Improvisation to the melody of the folk song "Rising Sun". It tells about the feeling of longing     

    for one's sweetheart: "The sun hides behind clouds. In the past three  years I have always  

     been with you in my dreams..."

3. Eruu cagaan bolimor (White‑breasted Sparrow) (trad. arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj)

   "The white‑breasted sparrow is twittering in the morning. My beloved is moaning too much.

    The cuckoo is singing a beautiful song in the forest. But my beloved is thinking of leaving"

4. Tavan hasag (Five Kazakhs) (trad, arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj)

    This song tells about five Kazakhs who robbed cattle from rich people and distributed them

    amongst the poor. The Kazakhs are a minority group in western Mongolia.

5. Horgoi torgon deel (trad. arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj)

    This is an old folk song about the Mongolian national costume deel. The silk coat, which is

    very beautiful, has been made by the beloved with much hard work.

6. Tanz melody (trad. arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj)

    Dance melody from western Mongolia.

7. Buyant gol (trad. arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj)

    This song describes the beauty of nature around the river Buyant. It flows into lake Har Us in

    the eastern part of the Altai mountains.

8. Uglee shaazgai (trad. arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj)

     The tile means "colourful magpie

9. Govin undur (The Hills in the Gobi) (trad. arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj)

    A song in praise of nature and love.

10. Naadmin ugluu (The Naadam festival) (B. Sharav, arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj)

      This instrumental piece describes the cheerful atmosphere of the morning on a Naadam‑festival day. Naadam is the Mongolian national holiday, celebrated in the 

      middle of July with horse races, wrestling competitions and archery.

11. Hadin oroigoor (Mountain tops) (trad. arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj)

      This is a folk song of the Buriats, a Mongolian minority. The Buriats originally lived in Eastern Mongolia. This song originates from the 1930ies. During the

      October Revolution in 1917 many Buriats fled into Mongolia to escape Stalin, who persecuted them as 'counter revolutionaries' and had them murdered or

      deported into Siberia.

12. Durvun uul/ siilen buur (trad. arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj) Khoomii‑ Improvisation to popular Mongolian folk melodies.

13. Taivan namar (B. G. Birwaa, arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj, lyrics by Dashdoorov)

      This is a song about the colours of the seasons:

      "The colour of the quiet autumn is golden

       The frost of the cold winter is hard

       The wind of the coming spring is gentle

       The air of the hot summer is clear."

14. Cenherlen haragdah uul (trad. arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj)

      This song describes the beauty of the mountains shimmering in the distance. The melody is a solo improvisation on the joochin (dulcimer).

15. Boroonii uul (Rain‑Clouds) (trad. arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj)

      "Dark rain‑clouds are flowing past me to the left and to the right ‑ I cannot stop thinking about the neighbour's daughter."

16. Chandmani nutag (trad. arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj)

      The Chandmani region is regarded as the home of khoomiisinging. The khoomii‑soloist Amra of the ensemble Egschiglen comes from this region and dedicated

      this song to his homeland.

17. Temujin (trad. arr. Tumenbayar Migdorj)

      This is a legend about the childhood of the national hero Genghis Kban, whose original name was Temujin.


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Cuckoo Namdshil (A Folk Legend)


   In olden times there lived in Mongolia an able man. He was still young and his name was "Cuckoo" Namdshil. People called him "Cuckoo" because he possessed an incredibly beautiful voice. He was known throughout the land.

   One day he was conscripted into the army and was sent to the western border of the country for training. The captain immediately recognised that he was an extraordinary singer and he freed him from all work. During his three years of service Namdshil had nothing else to do but to sing and to entertain the soldiers.

   When his term neared its end, Cuckoo Namdshil asked the captain, "I did not sit on a horse a single time, I did not get to go out into the steppes. It is very comfortable to stay in the camp but it is also boring. Please give me some work to do outside the camp."

"Your time of service is near its end", the colonel replied. 'We did right, in letting you sing. But  we will grant your wish. You shall herd the horses for five days."

Cuckoo Namdshil Mounted his horse and drove the herd out into the land. At the foot of the mountains he watered the animals at the river, then he sat down on a hillock and sang. A black horse emerged from a gorge. On its back sat a girl dressed in a brown silken gown.

She rode up to the singer and said, "My parents have sent me to invite you to come to us."

"Who are your parents? Where do you live?" Cuckoo Namdshil asked.

The girl did not reply but asked him, "Sit on my horse with me and close your eyes.

  The young man mounted the horse. After a short ride they came to a jurt. The rich parents of the girl led their guest to the place of honour and gave him a rich meal and asked him to be their guest for a few days and to sing for them. Cuckoo Namdshil politely replied that he could not stay.

"I am in the service of the captain and I am herding the horses for five days. But I will gladly sing for you."

"Do not trouble yourself‑, said the host. "I will send out a man to watch over your horses. You stay here and make yourself at home and sing."

  Cuckoo Namdshil stayed. He sang and looked at the beautiful girl. Doing this he fell in love. The girl too did not want to be separated from him and they decided to stay together. When the time for his departure came the singer said,

"My term as a soldier will be over in a month. Then I will: come to you."

"I will ride out on my black horse to meet you", the girl replied.

  When Cuckoo Namdshil returned to the camp the captains inspected the horses and praised him,

"The animals never looked so good. What shiny coats they have! You are not only the best singer but also the best herder."

  After a month the girl waited at the gorge. She returned to her parents with Cuckoo Namd shil. Now a pleasant life began for the singer. But he often thought about his homeland, where his parents lived. He had also left a friendly wife behind. He wished to see his family again.

  The girl said,

"I will give you a precious stallion. In the morning he will carry you home and in the evening he will bring you back to me. But you must not ride any other horse. You must stop before you reach your jurt and people can see you and give the stallion a few moments to rest and hide away his wings. Do not forget this!"  

  Cuckoo Namdshil came home. People admired the beautiful stallion, but they wondered why the singer would never mount another horse. He herded his flock until the evening, then he vanished. Thus one day passed after another. His wife could not understand why her man never was at home at night. She did riot know that he flew away on his horse at nightfall. One morning Cuckoo Naindshil was late. Thinking only of his herd he flew directly to his jurt, jumped out of the saddle and led his animals out in a hurry. Thus it came that his wife, looking out of the door, saw the winged horse. Now she understood how her man stayed away during the nights. Quickly she got a pair of scissors and cut off the animal's wings. The horse sank to the ground and died.

  Cuckoo Namdshil mourned the horse for three months. He moaned and wept, did not cat and found no sleep. Finally he calmed himself. He carved a horse's head from a piece of wood. Then he built a two‑stringed fiddle and fixed the carved horse's head to its neck. He began to play quietly. The melody was very sad. It sounded like the quiet tread of a horse. Then it sounded as if a playful foal was coming near and next it sounded like fast hoof beats in the distance. Cuckoo Namdshil sang many songs about his irreplaceable horse, which could not carry him to the girl any more.

  This is a legend about how the horse head fiddle, the national instrument of Mongolia, came into existence.


The Ensemble Egschiglen ("Beautiful Melody") was founded in 1991 in Mongolia by students of the Conservatoire of Ulaanbaatar. Even today the four founding members still comprise the core of the group. The musicians concentrated on the contemporary music of their country and explored the dimensions of the sound of this repertoire with traditional Mongolian instruments and the vocal techniques of Central Asia.

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 grasslands transform 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 musicians of the ensemble Egschiglen are musical ambassadors of their country. They bring to us the virtuoso musicality and harmonious sounds of their culture. The name Egschiglen means "melodious sound" or "beautiful melody". Tume (Tumenbayar Migdorj) and Tumru (Tumursaihan Yardav) sing and play the horsehead‑violin morin kbuur, a string instrument with two horsehair strings, which is played like a cello. Uugan (Uuganbaatar Tsend‑Ochir) plucks or bows the ih kbuu (bass). The solo vocalist Amra (Amartuwshin Baasandorj) sings in the khoomii style and plays a swan neck lute, called a tobsbuur. Khoomii is a special kind of throat‑singing, where overtones are formed in addition to the basic tone. Saran (Sarangerel Tserevsarnba) plays a hammered dulcimer, the joochin and she is also the 'female voice' of the ensemble. Boogi (Wandansenge Batbold) plays the far‑eastern percussion instruments and expertly sings second solo voice. It is not possible, unfortunately, to convey the dance of Ariunaa, acoustically. She performs at the concerts of the ensemble.

The music of Egschiglen shows an impressive variety and delicacy of expression. They play traditional pieces and works of contemporary Mongolian composers in sophisticated arrangements. The pieces often show a chamber music‑like transparency and delicacy, others are of a rousing, earthy power. Occasionally one may imagine hearing the hoof beat of the small, tough Mongolian horses, on whose backs Ghengis Khan had founded the largest world empire of all times. Other pieces will lead you into the clear silence of the Gobi desert, where you can hear the wind sing in the dunes.

On the one hand, Mongolian sounds are strange and mysterious to western ears Especially the khoomii‑singing is baffling and seem unbelievable. All these very deep and very high sounds should come from one throat at the same time? (They do!) On the other hand the music feels deeply familiar, for it expresses elementary human feelings, like happiness, longing, mourning and thankfulness. The musicians of Egschiglen lead us far away into the fascinating culture of their distant home and at the same time into the common centre of all human existence, beyond all cultural differences.




The Voice

 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‑kboomii ‑ 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 trapezoidal form 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 horsehairs. 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.


Joochin (Dulcimer) The joochin is a trapeze‑shaped dulcimer. The strings are struck with two hammers.


Music In Mongolian History


"The ancestor of Genghis Khan was a grey wolf, created in heaven and chosen by fate. His spouse was a white hind. They came across lake Tenggis, and at the spring of the Onan River near the Burhan haldun mountain they chose their camp where their child was born..."

This is the beginning of the "Secret History of the Mongolians" which praises the life and deeds of the founder of the empire and greatest general of the Mongolians: Genghis Khan. It was be, who in about 1200 unified all the nomadic Turkic peoples of Central Asia under the name of Manghol (Mongolians) and laid the foundations for a Mongolian empire in Asia. With their strongest weapon, a special breed of small horses with extraordinary stamina, on whose backs they lived, eating and sleeping, for days and weeks, the much‑feared Mongolians conquered China in the 13th century. They founded dynasties in India and Western Asia and even became a threat to Eastern Europe. But even Kublai Khan, the grandson of the legendary Genghis Khan, could not maintain he achievements of his grandfather. The huge Mongolian empire disintegrated quickly and after he Yuan Dynasty in China had been overthrown in 1368 the Mongolians were pushed back into their original country between the Altai Mountains and the Gobi desert and from then on play only a minor role in the history of Asia.  In the 171h century the Mandshu Dynasty annexed Mongolia into the Chinese Empire. Only after the collapse of the Chinese Empire, was the northern region, the so‑called 'Outer Mongolia', able to regain its independence. Then, with Soviet help, in 1924 the People's Republic of Mongolia was formed. The other part of Mongolia, 'Inner Mongolia', remained part of the People's Republic of China as a so‑called "autonomous region". After the dissolution of the Soviet Union the former socialist People's Republic of Mongolia began looking for a new political orientation. Since then old cultural traditions have experienced a revival and re‑evaluation.

The endless Mongolian steppes and deserts, crossed by sparsely forested mountain chain as the up to 4000 metres (13,000 feet) high Khangai, cover an area the size of Western Europe. This barren area is home to only about 2.2 million people. Large areas of the country are totally unpopulated. Very few regions and cities, such as the capital Ulaanbaatar show a denser population. Approximately three fur­ ther million Mongolians live in so‑called 'Inner Mongolia' in the south and in the former neigh­ bouring Soviet republics in the north.

The prevailing form of living, even today, is still based on livestock, even if the nomadic way of living had been much restricted through collectivisation during the socialist reign. Houses and fixed settlements have partly replaced the traditional, transportable 'jurt' (Mongolian 'tent), called 'ger in the Mongolian language. But feeding requirements of the herds make it necessary to change grazing grounds several times a year and to relocate the jurt villages.

The proverbial "five kinds of livestock" (horses, cattle or yaks, camels, sheep and goats) have always been the basis of existence for the Mongolian people and this has shaped their lives and their thinking, often expressed in literature and music. The music expresses their familiarity with animals. They seek to influence their animals with singing or with the sound of musical instruments, mostly simple traverse flutes of cane or bamboo. These are used to calm the animals, so that mother animals would accept their young and suckle them or so they would allow humans to milk them.

In Mongolian tradition music is a means of communication. It is a means to conveying spoken contents but is also a language in itself. The Mongolian verb 'to sing' is etymologically related to their word for 'vowel' or 'a way of speaking'. Music is mainly understood as vocal music. Instruments usually have only an accompanying function. Instrumental ensemble music only existed at the court of the great Khan. That tradition has been lost since the end of the 19th century. Only in modern times attempts have been made to revive it with folklore ensembles and in modern compositions and arrangements of folk melodies.

In Mongolia, even today, a number of social games with communal singing are kept alive, which serve to pass the lonely evenings in the vast steppes. (In the meantime radio and TV sets have found their way into the jurts).

Mongolian music is comprised of various types of epic and lyrical songs and instrumental ensembles of varying instrumentation to accompany dancing. The Mongolian Shamanistic songs, only accompanied by drumming, and the ritual music of lamaseries are two special, separate musical idioms.


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