Tsuur

 

The Tsuur is an end blown flute that is found in the west part of Mongolia. It is mainly used by the Altai-Uriangkhai people, although other yastan like the kazakhs and the Tuvans are known to play them or have played them. In 1993 I met two Tsuur players in Khovd town, Khovd province. Both Sengedorje and Battarjoe learnt from Narantsogt a Uriangkhai from Duut district in Khovd.

 

There seems to be a connection with khöömii and the Tsuur by that fact that there are stories regarding the river Eev that link the two and in the way in which the Tsuur is played. A vocal drone in the throaty Khailakh style of the epic and khöömii singers is sung by the tsuur player at the same time as he plays the flute. Very few people can master this instrument today. Apparently a new one is to be made each year and during the communist times (1924 to 1990) they were hid in the woods not to be found.

          There are only three holes to finger. The blowing technique utilises the teeth, tongue and lips in the same way as Ney in Classical Persian music. The Tsuur is usually immersed in water before playing in order to seal and leaks in the wood.

          The melodies that are played on the Tsuur are usually imitations of the sound of water, animal cries and birdsongs as heard by shepherds whilst on the steppes or the mountain slopes of the Altai. One of the melodies, “The flow of the River Eev” as was said before is the river where the sound of khöömii was mythically supposed to have originated.

          The Uriangkhai called the Tsuur the “Father of Music”. A three-holed pipe was in use in Mongolia in the 18th century and was believed to posses the magical properties of bringing Lamb’s bones back to life. In the Jangar epic of the 14th century the Tsuur is said to have had a voice like a swan. This reference may also be indirectly a very early reference to khöömii as the singing style sung with the Tsuur is Khailakh. It is not surprising that Sengedorj is both a Tsuur player and a very accomplished khöömii singer.

 

You can hear some short recordings of the Tsuur on Jargalant Altai (various artists) : Pan Records Pan 2050CD (recordings from the 1960’s to 1994) and Musique et Chants de tradition populaire Mongolie (various artists) Grem G7511 (recorded september October 1985).

 

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