From local to global, khöömii encompasses individual, family and ethnic specificities and became “Mongol” in its national and international representation. It is now in the hands of Mongolia’s political and cultural institutions. The construction of the identity concept of “being Mongolian” dates back to the early 1990s (Kaplonski, 2004, p. 7).
The heritage of khöömii.
Soviet period when Badraa encouraged the diffusion of khöömii helped to highlight the practice of the Khalkh: by promoting khöömiich of this ethnic group through competitions and by broadcasting their recordings on national radio; by designating Chandmani, populated by Khalkh, as the cradle of the tradition; and through the making of a film, Mongol khöömei (1983) presenting the Chandmani khöömii.
His thinking suggested a sense of heritage in his desire to elevate popular arts to the rank of “classic”, in the same way as the great repertoires of oriental music. Indeed, Badraa distinguishes between the “creation of popular music” (ardyn khögjmiin uran büteel) and the “creation of specifically professional and contemporary music” (orchin ueiin tusgai mergejliin khögjmiin uran büteel) (Jantsannorov, 1998, p. 4). It identifies the elements included in this concept and gives a new definition of this music, proposing two categories within popular music:
1. The intellectual tradition or intangible heritage of Mongolian music (Mongol khögjim ardyn bileg);
2. Mongolian traditional professional classical music (Mongol ardyn ulamjlalt mergejliin songodog khögjim).
Concerning the latter, Badraa explained it by considering two kinds of professional music: Western classical music and Eastern classical music which he proposed to examine equally, detaching oneself from a certain Eurocentrism turned towards the Western approach. and its “cultured” model (Badraa, 1998, pp. 4 and 34).
By approaching Western classical music, Badraa seeked to define which elements of traditional Mongolian music could be perceived as professional and classical forms. It was in 1978, at the International Congress of Musicologists in Samarkand, that Badraa gave five characteristics which classified khöömii and long singing (urtyn duu)19 in the category of “professional Mongolian classical music” (Badraa, 1998, p. 38):
1. Khöömii and long singing are rare phenomena in traditional world music.
2. These are independent musical forms that have a high form of development and maintain perfect artistic quality.
3. They are the result of a long historical development and interesting methods exploring the possibilities of the human voice.
4. Their two methods require effort and specific talent, they are true professional arts.
5. They have their own subtypes, styles, methods and schools. Mastering them requires time and orderly learning, as well as a high level.20.
All the elements are brought together here for a heritage creation of khöömii (like long singing21): a singularity, a long history, an accomplished musical technical development, a long apprenticeship, requiring a certain mastery and the consideration of a high musical tradition to the rank of classic, giving it “monumental” or even heritage importance. It is therefore “naturally” that after having institutionalized this vocal technique by bringing it into conservatory teaching, that laws and UNESCO-type heritage projects would come into play to include khöömii on the Heritage Lists. intangible culture of humanity.
Thus, with the change of political regime, from the beginning of the 1990s, the idea of conservation of traditions and the concept of heritage of UNESCO spread in cultural policy through several official texts, including the most recent concerning the khöömii are:
Decree of the President on the Development of Khöömii Art, 2006 (Mongol ulsiin yerönkhiilögchiin Mongol khöömiin urlagiig khögjuulekh tukhai zarlig).
Mongol Khöömii National Program, 2008-2014 (Mongol Khöömii ündesnii khötölbör) which includes the project for the inscription of khöömii on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO
With this national program, the instrumentalisation of khöömii by cultural policy was organised within a logic of openness and national cultural development.
Following the presidential decree for the development of Mongolian khöömii (2006), between 2008 and 2014 the State provided a series of provisions aimed at promoting, disseminating, protecting and transmitting khöömii as widely as possible. The aim of this program was to “encourage and promote learning, research and development of the extraordinary techniques and styles of khöömii through studies, communication, preservation, transmission and promotion among artistic organisations and cultural institutions, artists as well as tradition bearers in order to strengthen the place of khöömii at the national and international level” (2006, article 2.1, annex 6, p. 491). To do this, the Mongolian state was pushing to conduct research into Khöömii, to organise its learning, to communicate around Mongolian Khöömii, to identify, encourage and glorify khöömiichid (2006, article 2.2, appendix 6, p. 491). In all cases, it is the institutions which were responsible for supervising the implementation and the assessment of results (article 4, annex 6, p. 492). It is not mentioned at any time that this role was entrusted to a khöömii master during the stages of carrying out the project.
The Mongolian state favoured strengthening the history of this vocal technique and aimed to expand its transmission in many directions, notably by using typically post-Soviet practices such as the glorification of musicians and vocal competitions to encourage khöömiichid and the population to disseminate knowledge of this practice. Above all, the State intended to organize its learning, as it did by opening the khöömii class at the University of Arts and Culture. Considering the considerable influence that this institution has on rural practices, it is easy to imagine what the consequences of such an approach could be, in particular by integrating khöömii on a larger scale into national education and in the media. The results of the program tend to revitalize it so that it becomes “a cultural use of Mongols, Mongolian ethnic groups and nationalities; establishment of conditions for khöömii to become an integral part of holidays, traditional festivals and state ceremonies” (2006, article 7.5, annex 6, p. 493). As a result, jobs in this sector must increase and transmission spread on a larger scale to multiply the number of practitioners. In 2019, nothing had changed in this sense.
Some of the objectives had been achieved. National and international khöömii festivals were held, with medals distributed. Two monographs were published (Kherlen, 2010 and Sandagjav, 2010), followed by the publication of a disc of the big names in the history of this vocal technique (Altan üeiin ankhdagchid, 2012). The inscription of khöömii on a UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage was carried out in November 2010.
Since the beginning of the University of Arts and Culture, graduate musicians have devoted themselves solely to the stage or to the teaching of music intended to be played on stage. This place appears to be the reference institution for artists in the country that wished to be recognised as professionals. In this urban context, transmission did not take into account the pace of learning and the rural style of voicing, which still operates in the steppes.
Like many musical traditions relating to orality, in the last seventy years of its history, khöömii has regularly and considerably transformed. Its spectacularization/Theatreical/stage performance , on the one hand, developed it towards the aesthetic canons of theatres, establishing both new habits of performing while allowing a new space for creation, outside the initial rural context. This first stage also opened up academization which took hold of the codes and requirements of the concert to integrate them into teaching, which became a reference at the national level.
For reasons of political order, recognition, international factors, including economic, ethnic representation, going hand in hand with a certain idea of Western academisation, certain musical forms such as khöömii seem to have become more ” (re)presentable” than others and more easily “detachable” from their original context of practice to meet the expectations of the national and international scene. Sometimes, officials traveling outside the country use khöömii, long song, or the horse fiddle as cultural emblems for their diplomacy.
The heritage of khöömii is not only a process of institutionalization, but it also affects the forms of transmission of knowledge and know-how as well as the musical content which has gradually adapted to the stage and the academy: codification of vocal technique, standardization of timbre, selection of repertoire, adoption of a pedagogy inspired by Western methods with the support of the piano.
This institutionalization has social effects, such as the divide between amateur and professional, created during the Soviet period and reinforced since, with a reconfiguration of the gap between rural and urban practices. Since the 2000s, several masters based in rural areas have compared themselves to the teaching provided in the capital and taken a position to maintain their identity, while adopting certain codes and processes, such as playing scales and using a piano. To maintain their local reputation and continue to attract apprentices, they attempt to institutionalize certain places of practice. In Chandmani for example, a new cultural center, “The Khöömii Palace”, was built in the early 2010s. Its aim is to centralize the learning of young people in the village but also to welcome tourists curious to learn. in passing.
Vocal timbre, the central paradigm of khöömii practice, was standardised in a university context. For around ten years, the Mongolian capital has resonated in the same tone, without much variation from one individual to another – the artists recruited in the city’s theatres and ensembles often came from the same training, which reduced the diversity of approaches. Transmission in the countryside which operated before the 1990s from father to son or from master to student still existed, but under the advice of their master, apprentices enrol at the university to study khöömii, obtain a recognised diploma and became a “professional khöömiich”. The development of university education also attracted new followers from an environment that wasnot traditionally a breeding ground for khöömii, to learn a practice that had become essentially artistic. From the steppe to the stage, from the university to the heritage of humanity, khöömii seemed to have taken on the same sound.
Thanks to Nomindari Shagdarsüren, Marc Alaux