TUVIN FOLK MUSIC By A. N. Aksenov
Editor’s Note. The following consists of excerpts from A. N. Aksenov’s Tuvinskaia narodnaia muzyka (Moscow, 1964), to date the only book devoted in a study of a single Siberian music culture.
Aksenov (1909‑62) was initially a composer. He graduated from Moscow Conservatory In 1931, became a member of the Union of Soviet Composers the following year and remained in Moscow until 1943. During that war year he was sent to the city of Kizil, centre of the Tuvin People’s Republic, later to become the Tuvin Autonomous Region of the Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic, largest administrative unit of the USSR. In Tuvin country Aksenov collected a large body of folk music, and when he returned to Moscow in 1944 he began to study ethnomusicology seriously, continuing his research on Tuvin music until his death. E. Gippius, Aksenov’s advisor. In his Introduction to Aksenov’s posthumous book, (p. 11) cites tuyinskaia narodnaia muzyka as being “useful and important for musicologists and musicians as well as for ethnographers, historians and folklorists”.
The sections included here are excerpted from two sections of the book: first, a general discussion of Tuvin folksong and then a presentation of the four styles of the extraordinary ‑Tuvin manner of throat‑ singing, i.e. a way of one man’s singing two parts simultaneously.
The Tuvins, who speak a Turkic language, joined the USSR In 1944 dissolving the Tuvin Peoples’ Republic begun in 1921. The 1959 census indicated a population of ca. 100,000 Tuvins in the USSR; they also live in adjacent Mongolia.
Tuvin folk songs are primarily performed on holidays, during young people’s promenades and while nomadizing or on excursions into the steppe. On holidays any songs are sung. No observer of Tuvin musical folklore has remarked on songs assigned to specific holidays oron special wedding or funeral songs, and I have not succeeded in finding, them either.
One of the greatest Tuvin holidays is New Year’s (shagai) celebrated on the night of January 22nd. In addition New Year’s and domestic holidays each region (Khoshun) marked its own, local festivals. Noted singers, storytellers and instrumentalists gathered in the Khoshun centres for these holidays….
At the khoshun festivities the noions (apparently clan, elders or chiefs‑‑MS) organized singing contests, sometimes lasting all day. The performers chose their own songs. The winner or best singer was served liquor (arak) and was given the title kha (noions singer). As a mark of acquiring this title a special attachment of coloured stone (or glass) was affixed to the singer’s hat, after which the kha took an oath of allegiance to the noion. Among the kha’s duties was the singing of panegyric songs which accompanied the serving of arak to the noion. The kha’s obligations also included fulfilling small chores for the noion. If the kha appeared at fault in some way or sang little and badly, the noion took away his title, struck him in the face with a shaaga (a leather belt for beating on the cheeks) and drove him out. The singer them became a commoner again.
Instrumentalists also competed at the noion’s contests. They travelled from village to village earning their keep this way. Instrumentalists principally played song melodies, varied in virtuoso style. A special genre of Tuvin instrumental music consists of programmatic pieces. Contemporary instrumentalists only know two of these: “Oskus‑kasa” (“The Orphan Goose”) and “Buga, shari” (Oxen, Bullocks”). Both pieces are playedonly on the igil (a fiddle) and only by the most talented instrumentalists: these performers are highly esteemed.
Not only instrumentalists, but also singers of tales (tool, toolchi; “tale”, “reciter of tales”) travelled from settlement (aal) to settlement. Like the instrumentalists, the toolchis were ordinary folk. From time to time they dropped their households and moved off to tell tales in nearby settlements, usually within the boundaries of a small region. Their arrival was also associated with various festivities. The people invited the toolchi to their tents, fed them abundantly and gave them gifts (furs etc.) Crowds gathered in the tent in which the toolchi stayed. Thespectators listened to the tales with unabated attentiveness for several consecutive days with breaks for meals. One tale lasted two to three days.
Some genres of Tuvin tales (heroic and some fairytales) are recited melodically, with a recitative tune and rhythmic prose text. These are often accompanied by the chadagan, a stringed Instrument (zither‑‑MS), which either follows the melody of the vocal recitation (continuously or sporadically) or plays Instrumental interludes periodically interrupting the vocal recitation. Other genres of Tuvin tales (domestic, animal stories and some fairytales) are not performed melodically, but are simply narrated.
The heroic tale “Dash‑khuren a’ ttig Tanaa‑Kherel” . ..is built on a stepwise descending melody with phrases built on fourths. Each new text phrase of the tale begins with the high melodic pitches, and then descends gradually in the range of a twelfth, rising at the end of the phrase to the higher pitches, from which the next phrase begins. Along with such melodically developed forms of recitation one also finds Tuvin heroic tales built not on melodies but rather on repetitions of short tunes of three or four pitches in a narrow range.
Games and competitive sports are an unchanging feature of Tuvin holidays, both old and contemporary. These include khuresh (wrestling matches) and a’t khooleer (horsemanship contests), accompanied by special musical recitations. Wrestling (in which any devices but blows are allowed) is very popular among all strata of the population, irrespective of social status. The number of contestants is not restricted, usually consisting of 8, 16, 32, 64 or 128 wrestlers. The wrestling match lasts many hours, to the unabated, tense attention of spectators. Wrestlers appear with seconds (salikchi) dressed in bright national cloaks, with six to eight salikchi for 30 to 40 wrestlers.
The wrestlers are dressed in costumes of rawhide or other material (ringed with rawhide to protect the hands and body from injury. The costume consists of shorts and a short jacket with long sleeves barely covering the back just below the shoulder‑blades. The jacket is fastened by a rawhide thong so that the opponent can’t jerk it. The legs are covered with Leather maimaks (embroidered boots with turned‑down sharp‑ended socks). Before the beginning of the match two equal groups of wrestlers gradually approach from different corners with a particular dance like gait depicting “the flight of the eagle”, the eagle being the symbol of strength and agility. They caper in a zigzag manner from foot to foot and smoothly clap their hands to the rhythm of the jumps to imitate the rustle of wings. Approaching each other, both groups return to opposite corners of the field with the same dance like gait.
The salikchis approach each group taking alternate wrestlers by the hand and leading them to the centre of the field. Next, both salikchis come forth and simultaneously intone the traditional “call” in the form of an improvised melodic recitation, often concluded by a speech. In the “call” the salikchis praise the strength and agility of their wrestlers and their former victories.
Our strong man has com, bring out his opponent!
This outstandingly famous strongman has taken part in 64 matches!
Bring out our strongman’s opponent! There he’s come!
Be careful, be careful! This is an experienced strongman!
He has taken part in 64 matches’. He is as strong as a tiger and a lion!
Be careful, be careful, grab hold!
This singing appearance of the salikchi is limited only to one episode of the match: the appearance of the wrestler in the arena. Each salikchi improvises melodies for this recitation in his own way. They vary considerably in melodic style and cannot be assigned to one specific type….. The wrestler’s success depends considerably on the salikhchi. He encourages his wrestler with words and gestures, ridicules the opponent, amuses the audience and between jokes warns his wrestler of the intentions and tricks of his opponent, whom He observes.
… No less popular is another Tuvin sport: horse‑racing … several neighbouring khoshuns compete in horseracing, in which 10 to 100 riders take part… and up to 200 to 300 in large races. The ride to the gate is accompanied by the riders’ improvised song in recitatory style. In thesesongs the riders praise the endurance, strength and other qualities of their horses just as the ….salikchis praised … the wrestlers. However, of late the riders arriving at the gate most often sing recitatory melodies without words.. . The voice of the riders, resounding far into the steppe mixes into a long multi‑voiced uninterrupted roar.
… After the winners are decided. … a ceremonial procession of the participants is begun. At this time a singer comes forth, holding a saucerfull of arak in upraised palms, covered with a bright silk kerchief. The singer tenders the cup of arak to the winning rider, and in a solemn song, praises the winning horse;
Its eyes are like two saucers of arak.
lts’ breath Is like mist in the valley,
Its gait is like a strong wind in the steppe, etc
Along with horseracing and wrestling, marksmanship must also be included among sports beloved of the Tuvins. No special songs were devoted to these games, but the spectators often cheered on the contestants with shouts or songs of the kozliamik genre (a song with refrain‑‑MS) with Improvised words.
Until recently the Tuvins had no folk dances outside of the pantomimic imitation of the “eagle’s flight” at the entrance of wrestlers.
Khoi alzir songs are a special section of the Tuvin folksong tradition. These are melodic recitations accompanying the pastoral ceremony of transferring baby sheep, goats, cows and horses to another mother when their original mother does not have milk, refuses to nurse its child or has died. They led the young to its new mother, placed them next to each other and turned to both with the words of traditional animal‑goading noises (e.g. “tiro. tiro, tirogat” for sheep, “chu, chu, chu” for goats and “oog,,oog, oog” for cows), sung to melodies In recitatory style. The tunes of these melodic recitations are close to each other and are strikingly close to Tuvin lullabies (urug opeileer) with melodies of analogous recitatory style. For rocking children such melodies are sung to a few words. “opei, opei (“rock‑a‑bye”), “udui ber, olgum” (“sleep, my son”). or “sariim” (“yellow one, ” an endearing term). The Tuvins say that from a far one cannot distinguish whether one is rocking a baby or accustoming a calf, kid or lamb to a new mother….