Tuva singing is coming to Sac State

Miriam Arghandiwal

In a small Russian province, Tuva, the most popular form of music is throat singing, which serves as a connection to the area’s ancestors and land.

One Tuvan band in particular, Chirgilchin, practices this rare form of throat singing. They will be playing at 8 p.m. Sunday in Capistrano’s Music Recital Hall as part of the World Music Series.

Band member Aldar Tamdyn said Tuvan music is different from other types of music because of its vocal technique. Throat singing is a harmonic form of singing where singers carry more than one musical note at a time. It almost sounds like a chant and is a foreign sound to most people, he said.

“It sounds almost like a deep whistle from one’s throat that could carry multiple notes at once,” said James Chopyak, ethnomusicology professor and director of the World Music Series.

Chopyak said this is not the first Tuvan performance at Sac State. In the fall of 2009, he said, the campus was introduced to the interesting vocals Tuvan music contains and immediately students developed a strong appreciation for their techniques.

“They are able to isolate all other noise and have one singer sing multiple notes at once, it’s really amazing to see. I had one student tell me that it was the most exciting music he had ever heard before,” Chopyak said.

Chopyak said Sac State decided to bring Tuvan music to campus because of the World Music Series, a program that was started in 1998. The program focuses on bringing diverse music, primarily that of Asian backgrounds, to students.

Sac State contacted Chirgilchin through Alexander Bapa. Bapa is a former Tuvan musician who had previously performed at various concerts at Sac State. Bapa has been working with Tuvan music for the past 20 years and now promotes and manages Tuvan bands like Chirgilchin.

Chirgilchin and Bapa have been working together for 12 years and have toured together through cites in Asia, Europe and North America.

Bapa said he works hard to promote groups like Chirgilchin because they expose characteristics in music that students don’t usually hear in mainstream music.

Chirgilchin is a group of four musicians, Aidysmaa Koshkendey, Igor Koshkendey, Aldar Tamdyn and Mongun-ool Ondar, who play homemade instruments.

Tamdyn said, instrumentally, Tuvan music is very emotional and not as technical as classical music.

The instruments are handmade from wood, Tamdyn said, and the body of the stringed instruments are usually covered with animal skin and bows are typically made from bamboo.

Tamdyn said like their music, the group’s instruments are all traditional. A major instrument in the group’s repertoire is the igil, which is played similarly to a cello, but with two strings and a much simpler shape.

The group also uses the doshpuluur, a strummed two-, three- or four-stringed instrument that is played similarly to a banjo. For percussion, the group uses bells and a drum.

Tamdyn said some songs feature the jaw-harp or a mouth- harp, an instrument that is placed in the performer’s mouth and plucked with the finger to create a note. The jaw harp is often used in combination with the groups highly advanced throat singing.

Although the group uses simple instruments, he said, the music holds complexity because it conveys emotions from within a musician . Tamdyn said the singing of simultaneous notes at once is based on emotional expression, which requires an enormous amount of skill and experience.

“Tuvan music carries a deep connection to nature and ancient culture. Much of today’s music lacks this deep meaning and it’s important for students to be connected to their roots. Though Tuva might be a different nation, the basic characteristics of human nature are channeled through their music,” Bapa said.

Tamdyn said because the group’s unusual singing technique allows them to imitate the sounds of nature they are able to connect with their roots.

It is the throat singing, he said, that is the most difficult and most enjoyable part of Tuvan music.

The overtones in which the singers have to shut out all other music and carry multiple tones at once from their own throat is what makes their singing unique, Chopyak said. In order for people to understand the complexity, they have to see and hear Tuvan music for themselves, he said

Tamdyn said in recent years, Tuvan music has gained in popularity in the U.S., but not worldwide.

“People are always surprised by the sound of throat singing and the intricacy of the musicians’ costumes and instruments. This is perhaps the best sensation – exposing people to a new culture they otherwise would have never heard of,” Tamdyn said.

Miriam Arghandiwal can be reached at [email protected]