Practice time. Never glamorous.
Last night I saw an incredible film at Clwyd Theatr Cymru; AnDa Union – From the Steppes to the City. It’s a documentary about a group of young Mongolian musicians making a journey through the grasslands of Mongolia, performing traditional music on traditional instruments, in their own way. They perform on ‘horse-head fiddles’, horse-head type guitars, drums, traditional flute and vocals – open throat singing and ‘long long’ singing.
These horse-head fiddles are called ‘Morin Khuur’ and have a box shaped body with a long neck, and are played rested on the lap. From a string player’s perspective, they were quite incredible, as although having just two strings, they produced a beautiful singing tone, deeply sonorous and keening. Rather than ‘stopping’ the string like on a violin, the fingers changed pitch from under the string, and there was incredible changes in volume created, and astounding horse sounds!
The performers worked from an aural tradition, visiting older family members and practising songs together until they were familiar, and then arranging them as a group to astonishing effect. The music was jaw dropping! I am ever amazed at how fresh and exciting traditional music can be, even though lines may often be played in unison, or with repetitive harmony, and very simple settings. It strikes me that in Western world of modern composition, we often miss the point.
Through the music and the performing, I felt as if I was invited into their world, and their understanding of Nature, life, animals, stories…. It was truly moving, without relying on any gimmicks. Neither did they ‘dumb down’ to portray an image of ‘traditional folk life’ – brightly coloured costumes and idiosyncratic performances. To me, it pinpointed exactly why people sing, and dance, and tell stories, and why we need music as humans.