At 3 p.m. on Nov. 13, the unique and haunting tones of the acclaimed Tuvan throat singing group Chirgilchin will resonate through Pomona College’s Bridges Hall of Music. The four-member group hails from the small Russian province of Tuva, which is located just north of Western Mongolia. They are currently touring the United States—beginning on the Eastern seaboard, and then hopping over westward after a brief stop in Bozeman, Montana, to spread their mesmerizing sounds down the coast.
Tuvan throat singing is an ancient practice of folk music from Siberia. The method of voice manipulation was developed by nomadic herdsman in Central Asia. The sound is produced by low, resonating tones in the throat, which create a middle note and a higher harmonic. Once the craft is mastered, throat singers can produce up to four pitches simultaneously. The higher, flute-like tones can be stylized to resemble distinct sounds such as a bird’s whistle or the rhythm of rushing water.
The members of Chirgilchin include Aidysmaa Koshkendey, Igor Koshkendey, Mongun-ool Ondar, and Aldar Tamdyn. Aidysmaa Koshkendey, the sole female vocalist, plays the khomus (a Tuvan mouth harp), tenchik (bells), Long song, as well as an assortment of percussion.
Igor Koshkendey is considered to be one of the best throat singers from the province of Tuva. He is able to perform six different styles and is one of two men who have mastered the unique Oidupaa style of singing. In 1998, 2000, and 2002 Igor Koshkendey won the Grand Prix of International Competition of Throat Singing.
Mongun-ool Ondar won the Grand Prix at age 16 and is now fluent in six throat-singing styles, taught by legendary throat singer Oleg Kuular. Ondar is now close to inventing his own unique style of throat singing.
Aldar Tamdyn plays the byzaanchy and morin-khuur with the group. He walked away as the best instrumentalist at the International Folk Music Festival in Tuva and is now the director of the National Tuvan Orchestra of Traditional Instruments. He has also crafted the instruments for Chilgirchin as well as other Siberian folk music groups.
Pomona has been graced with the sounds of Chilgirchin twice in the past. Brian Dolphin PZ ’09 facilitated the upcoming performance and described his first exposure to Chirgilchin in concert as “an important and pivotal experience” in his life. Dolphin was a 2009-2010 Watson Fellow and incorporated Tuvan throat singing into his project that studied both music in nature as well as the nature of music. Dolphin spent two months traveling in Tuva, learning throat singing, playing instruments with different musicians, herding sheep, and seeking the complete hands-on experience. It was Chirgilchin’s performance at Pomona that inspired Dolphin to propose his project to the Watson Fellowship.
“This is music that makes the listener feel landscapes; [it] really connects to nature, praises mountains, and imitates horses,” said Dolphin. “[The singers] can definitely convey something other than most music can. They use rich timbres to take music to a whole other level. It’s not like Western note-based music; it’s a whole other dimension in music.”
Through the combination and manipulation of timbres, throat singers can produce overtone chords that create harmonies unlike other styles of music.
Traditionally, throat singing was practiced and performed outdoors and just recently has been on stage and in concert halls. Additionally, throat singing was a long-time male dominated niche, as customs and superstitions discouraged women from partaking, but it is now welcoming talented women to the ranks.
When listening to the Tuvan throat singing style, it is recommended that first-timers listen first to the lowest drone, then concentrate on the middle tones, and finally listen to the surrounding sounds. The tones are to be appreciated as an entire entity and often resemble sounds occurring in nature, commonly the cadence of a cantering horse.
“They are amazing musicians. They are going to wow a lot of people. I still vividly remember the concert; it’s all the more unbelievable when it’s ten feet away. You can’t believe these sounds are coming from human beings and human-made instruments,” said Dolphin.
For more information, including video previews with a unique performance done for an audience of goats, go to http://www.chirgilchin.com. The event at Pomona is free and open to the public.