Tuvan’s two-tone singing visits Pitt

By Natalie Bell

If you think harmonizing with others is hard enough, try harmonizing with yourself. Sound… If you think harmonizing with others is hard enough, try harmonizing with yourself. Sound impossible? For Tuvan throat singers, it’s a skill they’ve worked hard to develop. And for Chirgilchin, a world-renowned group from Tuva, it’s something its members have mastered. ‘It’s a phenomenal style,’ said manager Alexander Bapa. ‘ Tuvan throat singing consists of two sounds made at once. By constricting their windpipes in a particular way, the singers are able to produce a low, guttural sound and a high, shrill sound at the same time. According to the Chirgilchin’s MySpace site, ‘It must be heard to be believed. The music, produced by resonating low sounds in the throat, creates a middle note and a haunting, flute-like harmonic.’ There are six main styles, and though none of them are easy, the members of Chirgilchin have mastered them all. ‘ Chirgilchin uses several traditional instruments while performing. The igil is a two-stringed, wooden, lute-like instrument. The doshpuluur is a wooden, Tuvan lute that traditionally has two strings, but now has up to four. The byzaanchy is a four-stringed instrument, but unlike the normal playing strategy of playing the bow on the outside of the strings, the bow is actually on the inside. All of these instruments take great skill to play, but if you’re determined, Chirgilchin sells them on their official Web site, chirgilchin.com. This method of singing was done first by herders, so it makes sense that the sounds are intended to mimic noises in nature like gurgling waters and whistling winds. The overall effect is one that many people find mesmerizing and soothing. Throat singing reaches beyond Tuva, a small, autonomous republic of Russia located in Siberia. Several other places, including Tuva’s neighbor Mongolia, have different styles of the art. But Bapa says of Tuvan throat singers, particularly Chirgilchin, that ‘They’ve developed their sound more than other neighbors. It’s a more clear sound that comes from the throat.’ ‘ Chirgilchin’s members met about 12 years ago while on tour separately and decided they would form a group together. Since then they have competed every other year and performed almost everywhere. It’s a pretty big deal for a group under an indie label to boast that it’s sung in every country in Europe. The group is comprised of four members, three men and one woman, notable because men have historically been the primary Tuvan throat singing due to a taboo against women singers. The female vocalist is Aidysmaa Koshkendey. The male vocalists are Igor Koshkendey, Mongoun-Ool Ondar and Aldar Tamdyn. The male singers all hold accolades in different aspects of throat singing. ‘Chirgilchin’ has an actual meaning in the Tuvan language. Bapa explained, ‘In hot weather, you can see air dancing on the road, like a mirage on the road. This is Chirgilchin. It’s air dancing.’ And the songs they are performing are not contemporary. ‘It’s very old, like a thousand years, maybe more,’ said Bapa, ‘Nobody knows who the composer is ‘mdash; they’re folk songs.’ Just because Chirgilchin isn’t writing cutting edge music does not mean that it hasn’t branched out in other ways. The group has worked with performance artist Laurie Anderson, as well as master didgeridoo player, Stephen Kent. ‘Sometimes big stars want to try to make music with us,’ said Bapa. If all this sounds like something you would actually like to try, you’re in luck ‘mdash; Chirgilchin offers workshops for those interested in learning Tuvan throat singing. It teaches a camp each summer in Tuva, and it works in the United States, as well. Bapa explained that ‘many people are interested to try all these styles and we usually do workshops for them.’ However Bapa warns that ‘some people get it in an hour,’ but ‘some people need days and days.’ Even once you’ve learned the skill, he advises, ‘You have to develop yourself, you have to practice every day.’ Bapa says that generally, ‘people like [throat singing] very much.’ In the future, the group plans to continue performing and making CDs. ‘We will make a new CD and maybe a new DVD. You know, music projects to develop our camps, to teach people, to bring them to our country,’ said Bapa.