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4 July 2013

Resuming VI International Ethnomusicological Symposium «Khoomei - a Cultural Phenomenon of the Peoples of the Inner Asia»

Press-service of the Government of the Republic of Tuva. Translation by Emina Kyzyl-ool, Luke Inglis

Resuming VI International Ethnomusicological Symposium «Khoomei - a Cultural Phenomenon of the Peoples of the Inner Asia»The National Khoomeizhi of Tuva Mongun-ool Ondar was the Grand Prix winner of the VI International Ethnomusicological Symposium “Khoomei -  a Cultural Phenomenon  of the Peoples  of the Inner Asia”.  It is the second highest award he has received, the first prize came 20 years ago as a 16 year old at the First International Throat-Singing Forum.

The laureates of individual khoomei performance are Ayan-ool  Sonam (1st), Igor Koshkendei (2nd), Bady-Dorzhu Ondar (3rd). The last two artists were awarded with Grand Prizes in solo throat singing in 1998 and 2008 correspondingly, and they are members of the “Alash” Ensemble, which has become a winner of the Grand Prix in the Bands category this year.

The Awards were presented to the winners by the Head of the Republic of Tuva, Sholban Kara-ool. He expressed gratitude to the participants of the Symposium for their constant interest to the ancient art of Tuva. “Khoomei is an impenetrable mystery of the Tuvan people’s soul and it is our mighty heritage. Our ancestors used to say: “I will never leave my khoomei, I will always carry it with me”. Such reverent attitude to khoomei has let us preserve the art for many centuries. Each symposium is a step closer to the solving the mystery of the enchanting phonation of khoomei.  Being a son of our motherland, I am very proud that Tuvan throat-singing has reached international acknowledgement, and that we are at the threshold  of opening a Khoomei Academy, which is going to be a truly unique cultural and educational establishment in Russia and in the whole world,” –  Sholban Kara-ool said.

The throat-singing forum gathered scientists and khoomei performers from 10 regions in Russia – Khakasia, Altai, Bashkortostan, Sakha, Shoriya, Chukotka, Moscow, Saint  Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Tomsk; and from 17 Countries – USA, Japan, Norway, Finland, Australia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belorussia, Mongolia, Great Britain, France, Germany, Brazil, Spain, Greece, China. More than one hundred performers took part in the contest, featuring 16 ensembles - 11 from Tuva and 5 from abroad. A very important detail that highlights the level of development of Khoomei in Tuva is that local throat-singers had to come through Selection Committees in local districts to be able to participate in the symposium.

Resuming VI International Ethnomusicological Symposium «Khoomei - a Cultural Phenomenon of the Peoples of the Inner Asia»Amongst the winners of the International Khoomei Symposium in individual category throughout the history of the event are such artists as Mongun-ool Ondar (1992), Radion Munzuk (1995), Igor Koshkendei (1998), Aldyn-ool Sevek (2003), Bady-Dorzhu Ondar (2008).
There was an attempt to organize the biggest khoomei choir with nearly 100 throat-singers, including foreign guests, performing on the stage of the “Cheder” resort.

A special visiting throat-singing symposium will take place in Huhhot city next year. The offer was made to Tuva by the authorities of the Inner Mongolia (China) whose representatives participated in the event this year.


“The main outcome of the VI International Ethnomusicological Symposium “Khoomei - a cultural Phenomenon of the Peoples of the Inner Asia” is acknowledgement of the fact that Tuva is the actual birthplace of khoomei, – the Culture Minister Vyacheslav Dongak announced during the press conference on 15 June in Kyzyl in the Center of Traditional Tuvan Culture and Arts, - “it applies a huge responsibility to our region for keeping and developing the ancient art”.

Scientists, participants, guests, and mass media representatives from Tuva, the Baltics, Spain and China were discussing different aspects of the most important event in the cultural life of the region for the year of  2013; including scientific, social and cultural issues.  Since the very first symposium, 21 years ago, it has become an event of international importance and provides powerful impetus for traditional culture development not only in Tuva, but in other regions of Russia,  an important factor for uniting people from different countries and continents.

Interest in Tuvan throat-singing is growing from year to year.  Journalists were particularly interested in the results of the scientific conference “Acoustics of khoomei”, that featured the participation of geneticists.  As a Doctor of Biological Studies, Professor of the Tuvan State University Urana Kavai-ool explained, there’s been a huge journey in khoomei research and all the data indicates that it is time to “shift to the genetics level”.

Valentina Suzukei noticed that there are already 3 scientists studying khoomei, who have successfully defended their dissertations, meaning that a serious scientific foundation has formed in the Republic of Tuva.

Foreign guests professed how impressed they were with the attention of Tuvan authorities to the conservation and development of the art and traditions of Tuvan people. Uldis Tirons, a Baltic journalist, said he was listening to khoomei in the herders’ yurts 20 years ago, but today it sounded from the stage of the main theater of the Republic and was performed by the musicians of the National Orchestra – and that was a huge progress.  In Theodore Levin’s opinion, a music professor, Doctor of Philosophy from Boston, “Tuva has found a good balance between government support of the culture and public interest to it”.

Recognizing Theodore Levin

Resuming VI International Ethnomusicological Symposium «Khoomei - a Cultural Phenomenon of the Peoples of the Inner Asia»Doctor of Sciences and long-term researcher of Tuvan throat-singing, Professor of the Dartmouth College, Theodore Craig Levin, who has opened the music of the “Huun-Huur-Tu” Ensemble to the world, was awarded with a medal “For the Valorous Labour”.  The award to the jury of the VI Symposium was presented by the Head of Tuva, Sholban Kara-ool. He mentioned the huge contribution, made by the American ethnomusicologist to the research and propagation of khoomei as one of the most significant heritage features of authentic Tuvan culture.

A music reviewer Nina Karpinskaya writes in the introduction of the Russian version of Ted Levin’s book “Where Rivers and Mountains Sing” Indiana University 2006:

“In the history of music there are few phenomenons that had such stunning and all round success.  Low hoarse throat singing of Tuvan performers is nearly the most resonant sensation in the world music. And the sensation has its own godfather – Ted Levin, American musicologist and producer, who stands at the origins of the explosive fame of Tuvan khoomei in the West.  This small republic hidden in the very center of the Asian continent has become well known among fans of music exotics far from Russia to a large extent through Theodore Levin”

A founder of a Harmonic choir, Ted Levin travelled to Tuva in 1987 with the aim to record throat-singing. He considers the khoomei phenomenon from a pure scientific point of view as well as with great personal interest. He writes in the introduction of the album “Tuva — voices from the Center of Asia” produced by him:

“These two styles might well represent vestiges of a proto musical sound would in which man sough through mimesis to link himself to the beings and forces that most concerned him, in the case of the Tuvans, domestic animals, the physical environment of mountains and grassland and the elemental energies of wind water, and light. In the traditional sound world of present-day Tuva, throat singing is still intimately connected to nature… Throat singing seems to have served traditionally as a mens of responding to states of heightened feeling brought on by exaltation at the beauty of nature. Walking alone on the grassland, herders sang not for one another, but for themselves, for the mountains and for the steppe…”

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