Kazakh Musical Instruments from Kazakhstan

Kazakh Musical Instruments from Kazakhstan
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There are variouse types of kazakh dombra allowing performers great varsity of sound.

World ethnomusicology research has proved that tribes, whose main profession was herding animals, produce, as a rule, a great diversity of musical instruments. Along with this is a highly developed instrumental music, which accompanies important activities that affect all spheres of life. 'Kazakh traditional musical culture', to quote L. N. Gumilyev, 'belongs to the large ethnic civilization of the nomadic tribes of Central Asia'.

The special role of music in the life of Kazakhs is reflected in many ancient myths and legends. There is hardly a match to these myths and legends, in terms of beauty and profundity, in Kazakh folklore. They lake their origin from the ancient tribes and peoples involved the ethnic formation of Kazakhs, who in their turn enriched these wealthy cultural traditions of their ancestors. The Musical Instrument is accorded the highest category of the universe in the musical myths and legends, which are u part and parcel of the traditional religious system. The Musical Instrument is considered to be the creator and the bearer of cosmic order, and the conductive medium of immaculate powers that harmoniously unify Cosmos, Nature and Man.

"Many, many years ago, there lived an old man who had seven sons. It so happened that during the famine all his sons died. After the death of the first son, the old man single-stringed a gouged piece of wood and played the kyui-requiem (kyui - a piece of instrumental music). My Dear.
After the second son's death, he stringed another cord and played the kyui Broken Wings. He dedicated the following kyui to the sons who died in succession, each time adding another string to his instrument: The fire's Cone Out; Joy Has Left Me; The Sun Has Darkened; The Moon Has Disappeared. After the death of his last son the old man stringed the seventh cord and played the requiem After Losing My Seven Sons, I've Gone Blind for all his dead sons.'

The preceding legend is about the ancient musical instrument zhetygen. (Zhety means seven in Kazakh.) The nomad invented this instrument to counteract the results of global catastrophes like the passing away of a close relative, the quenching of the fire of life, grief and the disappearance of the sun and the moon making cosmos gloom and lifeless. The only remedy for all these calamities is to overcome the grief and despair, shed cathartic tears, and play a seven-stringed instrument. It is believed that the sacred figure 'seven' is a symbol of life and vibrations from such an instrument generates a new life cycle.

The balance between the courses of Life and Death on earth can be maintained by playing the kobyz, another musical instrument recounted in the following legend about the first shaman Korkut.

'It was at the age of 20 that one day a man in white appeared before Korkut in a dream and told him he was to live only till the age of forty. Korkut decided to search for immortality. He mounted the fast, she-camel Zhelmaya and started on his long journey. On his journey he met people digging the earth and he inquired what they were digging for. They answered that they were digging a grave for Korkut. Feeling that these places were a danger to him he rode furiher and further until he travelled to all the four corners of the world. But everywhere he went, a grave was being prepared for him. Korkut returned to his native banks of Syr-Darya River in the center of the world and made the first kobyz. The hide of Zhelmaya, which he sacrificed, was tightly pulled over the instrument. He then laid a carpet by the river, sat on it and played the kobyz day and night. To the tune of his kobyz nature stilled. The flow of Syr-Darya's waters slowed down. The animals and the birds became silent. People stopped their work and even Death under the spell of his music froze daring not to approach him. At long last, Korkut tired himself and dozed off. When the kobyz he held became silent. Death, disguised as a snake, took hold of him. Korkut is now the Ruler of the Underwater World - the world of the dead. But he assists living shamans who having inherited his sacred instrument, help and guard people from premature death by playing the kobyz'.

A musical instrument, as a conductive medium of life-giving energy, opens all tamyrs (blood vessels, sinew and energy channels) in a human body, which according to Kazakh traditional medicine number 62.

'Many years ago, on the banks of Zhaik River, there lived a beautiful girl called Akzhelen. When night fell, she went to the aul (village), on a white horse. Her set of silver jewellery and white dress only accentuated her extraordinary beauty. She would sit in yurta (nomadic tent) and play all her 62 kyuis-akzhelen all night long. Each one was believed to opened a particular tamyr in the human body. A person feels revitalized and immensely delight when all these tamyrs are opened.'

There is a reverberation in this legend of the ancient notion of a pure, female deity, who with the help of music influences these human tamyrs by opening them to the life-giving current of cosmic energy.

The sound of instruments is vivifying both to people and animals. Legends of musical therapy reflect the 'theoretical' nomadic conception of the capabilities of instrumental music as well as the real life practices of such therapy.

In the 'Boz ingen" legend, a baby-camel lost its mother and was dying of hunger because other female camels would suckle it. The owner invited a shaman-musician, who managed to move the she-camel to pity with his music. In the end it started feeding the unfortunate calf.

The musical instrument's most miraculous feature is the ability to 'communicate without words'. It is this ability that saves people from death. The next legend 'Lame Kulan' confirms this notion.

'In spite of his father's prohibition the khan's son secretly went hunting. He met a herd of kulans and wounded the leader. Infuriated, Lame Kulan killed the youth with a stroke of the hoof. After waiting in vain for the return of his son from hunting, the khan declared that anyone who approached him with that estirtu (bad news) would be executed by pouring molten lead into the mouth. No one dared for a long time until an old dombrist (a person who plays the dombra) attempted. The sorrowful tune of the kyui was able to send this tragic message across to the khan. He ordered that the molten lead be poured into the dombra. That was how the opening in the upper sounding board of this musical instrument came about.'

The heroes of many legends successfully made use of the ability to pass on a message using this instrument.

The instrument becomes the spiritual twin of a person and convey to its master the thoughts and feelings of a stranger whose music he has never heard before. Here is the "Bel Asar" legend.

'Many years ago there lived a dzhigit (young Kazakh man) who stole a herd of horses. Hot with excitement, he drove the horses through the steppe and on seeing a lonely yurta decided to stop and have a drink. As the old woman prepared tea for him, he run his fingers on the strings of the dombra that lay nearby... After his cup of tea he hurriedly continued on his way. When the daughter of the old woman, a well-known dombrist in the lands, came home she told her about the guest. Having just touched her dombra the girl cried out. "That dzhigit is a thief!' He was chased, apprehended, and the herd returned to the owners.'

The ancient magical property of talking objects known to many peoples of the world is reflected in this legend.

The next legend reveals that the musical instrument is capable of practical physical action according to the will of the owner.

Different types of kobyz

"One shaman who had no horse put his kobyz to participate in a horse race. During shamanic rites, it was the kobyz and dangyra-tambourine that turned into fast horses on which the shaman backed to whatever place of the Higher, Middle and Lower Worlds inhabited by people and spirits, both good and evil. Knowing the super natural power of his kobyz the shaman tied it to a big tree in order to give the ordinary horses an upper hand in the start. The people who gathered at the finish watched in amazement as the kobyz lead the race dragging the uprooted tree behind it in a cloud of dust.

The historical development of magical and ritual instrumental music led to the formation of an independent branch of professional instrumental music. It reached the climax of its development thanks to the creative work of such eminent kyui-composers of the 19th-20th centuries as Kurmangazy, Dauletkerey, Dina, Kazangap, Yhlas, Tattimbet, Mammen, Sugur and others. This professional music art amply reflecting the life of a Kazakh nomad still adheres to its ancient sacral roots that once conceived it. The ancient notions and piety towards the instruments and music was constantly preserved in the traditional Kazakh society providing for the highest spiritual level of music art and a special deferential attitude towards the musical instruments. Common people, for example, dared not to touch the shaman's kobyz.

People took pride in the clan's outstanding musicians and rejoiced if their child showed some affection for the dombra. It was a great honour to have a musician as a guest in one's home and an even greater honour if he dedicated his new- kyui to the hosts in appreciation of their hearty hospitality. Until today, this inherited genetic code determines the Kazakhs' attitude towards their music.

Although Kazakh musical instruments resemble those belonging to other tribes of the Central Asian ethnic group, they have their peculiarities dictated by national traditions. Firstly, the instruments were made from local materials, mostly natural or produced by nomadic craftsmanship, Clay, reeds, horns, bone and different kinds of wood form the initial materials from which these instruments were made. Membranes, bowstrings and strings were obtained from animal skin, intestines and horsehair respectively. Their knowledge of blacksmith, a trade developed since times of old, permitted the manufacture of some of the metal parts needed in the construction of these instruments.

The materials used account for the particular timbres of Kazakh instruments. However, to a greater extent, the sound quality was determined by the demands of national perception that formed its own specific ideal musical sound. On the whole, Kazakh musical instruments are distinguished by there deep and mellow sounds, commonly used registers are the lower and middle, which are rich in overtones. The traditional musical ear is indifferent to clear timbres, achieved by overtones blended with the main tone. On the contrary, the instrument-making techniques and their mode of playing are aimed to produce sounds saturated with distinctly audible overtones besides the main tone. The wavering overtones impart volume and different pitch levels to the quality of the sound, the type considered as aesthetically valuable and touching in traditional music. Overtones give professional musicians unlimited freedom to imitate animated voices besides the unfamiliar non-material sounds perceived by the audience to be the voice of a spirit and not the instrument.

Narkobyz is the largest for of kylkobyz used by shaman

Playing techniques also permit the production of overtone modulations and splitting the sound into two or three, hence producing complex polyphonic effects. The conception of the sound quality of Kazakh musical instruments based solely on the studies of their structural analysis could be grievously misleading, A masterly use of overtones allows Kazakh musicians to produce a real dual-sound effect playing the single-reed flute sybyzgy, or produce real three or four distinct sounds on the double-stringed kylkobyz. An outstanding researcher and collector of Kazakh music, A. V. Zatayevieh, wrote that from the sounds produced by a double-stringed dombra he often heard a distinct third sound.

Musical instruments were used in various spheres of nomadic life - shamans magical rites (kylkobyz with metal ringers, dangyra, asatayak); shepherds' life (sybyzgy, sherter, kos syrnai, kamys syrnai); hunting (bugyshak, dauylpaz, shyndaul); military manoeuvres (dudyga, shyn, muiz syrnai, kernei, uran, dabul); children's and youth leisure (saz symai, uskirik, tastauk, konyrau, shankobyz); amateur musicians both old and young (dombra. kylkobyz without metal ringers, zhetygen, kepshik); professional music activities (dombra, kylkobyz, sybyzgy).

The peculiarities of the design of these instruments are directly linked with their functions. The oldest and simplest of them were those used for military purposes and hunting to decoy the animals by imitating the sounds they make. The dombra, as an instrument for professional musicians, is perfect in design, it is not by chance that similar instruments, classified as tambour-type chordophones, are widespread in Europe.

Traditional instrument-making docs not adhere to any fixed standard and the products made come in various shapes and sizes. They adhered to the concept that a person does not have to adjust himself to the instrument, but rather every instrument be made taking into consideration the personal constitution of the owner-to-be and the function for which it is purposed.

Many collectors and scientists occasionally studied Kazakh musical instruments. Outstanding among them however is the Kazakh scientist Bulat Shamgalievich Sarybayev who studied comprehensively their design, historic evolution and functional applications. He jointly with O. Beysembayev and A. Aukhadiyev restored and perfected many of the instruments.

According to the design, Kazakh musical instruments fall into the following groups and subgroups:

Chordophones (string instruments)

  1. Plucked - zhetygen, sherter, dombra
  2. Bowed - kyl kobyz

The zhetygen earned its name from the seven strings pulled over the frame, which is an empty box about one meter (3 ') long. Two supports in the shape of knucklebone, asyk, are placed on each side under the strings and the instrument was tuned by varying the span between them.
It is played by plucking at the strings and simultaneously pressing it on the opposite side of the support. This variation in tension of the strings produces vibrations of the sound pitches (micro pitching) giving special characteristics to the sound. By the 20th century, not even one of the zhetygen was found with Kazakhs, but thanks to the recollection of old people it has been restored. Improved types of the zhetygen are nowadays used in traditional musical ensembles and orchestras.

The next instrument, sherter, combines features of the dombra - shape - and the kobyz -gouged frame, finger-board without frets, two or three horsehair strings and leather upper board. It is smaller than the dombra and according to legends, shepherds used played it to round up the sheep. The sound it produces is so pleasing to the ear that even birds alighted beside the player. It was played in accompaniment to songs and epics. Today, improved versions are widely used in ensembles and orchestras.

The dombra can be rightly called the queen of Kazakh instruments since the 19th century. Due to its wide distribution, it now comes in many local varieties that differ in shape, fingerboard length and frets. The Western Kazakhstan dombra has a 2-octave range conforming to the elaborate nature of the region's kyui. Playing techniques reflect the dynamic style of Western Kazakhstan kyui.

The Eastern Kazakhstan dombra has a shorter fingerboard with a diapason of 1.5 octaves, which reflects the song style of local kyui and, of course, the matching techniques of playing. We also find a three-stringed dombra in Eastern Kazakhstan. The technique of playing and sound formation of the dombra is extremely manifold giving the musicians unlimited styles in any musical piece. Dombra kyui are the acme of Kazakh music evolution. Hundreds of kyui have been created, thanks to the efforts of many generations of dombrists, including geniuses, whose music has outlasted them by centuries. The kyui is the most ample reflection of the Kazakh spirit. Traditional professional singers, zhyrau (epic songers), akyn (musical-poetic contest master), sal and sere (lyric song-composer) can all not do without this most extensively played instrument - the dombra.

The kylkobyz is the most ancient bowed instrument on earth and according to one German scientist, it spread beyond the boundaries of the nomad's territory of Central Asia, becoming the prototype of all European bowed string instruments. It was cut out of a whole piece of wood in the gouged form with a membrane covering the lower part. Two strings of untwisted horsehair ran across its length and the curved neck supported a head on which rings, bells and plates hang. This instrument comes without a fingerboard. The arched bow was inlaid with bone and often a mirror was placed in the inside open part of the frame. This sacred instrument was the embodiment of cosmos for the nomad. This was substantiated by the fact that it incorporated ALL the materials used in making other instruments -wood, metal, hair, leather and bone. Its design is a synthesis of ALL instrumental groups -string, bowed, membrane, idiophone and wind. Correspondingly, the kylkobyz synthesises ALL playing techniques. It is an instrument-orchestra, exclusively rich in timbre range and an ideal embodiment of the archaic concepts of a Universal Musical Instrument, The music it produces is sacred and the sound is thought to carry some magical force. Traditionally it was used by shamans in their rituals and by epic-tellers, zhyrau, to accompany the epic.
There were simpler versions of the instrument coming in a smaller size and without any ringers intended for non-ritual use. During the Soviet era an improved 4-stringed instrument was made using violin strings and pitch for soloists, orchestras and ensembles.

Aero phones (wind instruments)

  1. Flute-type - sybyzgy, saz syniai, uskirik. tastauyk
  2. Tongued with single tongue (reed-type) - kamys syrnai, kos syrnai
  3. Mouthpiece - muiz syrnai, uran, bugyshak, kernei

The sybyzgy is the instrument most frequently mentioned in ethnographic literature of 18th-19th centuries. However, since the end of 19th century it is rarely met. It is easily made by perforating three or four finger holes in a cane 500-700 mm long. Since the 19th century sybyzgy is also made of metal. It is a favourite instrument of herdsmen and mostly used for playing songs and kyuis of lyrical character, which helped to preserve the most ancient mi: cal art, The playing technique is complex due to its primitive nature. However, it is this design that gives the quivering, 'natural' timbre and rich overtone sounds that makes playing the ancient bourdon duo phony possible. Blowing the three-holed instrument produces a scale of over two octaves. It is used in modern bands and orchestras.

Saz syrnai. Uskirik. Tastauyk. 'Syrnai' is a common name for wind instruments in Kazakh. The additional words cany information about the constituent material and design of the instrument.

Saz syrnai - an ocarina-type flute is made of fired clay. Uskirik and tastauyk ('tas' - tone, 'tauyk' - a bird in Kazakh) are similarly made. These arc children's instruments used to imitate the voices of birds and animals in addition to playing simple tunes. Improved types are very popular nowadays due to their fascinating mild timbre and used to provide a kind of colouring to the modern ensemble music.

Kamys syrnai is a reed flute while the kos syrnai consists of two reed pipes. These shepherd's instruments were used to play simple folk melodies within a limited range which varied when played repeatedly.

Muiz syrnai. Uran. Kernei. Those three instruments were used to give signals during military exercises. Muiz syrnai is made of horn. The kernei is a wooden pipe wrapped in a membrane usually the intestines of an animal.

The Bugyshak is played during hunting to decoy female marals.

Shyn metallic plate beaten to tive war signal

Membranophones (Membrane instruments)

Percussion - dabyl, dangyra, kepshik, dauylpaz, shyndauyl.

Percussion instruments were used to transmit signals. Their sounds announced events such as a forthcoming hunt, the moving of the settlement and religious rituals to the inhabitants of an aul (village). They were used during hunting and also at war. When the belligerent parties exchanged instruments it signified a cease-fire.

The dabyl is a rim covered with leather on both sides. It is often mentioned in epics.

The dangyra is covered with skin on one side with metal ringers inside. It is kindred to the Siberia shamans' tambourines and was used by Kazakh shamans.

Kepshik is just like the dangyra but without any metal ringers. It was used in private life for rhythmical accompaniment of song and dance.
Dauylpaz and shandauyl are ancient musical instruments. Their cauldron-shaped body is covered with leather on the open end. The difference between the two instruments is that the dauylpaz is wooden, while the shandauyl is metallic. Both instruments were used to producing signals during hunting and at war. Nowadays, the dauylpaz is used in orchestras.

Idiophones (self- sounding instruments)

  1. Plucked - shankobyz
  2. Noise-making - asatayak, konyrau, tokyldak, sakpan, syldyrmak

The shankobyz is a metallic, tongue-played instrument made of silver and other precious metals. To play it, it is held by the teeth and the mouth cavity serves as a resonator. Real polyphony is achieved owing to the easily achieved overtones and their distinctiveness. Its chamber sound is most suitable for the lyrical songs. The shankobyz is a favourite instrument for children and women alike.

Asatayak is a ritual noise-producing instrument taking the form of a rod, covered with metal suspensions, which is widely used by shaman in their healing rites.

Konyrau are the bells used to accompany songs and kyui. It was hung on the head of the dombra, the kylkobyz, the asatayak or put inside the frame of the instrument body where it clattered upon shaking. Women also hung them on their fingers when playing the shankobyz.

Tokyldak and sakpan are types of rattles. The syldyrmak are metallic pendants played by shaking them. Another noise-producing instrument is the tuyak tas, made from horse hoofs and played by clapping them together.

Nowadays, all these traditional instruments together with modern musical instruments with each producing at the same time its unique sound are used in various harmonious combinations in orchestras and ensembles.

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