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Central Asia: Masters Try To Revive Old Ways Of Teaching Traditional Music

Musicians from across Central Asia gathered on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul in eastern Kyrgyzstan recently for a workshop on traditional music. For 12 days in August, more than 100 students and their teachers played songs beneath the snow- capped Tien Shan Mountains near the Chinese border. They also explored ways traditional music has been passed down through the generations in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The workshop departs from the way modern Western notation used to teach music in Central Asia during the Soviet era. As RFE/RL reports, it is part of broader attempts by Central Asian masters to revive ancient oral musical traditions that suffered under the Soviet education system.

Chok-Tal, Kyrgyzstan; 13 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- One of the most fascinating aspects of the Summer School of Traditional Music in eastern Kyrgyzstan is the way it has brought together ancient musical ideas and teaching methods from different parts of Central Asia.

Nuriddin Rakhmonkulov is a 15-year-old from northern Tajikistan who is obsessed with his local musical heritage. His hometown of Khodjent is at the western edge of the Ferghana Valley -- a region that includes parts of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. It is a place where ancient Persian and Turkic cultures have been blending together for centuries.

Rakhmonkulov is studying a six-cycle musical form known as shashmakom. These instrumental and vocal traditions date back to the 7th century and have ties to Sufism -- the mystic branch of Islam that also incorporates influences of ancient shamanism.

Rakhmonkulov sings of a new spring coming, a flower bed that begins to flourish after a long winter, and blossoms that inspire other flowers to bloom:

The song poetically captures the essence of the summer music camp. The students and teachers there have come from special music schools across Central Asia -- and they are inspiring each other as they try to revive the ancient oral methods of teaching music that had been neglected under the Soviet system.

Rakhmankulov's own school is a center for musical prodigies called Hunar -- which means "art" or "talent" in Tajik. Others at the workshop come from similar schools in Dushanbe, Bishkek, Almaty, and Kazakhstan's western city of Kzyl-Orda.

Almas Almatov is a famous performer and teacher who traveled to Lake Issyk-Kul with four of his students from the Turan school and research center in Kzyl-Orda.

Formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Almatov's institution has rigorous entry standards that aim to preserve ancient Kazakh artistic traditions. One requirement is a family lineage of musicians dating back at least seven generations. Students also must demonstrate profound talent.

Almatov says his school also is using ancient teaching principles where masters called "ustads" pass on the music and legends of Kazakh folklore directly through oral instruction, rather than the modern European method of written notation introduced under the Soviet education system.

"Our [method of teaching] the traditional singing called 'jyr' has been acknowledged by the Ministry of Education of Kazakhstan and standardized. So it is now being taught as a subject at specialized schools for music. This year, five of our students graduated [after completing this new program at the Turan school.] We are planning to accept another 10 new students [this year]," Almatov says.

Gulshat Baisabaeva is a professor of musicology at the Kyrgyz National Conservatory in Bishkek who joined the workshop. Baisabaeva also teaches about "ulamysh" -- ancient Kyrgyz myths and legends -- at the Ustat-shakirt Center in the Kyrgyz capital:

"We work like our Kyrgyz ancestors taught us. I am not a conservative. Let young people know all about the world's music -- oriental or modern Western music. I am proud of young talented musicians who can recognize Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' in the middle of the night. But sometimes, people have arranged the traditional and tragic Kyrgyz melody of 'Sarynjy Bokoi' in a way that has girls dancing to it. This is not right. We should start by learning about our own history," Baisabaeva said.

Contrary to what is typical in general education in Central Asia, where a majority of school teachers are women, most "ustads" tend to be older men. One younger master from Tajikistan who took part in the workshop was 26-year-old Tojiddin Rakhimov.

Having studied as a child himself under Muzafor Mukhidinov -- one of Tajikistan's revered masters -- Rakhimov tells RFE/RL he feels it is now his turn to pass along the knowledge to young talents. "I myself grew up as an orphan," he says. "That is why I love children very much. When I learned this art of music, I wanted to work with children. I love to teach what I know to the children."

Two of Rakhimov's students from the Navo music center in Dushanbe traveled with him to the summer workshop at Lake Issyk-Kul.

One is Latofat Abdurashidova, a 7-year-old girl who memorizes traditional Persian poetry set to music. Another is a 7-year-old boy named Faridun Mamadaliev. Together the children are studying "aruz" -- a system of quantitative poetics used in classical verse -- like pentameter or hexameter. They sing to the accompaniment of Rakhimov on a long-necked Central Asian lute called a kashgar rubab.

(RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz contributed to this report.)

See also:

Ancient European Music Meets Central Asian Masters

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