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Mongolian art and culture




With Mongolia's historic shift to a market economy and democratic society, the nation's approach to the arts changed. The culture and art community was not prepared to face the new trends. This brought a few years of practical collapse of the arts.
But with the changes, a new approach to national folk music, especially to the disappearing unique songs and music of Mongolian tribes, was initiated on the part of the Government of Mongolia. A project was implemented jointly with UNESCO to audially and visually document the oral music heritage of the Mongols and set up a national fund of recordings, which now resides in the National Archives. The most successful performance groups at the moment are the Tumen Ekh Ensemble (a private traditional performance group), the State Circus, which travels around the world, and the State Morin Khuur Ensemble, which has also enjoyed international and national success in recent years.

The flourishing of ballet and classic music development in the 1970s and 1980s was indeed a unique stage in the history of the national arts. Some groups that thrived during socialism are now struggling. The Symphony Orchestra, for example, only plays concerts by reservation. The Mongolian State Philharmonics, an organization founded in 1972 which was the face of Mongolian music abroad, doesn't serve the same place in the new society which encourages individual ventures.

There are three fully state-run organizations: State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet, the Academic Theater of National Drama, and State Academic Ensemble of Folk Dance and Music. These operate regularly but are dependent on the state budget. World classics are still displayed on the Mongolian stage regularly, as well as Mongolian productions. In the summer of 2003, a new opera premiered, "Chinggis Khaan", by B. Sharav. It teslls the story of Chinggis Khaan in his youth, and weaves traditional Mongolian elements with Western classical opera.


Mongolian music is a reaction to our surroundings and life. Caring for a baby provokes melody. Seeing a calf being rejected, its mother is convinced to return by singing. Seeing white gers spread across the green pasture inspires a proud melody. Traveling a long way on horseback, riding sets a pace, the pace delivers rhyme, and here again the song is involuntary. Hurrying to one's beloved, the heartbeat composes another melody. The sources of song are endless. Birthdays, weddings, national holidays, winning a horse race or wrestling competition, celebration of the elderly, mare's milk brewing, wool cutting, cashmere combing, and harvest comprise an endless chain of reasons for singing and dancing.

Through the ages, music has spread around Mongolia through home teaching and festivities. Any family or clan event was a good chance for musicians and singers to gather together. Coming from different areas, most often representing different tribes, people had the opportunity to perform, to learn from others and to take home a new melody or song. In this way, the ancient patterns of various corners of Mongolia have been preserved by local masters for the whole nation.

Some specific types of Mongolian song are: 

  • Labor song. These are melodies sung while working.

    The hunter's call attracts the animal by imitating its call in order to select a specific type of animal and to hunt with certainty, without wounding.

    Various herder's calls manage the flock by signaling to go to pasture, return home, generate more milking, encourage insemination, bring a mother back to her calf, and so on.
  • Buuvey song. A buuvey song is a lullaby, or any sweet melody expressing a mother's boundless love for her baby. "BuuveyЕ buuveyЕ buuveyЕ" is repeated while caressing a child to make him or her sleep. The melody may come from the heart of mother and be improvised. There are also lullaby songs with legends already composed, learned by the family and distributed to other families and generations.
  • "Uukhay" or "guiyngoon" song. These are encouraging and provoking calls, connected with seasonal events. As warm days arrive, mare's milk flows and the horse race training reaches its peak, the "guiyngoon" songs of little riders is heard in every direction. It is followed by songs of victorious winners, be it a rider, a wrestler or archery master. Fans chant the "uukhay!" encouraging song, which roughly means "go ahead".
  • Mongol Hoomii. Mongol hoomii involves producing two simultaneous tones with the human voice. It is a difficult skill requiring special ways of breathing. One tone comes out as a whistle-like sound, the result of locked breath in the chest being forced out through the throat in a specific way, while a lower tone sounds as a base. Hoomii is considered musical art - not exactly singing, but using one's throat as an instrument.

    Depending on the way air is exhaled from the lungs, there are various ways of classifying hoomii, including Bagalzuuryn (laryngeal) hoomii, Tagnainy (palatine) hoomii, Hooloin (guttural) hoomii, Hamryn (nasal) hoomii, and Harhiraa hoomi: under strong pressure in the throat, air is exhaled while a lower tone is kept as the main sound.

    Professional hoomi performers are found in only a few areas with certain traditions. The Chainman district of Hovd aimag (province) is one home of hoomii. Tuva, a part of Russia to the north of Mongolia, is also a center of Hoomii.
  • Long song. Another unique traditional singing style is known as Urtiin duu, or long song. It's one of the oldest genres of Mongolian musical art, dating to the 13th century. Urtiin duu involves extraordinarily complicated, drawn-out vocal sounds. It is evocative of vast, wide spaces and it demands great skill and talent from the singers in their breathing abilities and guttural singing techniques.

    Long songs relate traditional stories about the beauty of the native land and daily life, to which Mongolians offer blessings. These feelings are formed into majestic, profound songs, such as "The Pleasure Sharing Sun of Universe", "The Old Man and the Bird", "The One and Only Real Love", "Sunjidmaa, the Beloved".
  • Epics and legends. This ancient genre, enriched by generations, combines poetry, songs, music and the individuality of each performer. Singers may sing with or without a musical instrument. These sung stories are told from memory and may have thousands of quatrains. Such long stories are usually performed on a long winter night.

    By combining stories, music and drama, herders organize a kind of home school. The children, while playing various collective games with bone and wooden toys, listen to the songs and learn about history, life and folklore.

    "Geser", "Jangar", "Khan Kharakhui", and "Bum Erdene" are classic legend and story songs. Each is a library of folk wisdom and national heritage.

Traditional Mongolian instruments include:  

  • morin-khuur" (horse head-decorated 2-string cello) New!!! 2009
  • modon tsuur" (string instrument)
  • yatga" (psaltery-like horizontal string instrument)
  • limbe" (flute)
  • shudarga" (3-string sitar-technique instrument)
  • yochin" (multi-string horizontal instrument with echoing box)
  • khuuchir" (cittern-like string instrument)
  • tumurkhuur" or "khulsankhuur" (metal or bambuu leaf resonance based instrument)
  • buree" (trumpet-like instrument)
  • bishguur" (cow horn flute)
  • tsan khengereg" (drum)

Beginning in the 1920s, the European styles, techniques, and instruments introduced by the USSR radically changed the understanding and views of Mongolians. Musicians, singers, and dancers studied in the USSR, and there were a number of state supported theatres, opera, and ballet troupes. New forms of music introduced include:

  • Songs for broad public;
  • Musical;
  • National opera;
  • Symphonic works;
  • Concerts;
  • Philharmonic works;
  • Film music;
  • Circus and band music;
  • Rock Pop Music;

New visions, new ways of life, and a new social order provided new challenges for the development of professional music. The Mongolian State Philharmonics, founded in 1972, was an organization comprised of the National Symphony Orchestra, the "Bayan Mongol" jazz band, and "Soyol-Erdene" Traditional Song and Dance Ensemble. The Philharmonics introduced European music and music by Mongolian classical composers to Mongolian audiences and foreign countries.

B. Damdinsuren, S. Gonchigsumlaa and L. Murdorj are some of the greatest contributors to modern Mongolian national music. Bileg Damdinsuren (1919-1992) composed the first classic Mongolian opera "The Three Sad Hills". (See photo No. 5) Sembe Gonchigsumlaa (1915-1991)was the first to write Mongolian ballet music. Luvsanjants Murdorj (1919-1996) is the father of Mongolian symphonies.

Music by N.Jantsannorov, Ts.Natsagdorj, B.Sharav, S.Baatarsukh and H.Bilegjargal has marked a new stage in the development of modern classical music in Mongolia. Mongolian composers and choreographers are infusing Mongolian elements into European classical forms of art in different ways.

  • Mongolian Art and Culture. //
Photo. Folklore show in Ulaanbaatar.

Photo. Folklore show in Ulaanbaatar.

Photo. Folklore show in Ulaanbaatar.

Photo. Folklore show in Ulaanbaatar.

Photo. Folklore show in Ulaanbaatar.

Photo. Folklore show in Ulaanbaatar.

Photo. Folklore show in Ulaanbaatar.

Photo. Folklore show in Ulaanbaatar.



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