In Kyrgyz art, pride of
place is given to instrumental music. All inhabitants of a nomad group
- from children to the elderly gather together to listen the master
instrumentalists play. The most fascinating festivals are those in
which music competitions are held. An instrumental ensemble was also an
essential element of military campaigns.
The main feature of the distinctive style of
Kyrgyz music is its ability to conjure up images in the mind. These
range widely from the heroic with dramatic (epic) effects, to the
beauty of natural scenery (mountains, trees and streams) and domestic
Among the numerous national
instruments the most widespread and popular is the komuz, which has a
rich repertoire. It is a stringed instrument, made from a single piece
of wood (apricot or juniper are the favoured timbers), and plucked like
a guitar. While playing it, the three strings are clasped by the left
hand to the fingerboard and the right hand is used to pluck the strings
in a variety of ways to draw out the sounds. It is a very old
instrument. In 1962, near the village of Shamsy in the Chui valley,
archaeologists made a number of amazing discoveries - including the
famous "Golden Mask" along with a komuz dating from the 4th and 5th
centuries (it remains in the custody of the Historical Museum along
with a number of other artefacts found at the same time but they are
not on open display due to the lack of a suitable exhibition hall.)
There are a number of legends about the origin of the komuz. One tells
of a Kyrgyz hunter, Kambarkan, who spoke the 'language' of many birds
and wild animals, and could recognise each of them by their voice.
Once, when he was in the forest, he heard a new and wonderful sound. He
was so taken by this incredible new sound that he could not leave the
forest until he had discovered its source, and so he looked around to
see if he could find where it was coming from. He climbed a tree to get
a better vantage point, and there he saw two branches of a neighbouring
tree connected by the dried intestine of a squirrel. The sound seemed
to emanate from that 'string'. Perhaps, he thought to himself, she had
tried jumping from one branch of the tree to another, but cut herself
open. Anyway, he took the string and a piece of wood from the tree and
fashioned for himself a musical instrument - and became known as the
Father of Melody. Another legend tells how an old komuz player
befriended a nightingale that was so entranced by his playing that she
asked him to teach her to sing like the komuz - giving rise to a saying
that the instrument taught even the nightingale how to sing.
The temir komuz has become
as much a musical symbol of Kyrgyz as the komuz. This instrument can be
extremely small and is probably better known in the west as the "jew's
harp" and variations are found in Yakutia and Tuva, Britain, Norway,
American, France and even in Australia.
Made of iron, (the name means 'iron komuz'), it is
shaped in the form of a broken, stretched circle with two prongs, and
attached to the centre is a steel plate. The sound is made by placing
the prongs between the lips and striking the steel plate - and
adjusting the shape of the hollow of the mouth. Tradition has it that
if a temir komuz is played near the cradle of a new born infant, then
the baby will grow up clever, gifted and eloquent.
In 2004 the International Association of Jew's
Harp Music published in Iowa an article written by the Director of a
Music School Ensemble (similar to the Jetigen ensemble featured
elsewhere) that called upon Kyrgyz businessmen to display patriotism,
and provide aid to temir-komuz players.
This is one of the most popular wind instruments.
It is usually made out of clay (but sometimes wood), and sits
comfortably in the palm of your hand like a putty-shaped ball with
To much of the music there is a religious
significance, closely connected with Kyrgyz shamanism. Percussion
instruments, such as the dobulbas and asa-tayak are used. A dobulbas is
a one-sided framed drum with wed tied around one end. The sound is made
by striking it with the hands. The asa-tayak is made out of wood in the
shape of baton. Bells and other iron objects are attached to this
framework as additional sources of sounds that are generated by rocking
or striking the sharp end of instrument on the ground.
Some of these instruments can be seen on the
reverse of the 1-som note.