Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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Music to "Soothe the savage breast"

The English author GK Chesterton may have thought that "music with dinner is an insult to both the cook and the violinist", but in many restaurants in the Kyrgyz Republic you will encounter music either live performances, or the "canned" variety. Some performers concentrate on classical or "easy listening" music, whilst others specialize in jazz, rock or "pop" music. It is also possible to find groups performing traditional music song and dance. With over 80 different nationalities represented in its population, the Kyrgyz Republic has a wide range of ensembles, or troupes, which can offer performances, often complete with national costume, to enrich a visit to this remote mountainous country. Several of the ensembles have recorded their own CD's and these offer the chance to take home audio memories of a visit to Kyrgyzstan. Many of them have also travelled abroad and performed in various festivals. One such group is "Jetigen" an ensemble of children, (aged between 12 and 18), based at Music School number 7 in Southern Bishkek. Having won many competitions, they were invited in 2006 to take part, representing Kyrgyzstan, in the International Festival "Children Against Terrorism" in Moscow joining with over 3500 other young performers from over 50 different countries. They have been invited back in 2007. There are also a number of other ensembles, (amateur, semi-professional or professional), such as: Do'or (an ensemble based in the Philharmonia in Bishkek); Ordo Sakhna; Muundan Muunga ("From Generation to Generation"); Enesai; and the Cossak ensemble "Kazachya Piesnya". Performances may feature a variety of traditional instruments such as the Komuz (a versatile three stringed lute, or mandolin, made usually from apricot wood and with a variety of tonal qualities), the temir komuz (or Jew's Harp), and the haunting Chopo Choor, (as well  as less traditional instruments, such as the accordian, flute, and even synthesizer) and both singing and dancing.

A special feature for a performance could be an appearance of a manaschi someone who has memorized and recites passages from the epic poem which tells of the life and adventures of the legendary hero of the Kyrgyz, Manas. The Manas epic is part of a wider tradition or storytelling being passed from one generation to the next orally and which were only written down at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Most of the Community Based Groups around the country can arrange for a musician or group of musicians to visit a homestay, or yurt. Performances in domestic surroundings can give a level of intimacy allowing the audience to get a closer acquantance with the instruments and costumes, to ask questions and perhaps, even, to try their hand playing some of them.
Also, traditional Kyrgyz music, complete with a performance by a manaschi and competitions between akyns, (a form of traditional bard), are often a feature of the many festivals which take place throughout the summer. One thing that all the performers seem to have in common, whether professional or amateur, youth group or adult ensemble, is an infectious enthusiasm for their music ... an enthusiasm which is invariably transferred to their audiences.

For those interested in erxperiencing some of the traditional culture of the region then concerts of traditional folk music, (a common feature of tours all over the world), then tour companies can arrange concert performances with or without dinner.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #8

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