BRATTLEBORO—The central Asian republic of Tuva is home to one of the world’s most remarkable indigenous musical traditions.
Historically nomadic herdsmen engage in a style of throat singing whereby individual singers produce two or more notes simultaneously, often a low drone and a high-pitched melody or other-worldly vocal effects not found in western music.
The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) will bring this music to southern Vermont on Thursday, April 30, at 7 p.m., when the Alash Ensemble, a trio of Tuvan throat singers, will perform in the museum’s Wolf Kahn & Emily Mason Gallery.
According to BMAC Director Danny Lichtenfeld, the ancient tradition of Tuvan throat singing first gained attention in the United States in the 1980s, because of the interest of Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynmann and the work of Dartmouth College enthnomusicologist Theodore Levin.
Soon thereafter, recordings of the music began to be available on independent world-music labels.
“In the mid 1990s, I came into possession of a CD of this amazing music, which I’ve listened to on and off ever since,” said Lichtenfeld. “One of the tracks featured a child singer named Bady-Dorzhu Ondar. It occurred to me recently that Ondar would be an adult now, so I Googled him and learned that he is part of a trio, the Alash Ensemble, which performs traditional Tuvan music around the world.”
Lichtenfeld contacted the trio and made arrangements for them to detour to Brattleboro between tour stops in South Carolina and Baltimore. In addition to giving a public concert at BMAC, the Alash Ensemble will visit Putney Central School and do a workshop there with middle school students.
The Alash Ensemble is named for the Alash River, which runs through the northwestern region of Tuva. All three members of Alash were trained in traditional Tuvan music since childhood, first learning from their families and later becoming students of master throat singers.
The ensemble performs both traditional and western-influenced Tuvan music, employing traditional instruments and Tuvan-European hybrids of their own design. Alash has won numerous awards and has collaborated with such artists as the Sun Ra Arkestra and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.
Sean Quirk, an American who studied music in Tuva and now makes Tuva his home, provides commentary in English to bridge the cultural and musical gap for the American audience.