PROMOTING TRADITIONAL MUSIC THROUGH SERIES OF TEACHING SEMINARS (2012)

Promoting Traditional Music (2012)

In 2011 Aigine CRC in the framework of its two year project initiated and has been conducting a training seminar on playing komuz using Nurak Abdrakhmanov’s En Belgi system. The training seminar is divided into 3 separate seminar sessions, spring, summer and fall, and designed for high school and specialized music school teachers throughout the country. However, during the recruitment phase, college and university teachers of music were also included. Direct cooperation with music teachers ensured introduction andincorporation of the traditional teaching methodology on komuz playing, En belgi, in a formal curriculum, which became one of the main achievements of the seminar.

In 2011, the Aigine CRC maintained selection of participants in two rounds, application submission followed by an interview. Main selection criteria included a) completion of a higher music institution; b) familiarity withkomuz; c) teaching experience at a state institution; d) letter of support from workplace; e) availability to participate in all the three seminar sessions; f) interest in traditional knowledge. One of the strategic goals during selection was recruitment of teachers from remote areas, especially rural mountainous areas. As it was anticipated, we faced certain difficulties and challenges in reaching out to those areas. The absence of communication means at schools and weak network of regional education departments, made it difficult to disseminate the seminar information. But network of our regional practitioners and collaborators and contemporary means of social networking played an important role in extending our publicity campaign. Thus, in 2011, we have selected 16 out of 26 applicants for the teaching seminar. These 16 teachersrepresented high and specialized music schools, as well as colleges and universities in all 7 provinces of Kyrgyzstan.

The year-long program of the teaching seminar was evenly divided between three sessions, 1) spring set-up session aimed at introducing basics of the En Belgi system and learning elementary-level melodies and folk songs; 2) extended summer session with a goal of mastering conditional sings and hand playing techniques, as well as learning advanced-level melodies; 3) final fall session was designed to review all the melodies and materials of the previous two sessions, analyze participants’ progress and based on abovementioned grant a certificate acknowledging their ability to teach komuz with En Belgi system.

Certainly, the first year of the seminar presented certain challenges in many respects, from the selection process to developing the seminar program. The composition of the first year group was quite diverse, some being professional musicians and some being total amateurs without any music background. As a consequence, this group worked more in groups and established a great team spirit. During the seminar, participants formed an ensemble under a self-proclaimed name En Belgi group with a ready repertoire for performances. The strength of this group was in each participant’s ability to absorb and deeply get imbued with spiritual and traditional mentorship system following suit of their mentor, Nurak Abdrakhmanov. By the end of the seminar year, all of them started using En Belgi as part of their school curriculum, as well as, conducting komuz lessons as extra curriculum activity for all interested individuals.

The selection criteria for a new group in 2012 were the same as in 2011. But the most important part, the publicity campaign didn’t pose much difficulty, as participants of the 2011 group disseminated seminar related information in their regions and, thus, locally have formed small groups of interested and motivated teachers. Therefore, the publicity campaign in 2012 was entirely self-organized by them. Motivation and interest of teachers in disseminating information and recruiting new participants became a strong indicator of the En Belgi seminar’s success among teachers and students. However, the course of the work and progress of both groups went in different ways and addressed different aspects of traditional teaching methodology.

In 2012, we selected 14 teachers with a diverse geographical representation. The majority of participants were from mountainous rural southern provinces and, most importantly included, representatives of Kyrgyz minority living in Murgab, Tajikistan, as the art of playing komuz is fading away there. We are far from saying that there are no komuz players in Murgab, but, mostly they are self-taught “musicians” playing by ear. Another issue is the scarcity of their repertoire, for it is limited to certain popular and standard folk songs and melodies. Thus, there is a danger of people becoming disinterested and losing interest in komuz if contemporary art is only about repetition of the same repertoire over and over. The absence of a teaching methodology and network of komuz teachers puts the art of komuz at risk. Therefore, it was significant to include, at least, two teachers from Murgab, who, in turn, would be able to train other teachers and students. Thus, the Aigine CRC was able to reach out, not only to different corners of Kyrgyzstan, but also to Kyrgyz communities in mountainous Murgab.

The 2012 group, except for two teachers from Murgab, had strong theoretical, practical and professional music background and were proficient komuz players. The program of the sessions was the same as in 2011, although with certain modifications. However, the focus of the work and its course was quite different; the peculiarity of the 2012 group was their avid professionalism and thirst for knowledge. Due to their individualistic nature, a strong team spirit was not established during the seminar. At the end of the set-up seminar in spring, participants requested to have 30 minutes of individual training with N. Abdrakhmanov every day during the upcoming session. This individualistic approach became a strongest feature of this group as it allowed them to master the En Belgi in minute details and advanced melodies on a deeper and professional level. The participants expressed their amazement at the perfect sounding and explicit reproduction of folk melodies with the En Belgi system. Therefore, the group was eager to learn more variety of advanced melodies during the seminar. They have been working and perfecting every detail of hand playing technique and conditional signs all the difficulties notwithstanding. N. Abdrakhmanov strongly believes that participants of this group, in particular, will be able to continue his work on restoring long-forgotten folk melodies and songs and putting them on En Belgi system. Therefore, the Aigine CRC holds a firm belief that due to their strong motivation for professional growth, these 13 teachers will become the most ardent and professional bearers of the En Belgi systemadvocates for “purity” of traditional melodies, and will raise new generation of professional komuz players educated in an authentically-traditional way. The participants keep putting different melodies and songs into the En Belgi and collecting wealth of material for a new book. Thus, the Aigine CRC together with N. Abdrakhmanov and one of his most dedicated apprentices, Cholpon Alymbekova, have nurtured both, bearers of traditional mentorship system, and dedicated professional komuz players with a strong motivation to reproduce ancient-old folk melodies and songs on En Belgi.

We will not be mistaken if we are to say that each participant’s achievement is the number and success of their students in learning komuz with the En Belgi system. Each participant has, at least, 5-7 students, who have already started taking part and performing in different events. It is also important to share the unique teaching experience of Nuraiym Isaeva, a participant from mountainous Ak-Talaa village in Naryn province. She taught komuz playing with En Belgi to an American Peace Corps volunteer from a neighboring village, and during four short months, her student managed to acquire all the knowledge needed to master advanced level melodies in the book and, furthermore, launched a study group for school students in her village and started teaching komuz before she left back to the states. As a result, not only participants are teaching students, but their students are becoming able to teach others. Thus, the Aigine CRC is firmly convinced in revitalization of traditional mentorship system and its further sustainable development.

The Aigine CRC found it efficient to start incorporating traditional teaching methodology from the “bottom”, through komuz lessons, instead of going through the bureaucratic system of the Ministry of Education. Having been able to cover all the 7 provinces, we were able to build a strong and stable network of teachers throughout the country motivated to promote and transmit their knowledge to their students. We are now assured that our seminar participants, the teachers themselves, will advocate and incorporate En Belgi into formal education as an example of efficient teaching methodology. They have already started teaching komuzwith En Belgi within their own schools and, we believe, that soon enough the En Belgi will be officially incorporated into state teaching curriculum, as it’s already being introduced not only in high schools, but also in specialized music schools, colleges and universities. As a next step, the Aigine CRC is planning to coordinate incorporation of En Belgi into state subsidized structure of Youth Education Centers. YEC branches are widely distributed and represented throughout the country.

The highlight, main result and achievement of the two-year seminar was a performance of 65 peopleat the society building of the National Philharmonic Hall in Bishkek on December 22, 2012. The Aigine CRC organized and conducted the concert as a presentation of the seminar’s result, which, at the same time, was dedicated to lifetime work of N. Abdrakhmanov and consisted of melodies and songs composed and written by the master. The concert was a perfect indicator of the project’s sustainability. The Aigine CRC fulfilled its objective and initial plan to train and gather more than 50 komuz players at one stage performing traditional melodies learned by means of the En Belgi system. Participants of both seminars, each came with 2-3 students, who learned komuz with En Belgi. The age range of the students was diverse, from elementary to university students. It was difficult not to observe the excitement, joy and motivation of students during the rehearsals; it was also quite pleasant to observe how N. Abdrakhmanov was radiating with joy while working with teachers and their students. Thus, we witnessed the “birth” of young generation of komuz players,revitalization of traditional mentorship system and transmission of traditional music from one generation to another. The Aigine CRC is strongly motivated to accumulate financial resources and, in the near future, organize series of concerts in the regions with the En Belgi ensemble. We hold a strong belief that these people, independently, with different group compositions, will continue their performances on different occasions.

It was a powerful scene, giving goose bumps to anyone listening, when the ensemble of 65 komuz players were performing at the same time. The strength, profoundness and the beauty of the sound of komuz was astonishing. Performance of outstanding komuz players of our time, prominent manaschys, talented contemporary celebrities and gifted young dancers – breathed beam of strong light and freshness and brought joy to people’s heart on these gloomy winter days, especially right after the Mayan prophetic “dooms day”. If we are to calculate all the expenses, then organization of such a large-scale event will cost around 10,000 USD (470,000 KGS); however, the Aigine CRC was able to minimize this cost to 4,400 USD (207,000 KGS). It was achieved not due to large financial contribution of some sponsors, but thanks to: a) participants and their students, who took care of their accommodation and partial meals, b) celebrated singers for performing free of charge, c) National Philharmonic Hall for minimizing the cost of the rent, d) Ministry of Culture for negotiating with the Philharmony, e) National TV Channels for broadcasting announcement free of charge, f) fellow tribesmen of N. Abdrakhmanov for mobilization. We also would like to emphasize significant financial contribution of the Parliamentarian, K.Samakov. The concert wouldn’t have such scale and success if not the help and contribution of the abovementioned parties.

The importance of the En Belgi system in revitalizing, preserving and developing the traditional music has been emphasized number of times by musicians, teachers, practitioners and researchers. In roder to further enhance and develop the efficiency of En Beli and the book, participants suggested considering the following changes to the book:

–        to indicate, if possible, each hand playing technique with a special sign or symbol;

–        to include special signs for slow and speedy playing;

–        to include more theory and theoretical information for those without music education, because the book is easy to perceive and use for musicians; however, somewhat difficult for amateurs.

Participants also expressed their opinion that development and issuance of books on En Belgi system separately for high school and music school students would be a very unique and important teaching aid.

The Aigine CRC feels grateful to N. Abdrakhmanov who has spent more than 36 years of his life searching for and developing this unique system – an embodiment of tradition and innovation. He used traditional teaching methodology of his forefathers, thus preserving the authentic reproduction of sounds, and integrating it with contemporary music concepts by further developing and adjusting the playing techniques to the needs and understanding of the modern society.

Based on the results of our four-year experience, we can state with certainty that the initiative of publishing a book on the En Belgi system and mentoring teachers through series of teaching seminars became a successful project, in terms of sustainability, self-organization of teachers and subsequent evolution of the system and, as a result, prosperity of traditional music culture.

As tangible results of our activities, we have:

–        Self-organized and growing network of bearers of the En Belgi system and traditional teaching methodology (to be exact, 26 teachers throughout the country with each having approximately ten students);

–        Incorporation of the En Belgi into formal education (elementary and high schools, specialized music schools, colleges and universities);

–        En Belgi Group ensemble of seminar participants with ready and growing repertoire for regular performances (concerts of traditional music at Marko Polo and during the visit of Kyrgyz minority group in Tajikistan (2011); at the International Symposium (2012), during the visit of TCF’s Board members (2012), presentation of the video version of the Manas epic, (2012));

–        Successful concert with participation of 2011-2012 seminar participants together with their students (65 people) at the Society Hall of the Kyrgyz  National Philharmonic Hall and celebration of N. Abdrakhmanov’s 65-year anniversary and official presentation and debut of the seminar participants.

–        Birth of a new song Issyk-Kol, the 2011 group’s anthem;

–        Launch of the regular komuz course for all the interested parties mentored by Cholpon Alymbekova, adjunct instructor to N.Abdrakhmanov starting from January 2012;

–        Stepping on to the academic terrain – Abdubaliev B., komuz instructor from the OshSU’s [1] music department chose to work on Traditional Motives in N.Abdrakhmanov’s Work during his PhD. Starting from January 2012 he will have 10 days internship at the Aigine CRC to start his initial research. Second participant, Jakypov K., komuz instructor from the NTTU named after I. Arabaev, together with N.Abdrakhmanov and Aigine CRC will prepare a manual on komuz playing based on En Belgi system for middle and high school students by the end of 2013.


[1] Osh State University