THE JEW’S HARP IN YAKUTIA: RELATIONS BETWEEN CURRENT INDIVIDUAL LEARNING PRACTICIES AND THE INSTRUMENT AS AN ETHNIC SYMBOL.
Centre for Landscape and Culture, Tallinn University, Estonia
In: T. Selke, K. Kotta & G. Lock (eds.), Music and environment (Proceedings of the 2nd international conference The Changing Face of Music Education, Tallinn, Estonia, April 23–25, 2009), www.tlu.ee/CFME09
The jew’s harp is played in different parts of the world, but in postcommunist Republic Sakha (Yakutia – Siberia) the jew’s harp (khomus) is particularly significant in Yakut society. Khomus is currently one of the emblems of Yakutia and Yakut people. This instrument is still made by Yakut blacksmiths, who are in competition to make the best instruments, which may become famous because they are played by professional musicians and sold to foreigners. This position of the khomus as an ethnic instrument is quite new in Yakutia.
The main idea of the paper is to present how, in the biggest Republic of Siberia, the learning practices of the jew’s harp changed since the fall of the USSR in relation with the social transformations.
Indeed, ethnographic researches among the old generation show that, at the beginning of the century this instrument was only an intimate instrument, mostly played by women. According to Khudjakov, one famous Russian ethnographer of the end of the XIXth century, khomus was use by female shamans during rituals. Today, playing the khomus is a manner for a person, a men or women, to claim that he or she belongs to Yakut people. Cultural representatives of the government organize festivals and concerts, during what family groups or groups of a hundred people use to play. A diachronic analysis will explain the relation between these facts.
The participative observation gives the opportunity to understand the methods of learning and to see that, even if professional musicians try to write music for the khomus, this instrument still necessitates an oral learning. What was only an improvisation practice becomes progressively codified by blacksmiths and musicians, who divide the khomus in two categories: the singing and the talking instruments. My hypothesis is that the khomus as an instrument of improvisation is the best music instrument for a people, which was at the beginning of the XXth century without writing.
During my talk, I will propose to listen to the typical Yakut jew’s harp sounds and to watch pieces of movies. It will help me to show the ethnic implications of the musical education thought the example of people who had only oral traditions before the Soviet period.
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