Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sounds Overheard: Tibetan Lute Melody And Song

Musical detail from Buddhist temple wall painting, Reting Monastery, Tibet.

The singer's soulful voice cut through the noisy traffic, his fingers racing over the strings of his lute-like instrument while pilgrims flowed through the gates of the Dreprung Monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa.

His voice was rather raspy, yet melodic, and blended well with the tune he produced from his worn dramyin, a traditional Himalayan folk music lute common in Tibet.  Sitting cross legged on the ground, he was accepting offerings of small Chinese currency, many Fen, worth a couple of pennies each, with a few one and five Yuan notes in his collection box, valued at a couple of dimes.

Listen to natural sound recording of street performer singing folk song and playing a seven stringed dramyin. 1 minute 23 seconds. 

Last month while traveling in Tibet I encountered several such minstrels, who carry on the Tibetan tradition of oral story telling through song, with dramyins often accompanying their narratives. While in the field I simply enjoyed the music and ambiance of the the ancient temple setting, but upon my return Wikipedia's technical description of the Tibetan lute helped explain what I was hearing.

The dramyin is a long-necked, double-waisted and fretless lute. It is usually hollowed out of a single piece of wood and can vary in size from 60 cm to 120 cm in length (2 to 4 feet). Unlike a contemporary guitar, the dramyin does not have a round sound hole in the wooden sounding board but rather a rosette-shaped ones like a lute. Of its seven strings, only six continue to the pegbox. The seven strings occur in two double courses, and one triple course.

The triple course of the dramyin typically contains the half string on the left, which is usually tuned an octave above the middle unison strings. One of the other two courses are typically tuned an octave apart. The courses are normally plucked in unison during playing. Typically a single note is played at a time, making for melodic music and not harmony. 
During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard.  More examples of journalistic photography from China can be viewed at my Miami corporate photography site.

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