Mongolia being a nomadic nation has
developed a strong tradition of vocal music. The closeness to nature and the
animal husbandry that the Mongolians have embraced for hundreds of years have
enabled a variety of amazing vocal styles to develop. They can be divided into
a number of categories: Long Song, Short Song, Throat singing, Praise, Epic,
Legend Songs, Games Songs, imitations and Sacred, Animist Song.
For the Mongolians, the long song
evokes the vast drawn out steppes. Its nostalgic tendencies generate a
preference for slow tempos, long melodic lines, wide pitch intervals and the
absence of measured rhythm. The scale used is a five note (pentatonic) scale
with no semitones. The Long song a lyrical chant made of 32 verses with a
highly ornamented melody praising the beauty of the steppe, mountains and
rivers, the love for parents or close friends, expressing reflections on human
destiny. Performances and compositions of Long Song are closely linked to the
nomadic pastoral way of life, which is still widely practiced in Mongolia.
The Long Song or Urtyn Duu is a
central element of the traditional Mongolian music. Each syllable of text is
extended for a long duration. A four-minute song may only consist of ten words.
The music varies with different ethnic groups and a lyrical theme varies
depending on context, they can be philosophical, religious, romantic or
celebratory and often use horses as a symbol or theme repeated throughout the
Some of the long songs are heard in
context and form part of a ritual event such as introductory songs to the
family or public ceremonies. Some are to accompany traditional activities such
as Naadam (festival) or animal husbandry. Long song can also be non contextual
and can be performed as entertainment after the formal ritual of festivals,
whilst riding or simply as a means of self-expression. Long songs are sung by
women and men and are usually accompanied by the Morin Khuur (Horse-Head
Fiddle) or sometimes the Limbe (Transverse Flute).
There are three main types of Long
Song “Aizam Urtyn Duu” (extended long song), “Tugeemel Urtyn Duu” (normal long
song) and “Besreg Urtyn Duu” (abbreviated long song). Each of the
different ethnic group has different long songs and long song styles associated
with them. For instance the extended long song is mainly used by the Eastern
and Central Khalkh Mongolians, whilst the abbreviated long song, is used by the
Western Khalkh Mongolians. The best long song singers are meant to come from
Dund Gobi aimag.
The Long song is believed to date back
2,000 years and have been recorded in literary works since the thirteenth
century. In 2005, UNESCO declared the Mongolian Long Song one of the
Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.