Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday's Musical Extravaganza

Yes, there will be a movie:

...but wait! Today's post is not about that, it is about stuff I learned on my trip to the museum for musical instruments in Almaty.
The Museum of Musical instruments.  Yes, this is really it.  No, it isn't a war museum...I promise.

The museum is located near the memorial to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War in Panfilov park.  I believe that it is open every day except for Tuesday and admission is just 200 Tenge (about $1.30). The exhibition rooms are well laid out and the instruments are displayed beautifully.  All of the text is in Russian and Kazakh, so do your research first if you don't speak one of those languages pretty fluently.  The bulk of the exhibit covers instruments from Kazakhstan, however there are several rooms dedicated to instruments from other countries in Central Asia and from as far off as India, Africa, East Asia, and Western Europe.  As an added bonus, for 200 Tenge extra, you can enjoy a demonstration of the Dombra, Kobyz, and the mongolian sybyzgy jar flute in a small recital hall that is shaped and decorated like a large Yurt.

One of the exhibition rooms

There are several string instruments commonly found in Kazakhstan.  The most famous is the Dombra (see earlier posts for a demonstration).  The Dombra is lute-like in shape, but with only two strings and significantly smaller.  Also worth noting is is a very short bridge and a small resonating hole.  There is a revival of this instrument at the moment and it is not uncommon to see young people carrying them. There was one Dombra in the museum that had strings on both sides of the body.  I am still trying to imagine someone playing both sides at once.

Equally famous, if slightly less popular, is a string instrument called the Kobyz.  The Kobyz has between two and four strings (depending on when and where it was made) and has a body shaped like hollowed out gourds.  Unlike the Dombra, the Kobyz is a bowed instrument with no frets and an off center tail piece. According to legend playing the Kobyz "maintains the balance between the courses of Life and Death on earth."  It is an instrument that is played by Shaman and supposedly helps guard against premature death (for more about this legend and others connected with instruments of Kazakhstan, click here).  Variations on the Kobyz have hide or wood stretched across the resonating body.

There is also a common bell instrument called an Acatayak.  You will see this in many shapes, from the ends of a staff, to a hand held hammer fashioned in the shape of a horse's head. This is another instrument used by Shaman in healing ceremonies.
A cool map detailing the "where" of all of the Kazakh instruments displayed in the museum

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