There are many different types of Mongolian overtone‑singing (höömii), all of which involve the sounding of a fundamental drone while simultaneously producing flute‑like notes in a series of chosen harmonics or partials of the fundamental. In most types, these high notes form a melody. A third note is sometimes distinguished, in the pitch range between drone and melody.
Although now performed by ensemble
Prior to being elevated during the 1930s and 1940s into a national and classical art form, höömii was used for a variety of purposes. The Western Khalkha Gereltsogt (IN) recalled two contexts: his herdsman father, "Singer" Sereeter (Duuch Sereeter), performed "With a cup" (ayagatai) to lull the baby to sleep and without a cup to call yaks in the mountains. höömii is used by Urianghais (Tuvans) for both of these purposes (Pegg 1992b:36; Van Tongeren 1994:37‑39) and in other contexts within the home. The Bait Mongol Düüdei (IN) recalled how, during her childhood in Tes district, Uvs, Urianghai herders came from Tuva to gather sea buckthorn berries, which they used for medicinal purposes. Bringing with them camels and much baggage, the herders often spent four or five days in her father's tent, during which time they performed höömii. This may not have been informal performance. Düüdei recalled that, prior to performing, they would always repeat the following couplet, referring to the territory and people of that place.
Altai santai ziirhentei, With Altai offerings at its heart,
Amban noyon zahirgaatai. Under jurisdiction of [Manchu] governors and princes.
This short introduction suggests that, in some
circumstances, höömii was treated with respect. The only
other example I have encountered of it being performed on official occasions is
among Baits in Uvs, who used it during wedding
celebrations when "seeing off the bride" (chigee uulgah). Tsaatans, in övsgöl, northwest
There is no firm evidence of a date for
the origin of höömi in
J’ay veu, comme il me semble, I saw, it seems to me
Luy seul chanter ensembk, Singing together with himself both above and below
Et dessus et teneur. 15
For Western Khalkhas
of Chandman', the origin of höömii lies in legendary rather than historical time, in the imaginative
Styles (töröl) and methods (arga baril) vary
labial (uruulyn)‑fundamental c (167‑68 Hz), range of overtones b’’‑c#’’’’
palatal (tagnain) ‑fundamental e (167‑68 Hz), range b'‑c#’’’’
nasal (hamryn)‑fundamental f# (182‑83 Hz), range c#’’’‑c#’’’’
glottal, throat (bagalzuuryn, hooloin) ‑fundamental c (17o Hz), range, b’’‑b’’’’
chest cavity, stomach (tsedjiin höndiin, hevliin) ‑fundamental a (214‑15 Hz),
range e ... ~c
with türleg (türlegtl) ‑fundamental g (202‑203 Hz), range d"'‑d’’’’ (CD: 19)
Tserendavaa employed the same overtone melody in labial and
palatal höömii and a second melody for nasal, chest
cavity, and glottal höömii. His use of the seventh
and eleventh partials as auxiliary rather than structural pitches supports the
suggestion that five main pitches were used traditionally. Türlegt
höömii, called hosmooin höömii by researchers in
Tserendavaa identified a seventh non‑melodic overtone‑singing style, harhiraa höömii, which he compared to the sound of a rippling waterfall. Badraa (IN) pointed out that harhiraa uses harmonics or overtones but does, not attempt to create melodies with them. Tserendavaa was unable to demonstrate this style, since it requires a deep, powerful voice. Margad (IN), a herdsman from Chandman' district, described harhiraa as the oldest form of höömiii and the background colour or tone (devsger öngö) out of which others developed. In his performance of harhiraa, Margad used fundamental B as a drone and melodic overtones within the range b"‑g (CD:20).Harhiraa is characteristic of Bait Mongolian höömii, which, as an old recording of harhiraa höömii in the Ulaangom Museum archive illustrates, sounds similar to Tuvan overtone‑singing perhaps not surprising with the frequent occurrence of inter border marriage and fostering in the pre-communist era. Given the importance that Mongols place on the relationship between music and landscape, the presence of the Harhiraa range of mountains in Uvs province may also be of significance.
In Old Mongolia, höömii was performed only by men, which may have been the result of folk‑religious beliefs, but it is now explained in terms of bodily strength. Tserendavaa warned that both hamryn (nasal) and türleti or hosmooin (combination) höömii are characterized by blood rushing (chineh) to the face and are very difficult to perform: nasal höömiii because a powerful flow of air is forced through a small nasal channel and tiirlegt höömii because of the combinations required. As a child, he injured his larynx while learning, and, as an adult, he lost consciousness during performances on occasion, breaking blood vessels near his eyes, for which he had needed surgery. He advised eating a good meal before performance and discontinuing the practice in advanced years. Davaajav, a chest‑cavity overtone‑singer (tsedjnii höndiin höömiich), supported Tserendavaa's views in the light of his own experience and suggested that performing höömii also affected the ability to sing well. Because of the strength required, a lengthy training period is needed, and it is preferable to begin in childhood (Tserendavaa INb; Sengedorj IN). A distinction is made between learning and performing. Childhood should be a period of learning; performing must not begin until maturity. Aids are sometimes used to acquire a good höömii voice: a cup is held to the mouth to provide an echo (ayagaar deveh, lit. to fan by means of a cup), or a pupil is made to höömii1öh against the wind (salhny ögsüür höömiilöh). Once a good höömii voice is acquired, such devices are no longer necessary. Tserendavaa began learning when he was nine, but he did not perform until he was twenty‑five. Traditionally, learning is by example and imitation, and Tserendavaa (IN) vividly recalled his first experience. He described how one evening when he was a child a `white‑haired, bearded, old man looking for two lost horses rode up on a grey horse that shone like silver." The man, later identified as the höömiich Chuluun, spent three nights in the family tent. During this time, Tserendavaa listened to his overtone‑singing and learned to play the horse‑head fiddle. To repay his debt to this man, Tserendavaa became a höömiich. Chuluun stressed to Tserendavaa that höömii is a difficult art that demands self‑control, endurance, and great strength. As an illustration of the power needed, Tserendavaa described how the legendary Bazarsad's hair stood on end when he performed, and Tserendavaa compared the strength needed with that required for wrestling, pointing out that the two most renowned höömiich, Bazarsad and Sundui, were also famous wrestlers. The ideal age for wrestling is twenty-five years old, said by Mongols to mark the peak of male strength. Unless the performer has this strength, together with the other qualities indicated by Chuluun, höömii performance is believed to be physically harmful in both general and specific ways.
Badraa (INa) related höömii to the art of whistling (isgeree), which has its own techniques and methodology and which, in addition to being used to control animals, is believed to communicate with the God of the Wind. Tserendavaa (INa) identified two types of whistling‑labial (uruulyn) and dental (shüdnii). Other vocal and instrumental imitative calls are used in everyday activities, such as herding, hunting, and milking, to lure, control, and encourage animals.
Togoon Chuluun was a
Tsedee is the man
credited with introducing höömii to the rest of the
country. He lived close to Lake Har Nuur and learned höömii from Chuluun. In 1950, Tsedee joined
the Musical Drama Theatre of Hovd Province (Hovd Aimgiin Högjimt
Dramyn Teatr), becoming the
first professional höömii performer in
Sundui is considered to be the founder of what has been
termed the modern classical form" of höömii (Tserendavaa INb). He is said to
be unique among höömii
performers in that he can produce half tones in addition to the usual full
tones.` He can perform classical European melodies by composers such as
Tchaikovsky and Bizet (Batzengel
198o:52) and is able to make vocal leaps over wide intervals (Sengedorj IN). He has a high technical level of höömii performance and is able to produce "a scale
using four vowels" (gammalah dörvön
Sundui's main attributes are said to be good storage
capacity in the stomach (hevliin baglaamj
saitai), good throat sounds (duuny
hooloi saitai), and great
physical strength (mash ih tamirtai).
Sundui later joined the State Folksong and Dance
Ensemble (Ulsyn Ardyn Duu Büjgiin Chuulga)
Nanjid Sengedorj had no formal musical education but joined the Hovd Theatre in 1975. He learned höömii in Chandman' at about the age of five, performed in the tenth Festival of Young People and Students, and has since travelled widely in Eastern Europe.
Ganbold, who is still a young man, is currently with the Ulaanbaatar Ensemble and also from Chandman'. He is able to perform a scale (gammalah) on more vowels than Sundui (Tserendavaa INc).
Since all activities in pre-socialist