Spiridon Spiridonovich Shishigin and khomus
An outstanding yakut khomusist Spiridon Spiridonovich Shishigin was born on the 1-st of August in 1950, in Tabaga village Megino-Êangalasskiy nomad camp. He is a school director in Pokrovsk village. Spiridon Spiridonovich developed his skills of playing khomus since childhood. So he achieved great level of playing, and now he is one of "virtuosos of the world" - the winners of the competition, which took place during the second international congress of khomus music. A member of a board of directors of International center of khomus (jew's harp) music. Let me represent an interview of this great musician.
[V.M] Improvisatory playing is supposed to be the ceiling level in many music traditions. There are different variants of creating improvisation. But you can face the following sequence very often: one theme tune sounds, then the musician smoothly changes it, taking the folk tune to another one, his own one. And then at the end he also smoothly returns to the basic theme. Is there such a method in Yakut traditions?
[S.SH.] Khomus improvisation is the same thing as an improvisation by any other instrument. As a rule I try to play according to your description. Especially when I play at concerts where it is necessary to start and to end by the same theme. People who have musical education do it this way. But some times it happens that a player reaches such a condition when he becomes an integral whole with his instrument. Then music comes out by itself instinctively. When you play like this it is difficult to think about the theme. But spectators and the player by himself like such improvisation more. I can explain it by the fat that a khomus can play only with a person. And its tongue keeps some kind of energy which was absorbed by a blacksmith, making it by hand. I guess it is a distinctive feature of Yakut tradition of khomus improvisation. I think real khomus improvisation takes place when you play "your own" khomus. You can seek a khomus for your improvisation and not to find it at least. It is better to find a blacksmith, and to order to do a name khomus.
How would you recommend learning to improvise?
You can study to improvise the khomus like other instruments. In the beginning you should learn all the playing technique, but by no means demonstrate your skill during playing. A set of sounds is not music yet. I think it is better to learn to improvise playing at the beginning with no theme. Just to play for your own pleasure, listening music from your khomus, trying it to be pleasant to yourself and to your listeners.
At starting you can copy others, adding something from yourself. But you should remember that it is just a copy but not improvisation. It is very important to play "your" khomus. It should fit you, your organs of speech and breathe maximally. It also should express your feelings, emotions and experience to the maximum.
During improvising in Yakut style rhythm often changes cardinally several times in one composition. Is it changes made by inner instinct or are there certain traditional tendencies which are maintained by Yakut musicians?
I am not a musicologist and not a researcher of traditional music. That is why I can't say collectively about the style of play of all the improvisators. There are a lot of them in our republic. I know that there is a traditional style "syiyija tardyiyi" (temperate play) when rhythm remains almost the same. An executant plays this way when he is alone. He is not interested both in sound power and its variety. He plays not for people. He just listens to the sounds of his khomus, feeling emotions and having rest only together with it. Whereby he can also croon to himself toyuk-song what he has just composed. There are a lot of executants who use both different rhythm and different styles in one performance. As for me I try to do everything for my play to be melodious and not to stress people, to set them for relax and rest, to receive positive emotions, to remember about pleasant things during my play. I am sure that only during such play you can get therapeutic effect also. At that I am not making my play be in one rhythm or not changing.
A very low sound can often be heard at Yakut virtuosos' recordings. It is "Khenkeley" or a glottal- pulmonary sound. Could you explain how to use lungs to reach lower sounds.
It is necessary to increase the mouth cavity volume to the maximum to obtain a lower sound. It can be done if to aim the organs of speech and vocal bands to pronouncing the sound "Î". To have this sound much lower you need to increase the area for pronouncing a sound more, involved larynx and chest cavity. It is difficult to explain. It can be obtained by training for a long time.
There are two questions connected with keeping the khomus by a left hand. Some khomusts use unusual grasp, a left hand's palm should face you. Not vise versa like usually. A thumb, an index finger and a middle finger clasp the ring, and the other fingers are on cheeks. Could you tell for what this method is necessary, only for appearance and comfort or a left hand forming a megaphone makes changes of sounds?
I should think that the method of keeping the khomus by a hand doesn't influence the quality of khomus sounding. It just should be comfortable for the executant itself. I also saw musicians who attached the khomus to a massive thing and played keeping the khomus for it. In this case it is not obligatory to press the khomus to your teeth. I am making an accent that ways of keeping the khomus do not influence the sound. In any case there is no much influence.
The most important thing is to keep the khomus closely to teeth and nothing should bother reed vibration. Lips should clasp the cheeks.
Do you press the cheeks while playing to change their gap with the tongue of the khomus?
I don't. It is undesirable, because you can disturb reed vibration by chance. I always choose a khomus with a suitable gap. Actually it is better to have several concert khomuses. Because a khomus with low sounding sounds longer and suits temperate playing. Quick playing needs a khomus with high tone.
Yakut khomus is popular not only in the Republic of Sakha. A lot of people appreciate this amazing instrument and Yakut khomus music. They would like to learn Yakut manner of playing by themselves, using recordings. Could you tell how much it is important to know the Yakut language or just to be able to pronounce all the sounds used in your language for breaking-in Yakut manner of playing.
I am sure that every real blacksmith makes khomuses which are o'k for traditional melodies of his nation before everything else. So it is necessary to learn to pronounce at least all the sounds of the Yakut language to play the Yakut khomus well. I would rather say that there are different dialects that are why, for instance, khomuses of masters of Viluysk are more suitable for Viluysk executors. But a smith can do against order a secial khomus, which is suitable for only a certain musician. And I am convicted that abilities of the executant and the master can be revealed only upon condition of playing a specially made name khomus.
In your book "Play the khomus" you write "So you should use a khomus with quite low basic tone for imitation a cuckoo an, a skylark and to mouth the words of a song". To your opinion to what notes it is necessary to attune the basic tone of the khomus for imitating a cuckoo better?
Cuckoo imitation is better on the khomus made and presented by a craftsman from Viluysk - Gogolev Egor Petrovich in1991. His tone suits most of all a cuckoo's tone. To my opinion it is a note between "E" and "F".
There is a photo of your seven concert instruments at page 34 of the book "Êulakovskiy and Khomus". Unfortunately craftsmen are not signed up there. Could you name the khomus-makers and if it is possible tell about the instruments more detailed.
I started to play the khomus of an outstanding master hand Gogolev Semyon Innokentievich-Àmyinnyiykyi, who lived and worked in my native village of Òàbaga Ìågino-Êàngalasskiy area of the Republic of Sakha. He was almost the one person who continued to produce ariose khomuses, inspite the fact that they found very few buyers. So he preserved the technology of hand producing of khomuses not only for the Sakha people but for all the humankind. My elder brother Aleksey presented me this khomus when I was 10 years. It is in the upper row on the left. Two khomuses on the top (in the center and on the right) are made by Gotovtsev Egor Petrovich from Viluysk. I give concerts now with the middle one. Egor Petrovich made it especially for me. When I asked him to make a khomus for me, he entertained me to tea, asked about different things, and then asked me to play the khomus. Some time later he showed me three khomuses and asked me to try them. Having listened to my playing he said that they didn't suit me and took them back. He took them to Yakutsk approximately one year later and presented me one of them. I became one of the winners of the first International festival of khomusists "World's virtuosos" playing it. There is a Prokopiev Yakov's khomus in the middle of the left vertical row. He became the pioneer of batch khomus production working at the "Sardaana" factory. He wasn't my acquaintance. The khomus was presented to me by his son Aleksandr who kept up his father's business. There is a Kondratiev Mikhail Petrovich's khomus in the middle of the right vertical row. He made up several khomuses manually with no machines at my request. He imaged youth being of old age. It is very comfortable to play this seemingly modest but extraordinarily ariose instrument by changeable touches, to get the most wonderful overtones. Mikhail Petrovich presented the most of his khomuses made at my request to my friends from different countries to carry them to museums. At the bottom on the left there is a khomus of young but famous all over the world craftsman from Tieligi village of Megino-Kangalasskiy ulus RS(Y) Ìikhailov Pavel Nikolaevich. His ariose khomuses ñost comparatively cheap. A lot of children play his khomuses. At the bottom on the right there is a khomus of an outstanding craftsman, an expert of traditional Yakut culture Neustroev Boris Fyodorovich. He is from Baayaga village of Tattinskiy ulus. This khomus is produced also specially for me. And I appreciate it a lot.
He brought a year later the same ones? Perhaps he brought others or remade those ones?
I don't know exactly. He may have remade some of them. Maybe he interchanged the tongue. Maybe he produced new ones. Anyway they were of equal size and sounded similar. But he made the choice by himself, listening to my play. And I didn't ask...
Egor Petrovich Gogolev's khomus looks like a new one. Although you play it a lot it has got such stable blacking. May be you gave it to another craftsman to renovate the covering?
It is only now like blued. At the beginning it was just of iron-grey colour. It was processed by just an abrasive cloth strip. There were no polishing and burnishing. I also never processed it. I just wiped it dry. He also recommended after playing to pull the tongue just in the air. The moisture flies out because of momentum. The case also was made by him.
There are photos of khomuses from all over the world of your personal collection in the above mentioned book. You played a lot of khomuses of different schools. What would you like to highlight?
It is difficult to highlight a certain khomus. I suppose it is useless. Every khomus suits its own nation. It should be made by a good master hand and only by hand. Thanks to hand making the craftsman conveys his energy to the khomus. The tongue absorbs the features of the culture of its people, which are in its genes. My collection includes a lot of khomuses which play only melodies of its own nation. They are an Austrian maultrommel of Yozef Joffen, a Kirghiz timir khomus of Orosobai Kinchinbaev, a French guimbarde of Bernard Laran-Kassu, âåíãåðñêèé doromb of Zoltan Szilagyi, a Chinese kouchian, an Indian morsing, an African bamboro of unknown craftsmen and so on.
There is one more northern nation, which appreciates "singing" khomuses - the Norwegians. Do you like Norwegian munnharpes?
Norwegian craftsmen really preserved skills of craft of their khomus-munnharpe. The executants treat with due care their traditions of playing the munnharpe. They do a lot for keeping and developing of this art. Norwegian khomuses are very ariose. But I think they are o'k for accompaniment of dancing, for reproduction of dancing melodies. As for improvisation, well Yakut khomuses suit it more. Though there are a lot of similar sounds in our language.
One more question. Is sounding of khomuses of Chemchoev R.G. and Maltsev M.N. from Viluyisk interesting for you?
To my opinion I answered this question several times. They are masters of their craft. They are appreciated by not only Yakut musicians, but also by ones of all the world. I have got their khomuses. I like to play them but at concerts I improvise on others now. But I am going to order special khomuses for concerts.
Did you try to make a khomus by yourself?
I observed a lot of times how they make khomuses. I tried twice. The first try took place a long time ago, with no instruments and of materials at hand. So it could sound, but I couldn't improvise. The second try took place in Japan during a craftsman Metsugi's master class of for children. There are master classes of making children khomuses in Tokio center of childhood creative work. It is an idea of widely known researcher of khomus music Leo Tadagava. Children and their parents during these classes make a small biabon for themselves. I tried to do it together with them, so I made a qualified for the first try Japan khomus. It takes pride of place in my collection.
I would like to finish up the interview traditionally: what would you with to khomusists- amateurs?
Do not give up playing the khomus. We should consolidate to renew the present traditions of khomus playing throughout. Find your personal khomus.
© Vladimir Markov 2009, this article translated by Natalia Ivanitsa, picture of seven khomuses by R. Popov