Mongolian Maestro unveils excelence of his native music at Jeju

By Shin Hae-in
JEJU ISLAND, South Korea, Sept. 10 (Yonhap) -- After he first came across the exotic two-stringed musical instrument when he was eight years old, Mongolian musician Tseyen Tserendorj has never been more than a few feet away from the morin khuur, a traditional instrument that was an integral part in the life of Mongolian nomads for centuries.

Just a few months from his 70th birthday, the passionate maestro has flown to the South Korean island of Jeju, where he will be performing among fellow musicians from different countries at the International Delphic Games, a global cultural contest.

"I feel great," said Tserendorj. "We have cultures from 54 different countries gathered here. This is going to be a very exciting event."

Making his fourth visit to South Korea and his second to Jeju, Tserendorj will hold a concert Friday, presenting nine musical pieces, including a paean dedicated to the South Korean island with traditional instruments such as the morin khuur, a horse-headed fiddle known as the "maduguem" to Koreans.

The paean, dubbed "maktal" in Mongolian, will be improvised, with lyrics added spontaneously by the musician.

"Like the last time I visited Jeju, I will perform a maktal composed from the feelings and emotions that come to me on the spot. It will be quite unique," he said. "This musical genre is performed best when the musician plays out of impulse."

Along with the paean for Jeju, Tserendorj's concert will feature folk songs from his home nestled in central Asia, introducing to the audience hand-clapping and oral techniques.

The musician's dark eyes sparkled as he began to talk about the morin khuur, an instrument that he has devoted himself to for more than 50 years. He compared the instrument to the "gayageum," a Korean board zither made with 12 silk strings.

"When I was young, all houses in my neighborhood had the morin khuur. I remember my mother playing the sounds of a running horse with it when I was young," he said. "The morin khuur is an instrument that holds the life of the Mongolian nomads. The instrument is decorated in the shape of a horse, a symbolic animal for my country."

With socialism taking over the country, the Mongolian government had discouraged people from learning or playing traditional instruments until 1990, resulting in the younger generation's ignorance and indifference toward traditional music, he said.

"But now the government is keen to support promoting and preserving traditional music, and I see a lot of younger people interested in learning how to play the morin khuur," Tserendorj said. "It is not an easy instrument to play, but once one learns the techniques, he can play any music with just the two strings of the instrument."

The morin khuur has been registered in the World Art Heritage Cultural Object list by the UNESCO.

Born in 1940 in the province of Omnogobi near the Gobi desert, Tserendorj started his professional music career in 1960, when he started working as an actor at the Cultural House of Omnogobi.

Since then, he has become a special folk talent known in and out of his country and performs many different forms of folk art, such as singing benedictions, eulogies, epics, long and short songs, whistling and playing the morin khuur, as well as other traditional instruments, including the khuuchir (fiddle with a cylindrical body), tovshuur (plucked two-stringed lute) and aman khuur (Jewish harp).

Now an honored artist of Mongolia and president of the Centre of Mongolian Well-wishers and Eulogists, Tserendorj is also focusing on nurturing and training the next generation of performers.

"I have about 120 close disciples who have majored in the morin khuur and other traditional instruments. If I also add people who would have watched the TV show I appeared on to teach the morin khuur, I should have some 1 million pupils across Mongolia," the musician said.

Also passing his talent to his son, Tserendorj has traveled with him, performing and introducing the folk art of his country in some 50 cities in 20 countries, including the United States, France, Japan, Russia, Germany and China.

While he now has various duties resting on his shoulders, the musician said his favorite remains performing music, mainly on the maktal and eulogy.



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