Dan is a "khöömigch"...

A what?
A "khöömigch" is some one who sings "khöömiy".
Oh. I see. er...

"Khöömiy" is the art of Mongolian or Tuvan overtone singing, where the singer uses the mouth cavities as tuned resonators, allowing strong emphasis of the harmonics of the sound generated in the throat. In theory, this allows the singer to produce two (or even three) notes at once, with the high notes sounding a bit like a flute.

And it's something that I've taught myself to do, mainly by trial and error, and a little bit of listening to recordings and reading. Also, I had the chance to have a lesson with Mr Ganbold when I was in Mongolia in 1991. He showed me what I should do next in developing my sound, and I think I improved quite a bit after that. He told me that many Westerners and Japanese people have recorded his singing, but I was the first non-Mongolian to ask him for a khöömiy lesson.

I also went (with my wife) to Mr Ganbold's home, where we had some of his vodka and biscuits. He wanted me to write out the music for some traditional British songs so that he could learn to sing them in khöömiy, so I wrote out "Greensleeves" and "The Banks of Loch Lomond". I wonder if he'll get the chance to perform them here in Britain?

I have sung khöömiy a few times in public:

  • in my church;

  • at the Fairlands Christmas Concert near Guildford (my home town); the Mayor of Guildford was present!

  • to some mongolians in the Mongolian Embassy in London;

  • to some mongolians on a tourist bus in rural Mongolia (the driver kept looking to see who was singing, instead of watching the road ahead!);

  • and recently at the 8th UK Filk Convention ("Obliter-8"). That was great fun, and I think the audience was very surprised!

  • I have also run khöömiy workshops at two filk conventions: Filk CONtinental in Germany, September 1997, and Decadence in the UK, February 1998.

I once wrote and posted a description of how to sing khöömiy to the newsgroup alt.culture.tuva. It's been on one or two sites for a while but I'll reproduce it here anyway:

How to Sing Khöömiy

Khoomiy is easiest for men. I have heard a recording of a Mongolian Kazakh women singing khoomiy, but it's simply not so easy or spectacular, because of the higher pitch of the female voice. (Sainkho Namchylak can sing khoomiy too.)

Sing a steady note while saying "aah" (to start with). Pitch it in the middle of your range, where you can give it plenty of energy, i.e. - Sing it loudly. Aim to make the sound as bright - not to say brash - as you can. The more energy there is in the harmonics, the louder and clearer they'll be when you start singing khoomiy. Practise this for a while.

OK, with this as a basis for the sound generation, you've got to arrange your mouth to become a highly resonant acoustic filter. My style (self- taught, but verified for me by a professional Mongolian khoomiy singer I had a lesson with in Ulaanbaatar) is as follows:

Divide the mouth into two similar-sized compartments by raising your tongue so that it meets the roof of your mouth, a bit like you're saying "L". Spread your tongue a bit so that it makes a seal all the way round. At this point, you won't be able to pass air through your mouth. Then (my technique), break the seal on the left (or right) side of the mouth, simply to provide a route for the air to get through.

Then (here's the most difficult bit to describe over the net - or even in person, for that matter!), push your lips forward a bit, and by carefully (and intuitively) adjusting the position of your lips, tongue, cheeks, jaw, etc, you can sing Mongolian khoomiy!

Put it this way: the aim of the khoomiy singer ("khoomigch") is to emphasize ONE of the harmonics which are already present in the sound generated by the throat. This is achieved because he is forming a resonant cavity, which (a) is tuned to the chosen harmonic (overtone), and (b) has a high resonance, or "Q" factor. By adjusting the geometry and tension of your mouth you can choose which harmonic you're emphasizing, and thus sing a tune.

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Last updated: 13th July 1999