Friday, 3 July 2015

East of Tallinn: Orient music festival Part II - Workshops and masterclasses

Orient Music Festival workshop - picture credit Hilary Glover
Orient Music Festival workshop - picture credit Hilary Glover
Orient Music Festival; Tallinn, Estonia
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on May 25 2015
Star rating: 5.0

An immersive exploration of the music and cultures and the East

The Orient music festival (25-31 May 2015) began with an ethnomusicology conference. But the rest of the week-long festival focused on workshops, demonstrations, and concerts. With the mornings free to explore Tallinn (or to gone one of the free tours run by local young people who bring 800 years of history to life) and the evenings full of concerts, the afternoons could be devoted to an more immersive approach to culture.

The afternoon workshops, held in a huge tent next to the President’s Palace in Kadriorg Park, included a tour of Taarab music by Mitchel Strumpf and demonstration of quanun playing by Samir Ally Salim (both from the Dhow Countries Music Academy in Zanzibar). Here, although there are thousands of maqam, we were showed the difference between a few of the nine most commonly used such as rast (major scale), hijaz, bayati, and Kurd. Since Taarab orchestras contain instruments with fixed tuning such as accordion, and maqam involve microtones, either the orchestra has to limit itself to playing a few maqam or players have to learn to miss notes out. This workshop was given in English, and for the Estonian people in the audience there was a translator. Samir took people through a song and taught them to sing the chorus while he played.

A yoga class preceded the workshop given by Indra, Taiko drummers from Japan. They had brought with them their own translator (Japanese to English) and explained the traditional use of drumming in temples, Kabuki theatre, and for people to simply be able to express their feelings. Their music, they explained, was composed by them but with the essence of traditional music from both Noh and Kabuki .

Orient Music Festival workshop - picture credit Hilary Glover
Orient Music Festival workshop - picture credit Hilary Glover
The drums are made in two ways. The small and middle sized drums are made out of hollowed out wood with cow skin, the larger ones are made in a similar way to barrels, with planks of wood forming the wall of the drum. The smaller drums had cords snaked between the skins which could be adjusted to change the tension and hence the note of the drum.

In order to learn, each stroke has a different onomatopoeic name, some of which we were taught as we had a go at playing. The participants all appreciated the chance to play, regardless of skill, and Indra were very enthusiastic and encouraging, and at the end they joined their pupils fitting our 'tune' to their accompaniment.

A final demonstration given by Ülger, gave them a chance to explain their instruments and demonstrate the different sounds. Russian is widely spoken in Estonia so they had no trouble being understood by the native audience. Later the audience had a chance to play the instruments and had instruction in Khakassian throat singing.

Orient Music Festival workshop - picture credit Hilary Glover
Orient Music Festival workshop - picture credit Hilary Glover

However that was not the end of the workshops. A masterclass in Thai dancing was given by Pitchaya Mathanucrohk and The Classical Dance Troupe of Thailand at the University of Tallinn, School of Choreography, and later everyone could have a go at Thai umbrella painting and fruit carving, while enjoying the oriental food and shopping at the colourful bazaar in Kadriorg Park.
Orient Music Festival workshop - picture credit Hilary Glover
Orient Music Festival workshop - picture credit Hilary Glover
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

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