Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


The Theater Functioning as Music School:
A Case Study of Modified Musical Instruments and The Orchestra of Kazakh Folk Musical Instruments in Bayan-Ölgii, Mongolia


Department of Comparative Studies
School of Cultural and Social Studies
SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies)

Key words:

Kazakhs in Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Theater of Music and Drama in Bayan-Ölgii (BMDT), modified musical instruments, music education, dagaldan (trainee)

Modified musical instruments are those altered to widen their range for orchestral music during the time of Socialism. This study focuses on modified Kazakh musical instruments as played in the Theater of Music and Drama in Bayan-Ölgii (BMDT), which functions as the only musical school teaching these musical instruments in Mongolia. Participant observations and semi-structured interviews revealed that the teaching system for modified Kazakh musical instruments in BMDT shifted to comply with the domestic education system after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the appearance of professional Kazakh musicians in the 1950s, BMDT has been performing Kazakh music in Mongolia, mainly influenced by the music of Kazakhstan. Therefore, most BMDT musicians played the same instruments as those used in Kazakhstan.

In 1959, BMDT established the Orchestra of Kazakh Folk Musical Instruments (the Kazakh Orchestra). Since then, the Kazakh Orchestra has adopted the dagaldan (trainee) system for orchestra members who are not music college graduates. The dagaldan learn the techniques of musical instruments and the theory of music for six months. After finishing the training, they are recognized as jinkhen (real) musicians, and begin to learn the Kazakh modified musical instruments. Nowadays, half of the members of the Kazakh orchestra start out as dagaldan and then transfer to learn Kazakh’s modified musical instruments.

This study focuses on the relationship between Bayan-Ölgii provinces, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia, and points out two historical and geographical factors standing in the background of the dagaldan’s study of the modified musical instruments. Firstly, since the Soviet era ended, the BMDT ‘dagaldan system’ has been the only means of educating the orchestra’s members. When the Kazakh orchestra was first established in 1959, dagaldan members were given a chance to study at music colleges in Kazakhstan. The purpose of this study program was to give professional musical leaders the skills to play Kazakh instruments, including modified musical instruments. This program for the musicians in the Kazakh orchestra continued until the early 1990s, but was drawn to a close due to political and economic issues following the independence of Kazakhstan. Secondly, it was found that Kazakh modified musical instruments exist only in BMDT, and there is no public educational institution for Kazakh music in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. These situations inside and outside of Mongolia after the Soviet era encouraged the development of a unique educational system within BMDT, where skills for playing Kazakh modified musical instruments were passed down.