Lindsay Myron
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And Paula Would Say: Keep Practicing

November 27, 2009 @ 3:39 AM | Permalink

I became a vocal apprentice in Khentii.

My teacher was Gerlee, a 30 year old herder and father of two.  Gerlee was also my host-father during my stay in the Delgerkhaan region and I was supposed to learn “Ulemjiin Chanar,” a song written by the famous Mongolian lama Danzanravjaa.  I would be participating in a ritual at the reconstructed Khamaryn Khiid monastery in Dornogobi province and I needed to know the song by heart.

Equipped with the page of lyrics and lacking shame, Gerlee and I were on a strict schedule practicing twice daily.  We started off slow, reading the lyrics verse by verse, but in the second day I graduated to learning melody. 

Gerlee sang the song once so I could listen to the tune.  Nice melody I thought, not too challenging.  When he asked me to sing-a-long I thought a couple missed notes would be the worst of it.  

Not so easy.

I’ve been told that the song’s tune has been changed multiple times before, during and after Mongolia’s socialist period in the 1900s.  I would have to agree with what I’ve heard as our sing-a-long proved more difficult than just some missed Cs or off-pitched B flats.

We had several false starts and each time we re-started the song Gerlee would change the tune.  I struggled to guess which pitch he’d take it to next.

“Right now you’re singing quietly,” he said.  “This time sing very loud.”

Granted, I wasn’t blessed with the vocal chords of Billie Holiday or Adele, but I was in a choir for a year and can carry a tune…I think.  “I’m not shy,” I tried explaining to him, “I just can’t get the tune.”

“Again.  I’ll sing for you again, then you,” he said.  We played this game for a while and narrowed our lessons to a verse at a time thinking that would help.  But to no avail. 

In our last lesson when he asked me to sing it on my own I belted the tune as loud as I could in the one melody I could remember.  When my performance ended I was hoping for a yes, correct, that’s it, good job kind of response, some sort of confirmation that I had apprenticed well.  Instead he gave me a smile and said, “Well…that was loud.  Good for you!”

Rather than rejoin the endless circle of pitch correction Gerlee offered to sing the song for me on camera, so that I could practice the ‘correct’ tune when I left.

Here’s his camera shy performance for his two children and me:

Those hours of practice and resulting confusion that Gerlee had devoted to his temporary apprentice were much appreciated and I’m still listening to the recording trying to learn it his way.  Unfortunately the tune had changed (once again) when I reached Khamaryn Khiid, but at least I knew the words.

 

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Lindsay, Enjoyed the woven threads of humanity in the family lesson on telling time. Thanks for sharing. TIm

Tim Matthews on Nomads Give New Meaning to the Cuckoo Clock 2009-11-03

Ouch. Not a fun way to finish off the semester. Get well soon and safe travels; look forward to seeing you back on the hill next month!

Matthew Hintsa on I've Never Been More Afraid of Pigs 2009-12-06
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