Musical Instruments

Many musical instruments traditionally used in Kalmykia are also common among other nomadic peoples in Central Asia. Having many variations, the shape of these musical instruments has been influenced by the history, lifestyles, geography, and religion of the relevant nomadic tribes. Materials used in the making of musical instruments are both of animal and plant origin, including skin, wood, as well as various stones, shells, and metals.

Kalmyk musical instruments can be divided into religious and folk instruments. The former were used during religious festivals and dances, whereas the latter at various occasions, including weddings, concerts, competitions or simply for private entertainment.

Due to dramatic changes such as those in political and social institutions following the Socialist Revolution in 1917, the exile of the whole Kalmyk population to Siberia from 1943 to 1957, and modernity, which all have had an eroding effect on traditional Kalmyk institutions at large, many traditional musical instruments as well as accompanying melodies have disappeared from the Kalmyk national repertoire.

On this page you can watch and listen to various musical instruments and listen to stories, legends, and myths about them.

Religious

In the past monastic orchestras usually consisted of about 20 different musical instruments, but during daily rituals the number of instruments was less. The most frequently used instruments can be divided into the following two categories:

Percussion: Khonkh (bell), kenkrg (drum with beater), tsan (small sound plates), denshg (consists of two brass plates, the knobs of which are connected by means of a small band), dudarma (wooden frame with copper brasses inside), and damaru (small drum).

Wind: Dung (white shell), bishkyur (trumpet), ganlin (horn made of human thigh bones and silver), yukr burya (long and heavy clarinet, resembling an elephant’s trunk), and burya (middle-sized clarinet).


Folk

As mentioned before, many folk instruments have disappeared in Kalmykia being either relegated to museum shelves or left only as pictures on the pages of historical documents. As a result, today the number of instruments in active use is minimal, with dombra being the most popular. Dombra, a long-necked string instrument, is kept in many Kalmyk families and is used as a solo as well as an ensemble instrument. Khuur, a fiddle instrument, is used less often.

In Kalmykia the revival of musical instruments began in the 1980s. In the Elista School of Arts of Chonkushov a class was opened to teach people how to play traditional instruments, including dombra, yochin (dulcimer), yatkh (zither), khuchir (bowed musical instrument), morin khuur (horsehead fiddle), and limb (flute). The end of the 1980s also saw the establishment of famous orchestras and ensembles such as the National Orchestra of Kalmykia, Tyulpan, Oirat, and Jangar, which are still active.


Alena Lidzhieva, Dombra Melodies

Alena plays Kalmyk melodies on the dombra instrument, including Siberian melodies and those of the songs ‘Okonov Naran’ and ‘Kotush’.