Academic journal article Yearbook for Traditional Music

Birmanie: Musique Du Théâtre Classique / Burma: Classical Theatre Music

Academic journal article Yearbook for Traditional Music

Birmanie: Musique Du Théâtre Classique / Burma: Classical Theatre Music

Article excerpt

Southeast Asia Birmanie: Musique du théâtre classique / Burma: Classical Theatre Music. 2010. Archives internationales de musique populaire AIMP 96-97. Disques VDE-Gallo VDE CD-1317/1318. Recorded by Philip Yampolsky. Annotated by Ward Keelor. Edited by Renaud Millet-Lacombe. 44-pp. booklet with notes in French and English. English translation by Isabelle Schulte-Tenckhoff. 2 colour photographs. 2 compact discs: 13 tracks (66:16), 10 tracks (63:04). Recorded in 2005.

The release of a new recording of music from Burma is always good news. True, a few recordings have been making their way out since the self-imposed isolation of the country in 1962, and in spite of the continued control exercised by a tyrannical military dictatorship. There have been recordings of the neo-pop music played on Burmese radio. There have also been a number of releases produced by Rick Heizman, all beautifully recorded and excellently performed. In the latter, however, unorthodox vocal-instrumental combinations, not usually heard in Burmese music, sometimes give an odd impression of the music for first-time listeners.

The 2003 Smithsonian recording, Mahagita (also produced by Heizman), featuring the late U Myint Maung on the harp (saung gauk), gives a much more accurate picture of the traditional music of the country. Yet few might know that virtuoso harpists such as U Myint Maung, and before him the great U Ba Than, tended to perform in a very didactic style on recordings because by doing so they demonstrated their knowledge and mastery of the Mahagita (the Royal Song or Great Song): the vast repertoire of Burmese classical music. One has only to listen to U Ba Than's harp solo on the 1953 Folkways recording, Burmese Folk and Traditional Music (side A, tr. 6), to get an idea of the virtuosity possible on that instrument.

The complex variations on the traditional songs of the Mahagita devised by harpists, while not often heard in recordings, in fact greatly influenced the perform ance style used by the Burmese gong orchestra, the hsaing ensemble. This group of double reeds, gongs, and drums traditionally provided the music for most outdoor festivals in Burma, and in particular for the theatre with live actors as well as the puppet theatre. …

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