Learning to throat sing

A few years ago, I was driving across Russia with my friend Donna. I’d never been there before, so I spent some time before setting out looking at maps and doing some research to see what attractions might be worth checking out along the way. There were the obvious highlights that people recommended, like Lake Baikal – the deepest and largest freshwater lake in the world. And of course we planned to spend a few days in Moscow.

But the one place I was really looking forward to visiting was the small city of Kyzyl, the capital of the remote and little-known Russian republic of Tuva, which is just north of the Mongolian border. It’s not a spot that most tourists have ever even heard of, much less been, and it would take a 12 hour detour in each direction on a windy, mountainous road for us to get there. But then again, that was about how long it took for us to drive between any two cities in Siberia, so it was par for the course. Plus, I figured that I was already all the way over in that part of the world and would likely never have a reason to go back, so this was my chance.

So what’s so special about this place? you’re probably wondering.

Tuva is famous for its style of throat singing, which the local people call khoomei. It’s an ancient practice created by the nomadic people of Central Asia who were trying to mimic sounds of nature like the songs of birds, a babbling brook, or even the growls of a camel. Experienced singers can produce up to four pitches simultaneously, creating an effect like a bagpipe or a didgeridoo. And these are sounds I didn’t even realize it was possible for a human to make!

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But the people of Tuva don’t just do cool things with their voices. They also have really unique traditional instruments. I was lucky enough to sit in on a rehearsal of the Tuvan National Orchestra to watch how they create their music.

Listen to the latest episode of Far From Home as I learn about Tuvan music and even attempt to throat sing myself!


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