Introduction by Chingis Azydov, © 2022
Sandscha Buruschkin (1907 – 1983).
In 1974 in Philadelphia, Alta Buruschkin recorded four Kalmyk ut duun (long songs) performed by his grandfather Sandscha. These songs are “Altá deerɪ́nʹ ɣarhýnʹ” [“If you climb to the top of the Altai mountains”], “Caɣán tavygtá šarɣə́ mörɪ́n” [“White-footed palomino horse”], Hovýŋg teŋgsín hulsýnʹ [“Kuban river reeds”], Öndɪ́r modná oradə́ [“At the top of a tall tree”], Örǘn ɣarsýn narýn [“Morning risen sun”].
Sandscha Buruschkin was born on 15 May 1907 in Stanitsa Denisovskaya, also known as Bogshurgakhyn aimag, in Kalmyk. During the Russian Civil War, Sandscha lost his family. His brothers were killed. Thousands of Kalmyks became refugees. On the way to the Black Sea, he was adopted by another Kalmyk family and left the Russian Empire with them.
Stanitsa Denisovskaya was one of the largest settlements of the Buzava people, who are Don Kalmyk Cossacks. Kalmyk historians believe that the name of Bogshurgakhyn aimag derives from Bogshurga, one of Kalmyk Khaan Ayuka (Ayushi)’s grandsons. Part of Bogshurga’s ulus [people] might have settled in the Don area in 1735, during the internecine struggle for the title of Kalmyk Khaan (Alekseeva, 2002: 8).
A librarian and specialist on the history of the Buzava ethnic group, P. E. Alekseeva, noted that people from Bogshurgakhyn aimag had a special interest in education. There were also local experts in the Kalmyk folklore, including the storytellers and singers Sandzhi Mandzhikov and Matrena (Monchag) Zubova. Zubova was also a famous dombra player. Kalmyk scholar Ts.-D. Nominkhanov recorded 67 folk songs from Mandzhikov’s repertoire. Folklorist Nikolay Bitkeev mentions that he recorded 46 folk songs by Zubova (1987: 64).
The song “Altá deerɪ́nʹ garhýnʹ”, recorded by Sandscha Buruschkin, was also recorded by Mandzhikov and Zubova, which testifies to the popularity of this song and the tradition of being performed by people from Bogshurgakhyn aimag. This song was very popular among the Kalmyks and there are many versions of it with variations in the melody or lyrics.
“My grandfather was born in Stanitsa Bogshrankin or Denisovskaya and it was renamed. My grandfather was born in 1907 and he spelled his name: Sandsha Buruschkin.
“My grandfather had a tough life. His two brothers were all shot when he was young and he may have witnessed this, as per my uncle. I am assuming his mother and father were also lost but not sure what happened. He became an orphan and another family picked him up and carried him in their wagon coming out of the [chaos in] post Civil War Russia. So, he was adopted by a family also fleeing and became part of this family. Although I always thought my aunt was his true sister it was not, but our custom is that orphans became family.
“I think my grandfather became a strong believer in our faith and remembered magtals (religious folk songs) or prayers as a result.
“Me and my wife Udbala, when we first got married and found jobs in Philadelphia, my grandparents offered us to stay with them. When we first moved in, my grandparents offered to sing special songs for us for the occasion. I had a recorder that I borrowed from my wife's uncle, Manyah Pereborow. I recorded this session back in 1974. My wife got the tapes from Manyah Gombo Jab years later and she had them wrapped up and stored away. I totally forgot about this recording.
“Many years later, we got involved with Gordon Bok, who had also recorded Kalmyk songs from many years ago and we helped him. Somehow Udbala remembered the tapes we had and I found a company who could convert them from reel tape to CD. We had this done and played a CD. I did not know what was on it until we played it in our car on the way home. Needless to say, we both were crying because it contained the recording of my grandfather and also grandmother on some of the songs. I completely forgot I did this over 40 years ago.
“We had a small farmhouse in New Jersey with an acre of land and a small, barn-like shed. My grandfather bought a horse and rode it across two bridges to our house. He rode that horse like a Genghis Khan's warrior. With my brothers, we tried to ride it, but often got thrown off, as we were young and never rode a horse.
“One poet saw our grandfather riding that horse in Philadelphia and wrote a poem about it. I think it happened around [the] 1970’s.”
Mounted Kalmyks on Shackamaxon Street
I'm thinking of the mounted Kalmyks
on Shackamaxon Street – how in the world
they got here – Stalin’s bodyguards, despised by him.
By here I mean Fishtown, where defunct
Domino Sugar coughs up syrup into the Delaware River,
the old treaty park, wedged between ports,
the north one full of Latin grapes, the south
with its rusted cranes and pier-front courts and condos.
Its pleasure dome for bad-backed longshoremen
with mangled knees and missing digits.
I'm thinking of this one old Kalmyk.
Everyone mistakes him for Chinese.
He’s mounted on his pony, too small to tug
a produce cart through streets and alleys of Harrowgate
and Fishtown—through chicken squawk and pigeons, scrap heap
and gabardine hawk. Absorbing the shock
of railroad shunt, trolley track, pothole,
and buckled cobble, like a newly conditioned strut.
He travels his fourfold path to the Lamaist Temple
on 2nd Street, where this may or may not be the day
he opts for the Buddha's Great Renunciation.
By Leonard Kress, 2005
Ut duun, the Oirat-Kalmyk long songs, play a prominent role in the musical culture and performance tradition of the Oirat people until today. The genre can be traced back many centuries to the very origins of all Mongolian ethnic groups and provides evidence of their shared culture and traditions, as well as the way their society used to be organised and the way in which societal roles of men and women alike were perceived. We have evidence today that long songs were widely spread in Central Asia centuries ago, before the rise of the Mongolian Empire in the 12th century. The genesis of the long song phenomenon is believed to have taken place with the formulation of the ancient beliefs of the Turk-Mongolian nomads and their cult of the wolf. The wolf’s howling is thought to have been the prototype and the inspiration for the ut dun tradition (Bichurin, 1950: 214-215).
The melodies and the lyrics of ut dun songs have developed over the course of many centuries, becoming more complex and requiring increasingly more time and effort in mastering the singing techniques. The style and content have converged to harmonically reflect the surrounding landscapes and the nomadic lifestyle, thus ensuring the perpetual transmission and recognition of this genre (Habunova, 1998: 7). The themes of ut duun vary widely and each motif has a different scope and effect of performance. Broadly speaking, academic research so far agrees on four main thematic categories (Habunova 1998: 8-37; Dordzhieva 2000: 17). They are:
Historical songs: about national heroes and significant events such as war, expeditions or waves of migration from one place to another. Folk memory has preserved songs on the Kalmyk’s participation in the 1812 war against Napoleon, the tragic outcome of the Kalmyk khanate in their historic homeland in Central Asia in 1771 and other significant events.
Ritual songs: wedding ceremony and other holiday songs. During the wedding, depending on the specific action performed, one could hear songs when drinks are offered, songs of education from mother to daughter or farewell songs to make the bride cry.
Lyric songs: love songs and songs describing the hardship of young women who have married, leaving behind their family, to which they could not return for a specific period (in some cases, up to three years, depending on the customs of each ethnic group). This is considered to be one of the most enduring themes. It has remained until today due to the attached symbolic of a “rebirth” of the young woman entering marriage. A young woman who leaves her parents’ house receives a new name and with it, a new identity.
Songs of praise: religious songs [chastyr duun] dedicated to Buddhist gods or influential monks, calling on the people to follow the canon of Buddhism. There are also songs dedicated to the merits of parents who should be rewarded and praised for their care and hard work in bringing up their children. Songs about parenting are also an integral part of the Kalmyk wedding ceremony.
Transcription of ut duun
The singing technique of Oirat-Kalmyk long songs is quite complex and requires some training and talent. The ut duun performers often tend to improvise. The main feature of long singing is the presence of syllable chants, the length of the syllables in the song. Folk singers also use additional syllables: e-lój/ja-lói, laj/loj, do, ir, mono-, disyllabic words: ged, gilä́, ginä́, bilä́ [said, says, was], which usually have no specific meaning, and their various combinations, such as bilä-lój/ginä-láj. Additional syllables are used to maintain a certain rhythm in long songs.
To simplify the readability and understanding of our transcription, we decided not to designate vowel length and additional syllables or phonemes. We believe that more accurate transcription of long songs requires other approaches that go beyond the capabilities of our VLACH transcription principles. Therefore, we have only transcribed the songs’ lyrics, without designating all the ‘embellishments’, while maintaining the pronunciation features of each individual performer. We also denote the presence of vowels, allowing the performer to split the consonant clusters, i.e. marthýv --> martahýv.
Press the button below to learn more about the principles of our VLACH phonetic system.
Transcription/Translation/Description © Chingis Azydov, 2022
Project: Songs of Kalmyk Immigrants
IF YOU CLIMB TO THE TOP OF THE ALTAI
Description: “Altá deerɪ́nʹ ɣarhýnʹ” (“If you climb to the top of the Altai mountains”) is a Kalmyk folk song in the ut duun genre. It praises the parents and their significant role in a child’s upbringing. The performance of songs dedicated to parents used to be an integral part of Oirat-Kalmyk wedding celebrations.
The song Altá deerɪ́nʹ ɣarhýnʹ was published in a compilation book, 100 Kalmyk Folk Songs by L. I. Tsebikov (1991: 15-16). In addition to the song lyrics, the book includes musical transcriptions. Other variants of this song were published e.g. in Kalmyk Wedding Ritual Poetry by E. Khabunova (1998: 142, 143-144). In 1959, the song ʹʹАлта деернь гархньʹʹ (“Alta deernʹ garkhnʹ”) was recorded by Sandzhi Mandzhikov and Matrena Zubova and released on 78 RPM vinyl records (Sound Archive, 2013: 203).
Cite as: Altá deerɪ́nʹ ɣarhýnʹ – If you climb to the top of the Altai, performer: Sandscha Buruschkin, interview: Alta Buruschkin, transcription/ translation/ editor: Chingis Azydov, retrieved from www.oeaw.ac.at/VLACH, ID number: kalm1244USA0001a.
At the top of a tall tree
Description: This long song expresses the natural human desire to have friendly relationship with close people and strangers and to live happily at all times. The song is in the feast or toast subgenre of Oirat Kalmyk long songs. Variants of the Öndɪ́r modná oradə́ song were published in Khonkho. Kalmyk Anthology, vol. II (1926: 136) and Kalmyk Wedding Ritual Poetry by Prof. Evdokia Khabunova (1998: 118, 119).
Cite as: Öndɪ́r modná oradə́ – At the top of a tall tree, performers: Sandscha and Pelagia Buruschkin, interview: Alta Buruschkin, transcription/ translation/ editor: Chingis Azydov, retrieved from www.oeaw.ac.at/VLACH, ID number: kalm1244USA0002a.
White-footed palomino horse
Description: Song of religious content, that encourages people to show respect for Buddhist deities and clerics. This song is related to so called shatsyr or chastyr genre of hymnic "songs of spiritual content, praising the teachings of the Buddha, the ministers of religion and holy places. They were created as a means of ideological influence on the masses" (Mandzhieva, 2014: 101). As a rule the chastyr songs would be performed at big gatherings, celebration of Kalmyk holidays, especially in presence of Buddhist clergy.
Cite as: Caɣán tavygtá šarɣə́ mörɪ́n – White-footed palomino horse; performer: Sandscha Buruschkin, interview: Alta Buruschkin, transcription/ translation/ editor: Chingis Azydov, retrieved from www.oeaw.ac.at/VLACH, ID-number: kalm1244USA0003a.
Kuban river reeds
Description: The long song “Hovýŋg teŋgsín hulsýn” [“Kuban river reeds”] tells about a difficult trip across mountains followed by a meeting with close people. The earliest publication of this song was in the Kalmyk Commission of Cultural Workers’ book Khonkho. Kalmyk Anthology, vol. I (1925: 29). A song with same name and content was published by scholar E. Khabunova in her monograph Kalmyk Wedding Ritual Poetry (1998: 129). The other variant of this song was recorded by professor Ts.-D. Nominkhanov and is stored within his unpublished archive at the Kalmyk Scientific Center in Elista, Republic of Kalmykia.
Cite as: Hovýŋg teŋgsín hulsýnʹ – Kuban river reeds; performer: Sandscha Buruschkin, interview: Alta Buruschkin, transcription/ translation/ editor: Chingis Azydov, retrieved from www.oeaw.ac.at/VLACH, ID number: kalm1244USA0004a.
Morning risen sun
Description: "Morning risen sun" is a long song of the chastyr (hymn) genre that praises the Buddhist knowledge and clergy and slightly exposes the nature of Chitta-santana (mindstream) phenomena, which can affect human mental behavior.
In 1902, ethnograph Aleksandr Listopadov recorded 30 Don Kalmyk-Cossack folk songs (Listopadov/Shivlyanova, 1998). One of them was the song "Örǘn ɣarsýn narýn". A more detailed analysis of this song and comparisons of its variants was undertaken by ethnomusicologist Ghilyana Dordzhieva and presented in her article "Long song 'Örün gharsyn narn' recorded in 1902, 1974, 1994 and 2020", where she notes that up to recent times, the older generation of Buzava Kalmyks in America would perform this song at weddings and holidays and considered it as the main one for celebrations (Dordzhieva, 2021).
Cite as: Örǘn ɣarsýn narýn – Morning risen sun; performer: Sandscha Buruschkin, interview: Alta Buruschkin, transcription/ translation/ editor: Chingis Azydov, retrieved from www.oeaw.ac.at/VLACH, ID-number: kalm1244USA0005a.
We would like to express our gratitude to Alta and Udbala Buruschkin for their involvement and kind assistance. Without them, this publication would not be possible.
Special thanks to Ben Moschkin for providing us with digital copies of photos and other archival materials and Sanal Mandzhiev for his help with translation of the songs and assistance in the preparation of this publication.
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