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A Brief Analysis of Long Songs in Inner Mongolia

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Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, AKA Nei Mongol Autonomous Region, is an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China, located in the northern region of the country. “The Mongolians who inhabit the vast plain in the northern part of China have been called the ‘ethnic group of music and poems’” (Jin 92). Mongolian developed a unique singing genre: long songs. Long songs are characterized by a musical characteristic of “a falling and rising melody with a free profound, long and slow rhythm” (Jin 93), which is “melismatically decorated and without a regular beat” (Pegg 43).
Long songs have a very long history. “When it was as early as over one thousand years ago, ancestors of the Mongolians migrated from mountains and forests along the banks of Ergun River and onto the Mongolian plateau. Their way of production accordingly turned from hunting to stock raising. Long songs were formed and developed since then” (Sakura). This unique musical style has very deep influence on Mongolian People. “Long songs can be said to reflect features of Mongolian nomadic culture, link closely together Mongolian people’s language, literature, history, religion, mentality, world view ecological view of life and customs, and run throughout Mongolian people’s history and social life” (Sakura).
Long songs can be classified into three main musical forms: extended, general and abbreviated. “The extended long song unfolds melodically as a continual linear development. It is characterized by rich ornamentation and use of falsetto, extreme elongation of both musical phrases and syllables, and lack of regular beat…While initial-line alliteration, typical of Mongolian poetry, is employed in performance, the line is often truncated, so that metrical elements of the written text are not preserved in the song. Performance manner is restrained, with little facial or bodily movement” (Pegg 45).
Example of extended long songs: “Altan Ura” (Golden Seed)
Performed by Lhajav in Xilingol, Inner Mongolia, 1987 (Lhajav)
Musical Analysis:
• Melodic contour: It is conjunct moving smoothly without sudden change.
• Shape of each melodic phrase is undulating.
• Instrumentation: Long songs are typically accompanied by the horse-head fiddle. In this example, it was accompanied by the vocal drone supplied by the audience.
• The texture is chordal vocal accompaniment.
• Dynamic level in performance is p and mp. The dynamic level increase and decrease gradually.
• There are a lot of vibrato and falsetto used as ornaments.
• The meter of the song is free meter.
• The tempo is very slow (Man ban) without regular beat in the song.
• The rhythm is profound and long, repeating in the song.
On the other hand, there is the abbreviated long song form. It is “a shortened or hybrid form with short versed and sometimes choruses…This form also employs devices such as empty syllables and interjections, but, because there is little ornamentation, a less complex musical structure, and less elongation of words, the text is more clearly audible” (Pegg 47). Between the extended and abbreviated long song forms, there is the general long song. It is mainly “used on nonofficial occasions, such as when herding on the steppes” (Pegg 47).
Example of abbreviated long songs: “Bayan Tsagaan Nutag”
(Rich White Homeland)
Performed by Suhee in 1990 (Suhee)
Musical Analysis:
• Melodic contour: It is conjunct in melodic contour.
• Shape of each melodic phrase is undulating, falling and rising like waves.
• Dynamic level in performance is mp.
• There is vibrato and falsetto used as ornamentation, but very less than extended long songs.
• The meter of the song is free meter. There is not regular beat in the song.
• The rhythm is long but shorter than the extended form.
Long song’s lyrics are very short with only several sentences. “Long song has a very few lyrics accompanied by long tunes, with resounding and leisurely melodies. It is suitable for telling tales as well as for expressing emotions. The lyrics are usually divided into two parts, with two sentences in each part. They mostly tell about the grasslands, flocks and herds, blue sky, white clouds, rivers and lakes, etc. Mongolian folk long songs are considered to be the ‘living fissile of pastoral music’” (Sakura). In all the examples of this essay, the lyrics are all very short with only several sentences.
Mongolian folk long songs are not only unique singing forms of distinctive nomadic culture, but also a cross-border culture with Mongolia and China’s Inner Mongolia as the main distribution areas (Sakura). The themes of long songs are very wide, which “range from the religious, philosophical, ceremonial, and didactic to expression of love for family, nature, birthplace, and animals” (Pegg 44). For example, “The Ridge of North Mountain” is about nature, “The Rich and Vast Land of Arlashan” is about love for homeland and “Alatan Mountain” is about religion. In order to protect this unique musical form, “In May 2006, Mongolian folk long songs was selected as one of China’s first batch of intangible cultural heritages (Sakura).
Long songs are usually performed with accompany of the Horse-head Fiddle. “Accompanying sing with ‘two-stringed instruments’ sounds intriguingly like musical customs that have long been a part of Mongol society” (Marsh 19). The Horse-head fiddle is a very traditional Mongolia two-stringed bowed lute. It has a long history. “The earliest evidence of stringed musical instrument among the Mongols comes from the period of the Mongol Empire of the twelfth through fourteenth centuries…The historical annals of the Yuan dynasty, founded by Kubilai Khan, grandson of Chinggis Khan and fifth supreme khan, in the thirteen century, give special attention to the musical arts of the dynastic palace and provide some of the first information about the actual terms the Mongols used for their musical instruments. According to the annals, Kubilai ordered the establishment of a music and song ensemble to be used for state and political ceremonies and private festivals” (Marsh 17). These historical evidences reflect the long history of long song accompanied by the Horse-head fiddle.
The two strings of the Horse-head fiddle are very uniquely made. They are made of horsehair “that run parallel to each other, instead of being woven” (Pegg 75). “The thicker, deeper-sounding string, situated on the right in frontal aspect, has about 130 hairs and is traditionally referred to as ‘male’. The thinner one, left of the deep string in the same aspect, has 105 hairs and is called ‘female’” (Pegg 75).
Singing with accompany of Horse-head fiddle is so popular in Mongolia daily life. “In the lives of the nomadic herders, music and song, and to a limited degree dance, were a part of everyday life, accompanying nearly every type of activity. It is not difficult to imagine a scene in which a herder returns home in the evening from herding and , after an evening meal, picks up his fiddle and performs melodies or accompanies members of his family or visiting friends in sing and dancing” (Marsh 30). There are three very traditional long song examples accompanied by horse-head fiddle:
Example: “The Ridge of North Mountain” by Baderma in 1979(Baderma).
The Ridge of North Mountain is a very popular Mongolia long song performed in wedding ceremony.
Main lyrics :
Running on the Ridge of North Mountain is the yellow pony with golden hair.
Wearing the golden and silver jewellery is my little lovely sister (Baderma).
Example: “The Rich and Vast Land of Arlashan” by Baderma in 2003(Baderma).
This song has more than 300-year history. The song expresses Mongolia’s high admiration on their history, tradition, culture, custom, human nature and morality. It is a very popular song performed in all kinds of ceremonies from small wedding ceremony to grand Naadam ceremony (Baderma).
Main lyrics :
The rich and vast land of Arlashan is our homeland hard to find.
The religious way to the boundless Buddhism is what we need to study for serving our motherland (Baderma).

Example: “Alatan Mountain” by Baderma in 1986 (Baderma)
This long song is a religious folk song. The song expresses the admiration to the magnificent Alatan Mountain and carols the grand Buddhism.
Main lyrics (translated by Zhijun Yang):
The magnificent Alatan Mountain is our fairy land.
It is fascinating scenery of Holy Mountain from four directions (Baderma).
Musical Analysis:
In these long songs, we can feel the freedom of Mongolia life on the vast grassland under the blue sky, through the profound, slow (Man ban) and long rhythm. The range of notes is wide and high pitched notes are focused on. There is no regular beat in the performances. Free meter is used in the songs. Dynamic of these songs is p to mp. In these long songs, the lyrics are all very short. On the other hand is the long melodies and long duration of long tunes. The texture of the songs with horse-head fiddle accompaniment is chordal accompaniment. All of these reflect the main musical characteristics of profound, slow, free and long. In addition, with the horse-head fiddle accompaniment, these long songs are enhances to reflect the Mongolia nomadic musical characteristics. The timber of the horse-head fiddle is deep, heavy and emotional. The penetrating pure voice of the singer with the emotional timbre of the horse-head fiddle is a best combination and harmony, showing us a very beautiful picture of Mongolia leisure life on the vast grassland.
In summary, long song is a very unique musical style in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China. It has very profound, slow and long melody with free meter and few lyrics. Rich ornamentation such as vibrato and falsetto is used. It usually performed with accompany of the Mongolia two-string lute: the horse-head fiddle. As a unique musical style with very long history in China, it has been protected as “China’s first batch of intangible cultural heritages” (Sakura).

Works Cited
Jin, Jie. Chinese Music. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Marsh, K. Peter. The Horse-head Fiddle and the Cosmopolitan Reimagination of Tradition in Mongolia. New York and London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2009.
Pegg, Garole. Mongolian Music, Dance & Oral Narrative. Seattle & London: University of Washington Press, 2001.
Sakura. Urtiin Duu., 21 October 2013. Web. 31 October 2013.
Recordings Cited
Baderma. “The Ridge of North Mountain.” The Rich and Vast Land of Arlashan. A.J6. Inner Mongolia: Inner Mongolia Culture and Video-Audio Press, 2010.
Baderma. “The Rich and Vast Land of Arlashan.” The Rich and Vast Land of Arlashan. A.J6. Inner Mongolia: Inner Mongolia Culture and Video-Audio Press, 2010.
Baderma. “Altan Mountain.” The Rich and Vast Land of Arlashan. A.J6. Inner Mongolia: Inner Mongolia Culture and Video-Audio Press, 2010.
Lhajav. “Altan Ura.” Mongolian Music, Dance & Oral Narrative. Seattle & London: University of Washington Press, 2001.
Suhee. “Bayan Tsagaan Nutag.” Mongolian Music, Dance & Oral Narrative. Seattle & London: University of Washington Press, 2001.

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