Combining influences ranging from nomadic Tuvan herdsmen and Jimi Hendrix, Alash Throat confused then delighted its audience last Tuesday night as the group exposed many to a sound they may have never heard otherwise.
Through the Distinguished Lecture Series and a grant from the Ready for the World program, UT's School of Music provided students and the general public with world music not typically listened to in western culture.
"I think that it is great that UT provides students with opportunities to see performances that they may not otherwise be exposed to," said Alex Shrum, a senior in music education. "The coordinators that put together this program recognize that music is an incredibly important part of a people's culture. Throat singing is something that very few students would be exposed to if not for a campus that provided performances such as this."
With no instruments present at the beginning of the performance, the Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall somehow sounded as if the music was only coming from invisible instruments. Then the audience realized they were singing.
Throat singing is characterized by being able to sing multiple pitches at a time. This ancient technique allows the performers to sound like human instruments much to the surprise of the audience.
"Though I was expecting the throat singing that is standard in this style of music, I wasn't aware of the variety of interesting sounds that could be made with the human throat," said Devan Pope, a senior in performing arts management. "There were buzzing sounds, whistling sounds and humming sounds that were all very different than I had ever heard."
When they did pick up instruments, the mix of the new, western culture became apparent.
"The music of Tuva is very much alive," Sean Quirk, the band's interpreter, said. "It's still developing, and we still consider this to be traditional to the music. We're going to prove this to you by playing a Tuvan rock and roll song for you."
Their "rock 'n roll" songs sounded more like a page out of traditional American bluegrass, but combined the two cultures while still using mainly traditional Tuvan instrumentation, minus the occasionally-amped acoustic guitar or Russian accordion.
"I really enjoyed the different style of instruments that they played on," Pope said. "It is so interesting to see the same ideas of instrument, such as string instruments and percussion, like one would see in western music, but they look and sound very different."
Members of the ensemble have reached international fame through their unique style of music.
Ayan-ool Sam was dubbed "The Golden Throat of Tuva" by Bela Fleck, Ayan Shirizhik was awarded the title of Distinguished Artist of Tuva in 2009 and Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, the youngest member at age 29, was named a People's Xoomeizhi (throat singer) of the Republic of Tuva in 2007 as the youngest person to ever receive this award.
"Music is an integral part of people's lives all over the world," Shrum said. "A study of a different people's music is essentially a study of their history, language, religion and other essential facets that make them who they are."
After the final song, Alash received a standing ovation from its audience, inviting an encore song. As the group re-entered the stage, each member thanked the audience and were appreciative to be in Tennessee: the home of country music.
"Our last song is about fast horses and beautiful women," announced Shirizhik, much to the amusement and delight of the audience.
Having access to a unique experience of Alash's performance engendered excitement in students and appreciation for the opportunities the series is presenting to the UT community.
"It is one thing to go and experience something new and interesting, but to really enjoy it and take a new interest in other cultures' music would be great," Pope said. "I hope people do not merely write off the event as 'strange,' 'foreign' or 'weird,' but instead realize how much value they can take from these performances and pursue other cultural events."