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Human bagpipes

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For a lot of singers, maintaining adequate pitch on one note or tone is challenging enough. Each one of the Tuvan throat singers in Huun-Huur-Tu emits three distinct tones --- not including incidental harmonics --- and they sound like human bagpipes or caribou in heat. During its sold out Tuesday night Kilbourn Hall show, the quartet accompanied itself on indigenous instruments that looked like fragile little weapons.

Huun-Huur-Tu at Kilbourn Hall. - FRANK DE BLASE
  • Frank De Blase
  • Huun-Huur-Tu at Kilbourn Hall.

But man, those voices.

The lowest of the pitches seems to originate in the stomach --- or lower. As the singer summons and it becomes more distinct, it splits into an almost metallic whistle-like pitch. With the force behind that growing and swirling, the singer's uvula begins to vibrate. These tones are nothing short of otherworldly and amazing.

Apparently throat singing isn't taught throughout Tuvan culture but is cultivated in children who imitate throat singers before adulthood tells them it's impossible. As an adult walking back to my car, I attempted the low tone but emitted nothing more than gagging noises. The sensation made me retch. The parking attendant thought I was throwing up. I didn't bother to explain.

So now back to those who sing one note at a time --- with gale force. It was a night at the opera Friday with Mercury Opera's presentation of Puccini's Madama Butterfly at a packed Eastman Theatre. I'm a bit of a novice when it comes to opera, but I love its bombast, spectacle, pageantry, and color. But nobody told me this was a tragedy, dammit. By the time I was fully drawn into the story (following along with the subtitles broadcast overhead helped immensely) homegirl pulled a hara-kiri. Despite my dismay, the singing was big and powerful, the orchestra sweet, supple, and strong, and the sets were beautiful.

Everyone in attendance seemed to agree; they peppered the cheers with "bravo." Something I decided to shout at The Hi-Risers during their set at The Dinosaur later that night. These guys are better than The Beatles. And guitarist Greg Townson knows allthe words to Ritchie Valens' "Donna" --- even the bridge.

--- Frank De Blase

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