The music of
Myanmar or Burma
is close in spirit to those of the Southeast
Asian civilizations of Thailand, Laos and
Cambodia. The Indian influence is less
perceptible here than in the nation's mythology
and religious beliefs, or than in such other
arts as the shadow-theatre and dance-drama.
The most complete Myanmar or Burmese instrumental
is the hsaing-waing, which consists basically of
a set of from eight to twenty-one drums
suspended by leather thongs on a circular rattan
frame, and of a circular array of gongs. In
addition there may be anything from seven to
twelve other instruments, among them oboes,
bamboo clap-sticks, hand-cymbals, flutes and
mouth organs, bells, xylophones and zithers.
in Myanmar and all other countries of the region, however,
music drums and gongs predominate. In traditional
orchestras, they come in many shapes and forms:
double-headed drums struck with wooden sticks,
double-headed horizontal drums played by hand,
single-headed pottery drums. The gongs may be
flat or bulbous, suspended or supported on
wooden frames. Most of these instruments,
including the drums, produce an unvarying sound.
For that reasons, they normally come in pairs,
one for sharp tones and the other for flat.
Myanmar or Burmese music practice, in which the notes are
identified in descending order, resembles that
of other Southeast Asian countries: the octave
is divided, theoretically, into seven equal
intervals. Whatever mode is used to play a
melody, the structure of the scale remains the
Improvisation plays an important part in
traditional Myanmar or Burmese music. Whereas in most parts
of the world the instruments of the orchestra
are meant to be played in unison, in the
traditional Burmese orchestra, instrumentalists
start from a common melody but are free to play
whatever variations they like, provided they
join up with the ensemble from time to time.
Sometimes the results could be called "heterophonic",
but they do not lack harmony for all that.
In Myanmar, as in the rest of Asia, music is
closely linked to the performing arts, notably
plays, puppet-shows, shadow theatre, dance-drama
and opera. In drama, the Indian influence is
preponderant. All the characters, whether heroes
or gods, originate in the Ramayana or
Mahabharata epics, or in the Jataka, narratives
relating episodes from the Buddha's previous
incarnations. Performances, which often take
place in the open air, may last for several
hours, sometimes even for days.
Myanmar or Burmese music has
not escaped the contagion of Western pop, which
is widely broadcast by the media. Some musicians
have tried to create a synthesis by adapting
Burmese lyrics to Western rhythms or by
performing translated French and English songs
to a Burmese backing.
This so-called "new Myanmar music"
is a hybrid genre whose artistic value is at
best uncertain. But it is popular with the
young, and the influence of radio, television
and cinema will eventually establish its grip.
remains the land of 100,000 pagodas, for
each village has at least one monastery and a
pagoda. The chimes of bells and metal gongs,
carried on the wind, are relayed from community
to community in an uninterrupted chain.
music at least will long remain an irreplaceable
feature of the Burmese landscape. Author Khin Mya Kyu
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