You can hardly find anyone in Mongolia who hasn’t heard the songs of Honored Teacher and composer, L.Galmandak. His son Battulga has been following in his father’s footsteps, working as a conductor, composer and musician in the Buryat Baikal Ensemble in Russia. The following interview highlights important aspects of the memory of his late father, life as a musician and musical theory.
-Do you reminisce about your father?
-Now, evaluating him from a professional musician’s perspective, my father was an amazingly sensitive man. My father worked as a music teacher for many years. He could relate to children through his emotions and intellect and was very much like a child. This may be how he composed around 7,000 children’s songs. Not every musician can compose a children’s song. Composers cannot compose operas, children’s songs, and then another genre; they specialize in one specific genre. Sometimes, I sit down to make a children’s song but it’s very difficult. When someone starts something thinking it’s hard, it turns out easy, and when thinking it’s easy, it turns out to be difficult.
-Your father’s children’s song compositions are wonderful. How many children’s songs have you written so far?
-I have written about five or six songs for Buryat children. I’m thinking of composing a children’s song infused with Mongolian folk music.
-Did you like singing your father’s songs?
-I know the lyrics but hardly sing them because I’m bad at singing.
-You evaluated your father from a professional perspective. How would you evaluate him as a person?
-Just like any other father, he used to teach and give advice. Strictly speaking, he was a man of few words and would say things only once. He didn’t pressure or force me into becoming a musician. When I was out late at night and playing for a rock band, he enrolled me in the Mongolian University of Arts and Culture. Thinking back, he must have wanted me to inherit his profession.
-Were you in the band Fire before?
-The current Fire band used to be called Kharankhui (Dark) at the time. Dalai and Erka of Fire, Aatka of A Sound and I were in a band together.
-Do you have any thoughts on playing with them again?
-Now we’re lifelong friends, more than members of a band. I do have thoughts of playing with them. I’m actually thinking of composing an amusing piece with an orchestra.
-Do you still have a passion for rock music?
-While listening to rock in my youth, I used to get entranced, but I became arrogant. More than classifying it as national or rock music, now I evaluate it from a professional perspective and ponder its origin and pursue new ideas.
-From your father’s collection of over 7,000 children’s songs, are there many compositions about you?
-There are many inspired by me, my mother and by other family members. It’s hard to state all of them. My mother told me that my father composed the song named “Zuun Zuunii Yuruul” (Blessings of Hundreds of Centuries) when I was born.
Later, he himself told me that “Nasan Balchir Ur Mini” sung by S.Javkhlan, was created for me. Its lyric goes:
…Even though life may be hard
My precious baby don’t be lonely…
-When you miss your father, what do you do? Do you listen to his songs?
-There’s nothing in particular that I do when I miss him. I reminisce about my father when working on a big composition or when something good happens.
-You studied in Buryatia after graduating from the Mongolian University of Arts and Culture in 2005, and started working for the National Buryat Music and Dance Ensemble. You had the opportunity to work in Mongolia, but why did you choose the Baikal Ensemble?
-While I was training in Ulan-Ude, Baikal Ensemble needed a morin khuur (horse headed fiddle) player and wanted me to substitute. Afterwards, we started working together. At the time, I was young, and different cultures, components, environment and music were interesting to me.
-In the beginning, did you have any language related difficulties?
-It was difficult to communicate as I began working in 2005, the same year I arrived. Music became my second language and soon after, we could communicate. I used notes for music and to conduct and gave directions.
-How did Buryat musicians feel about being conducted by a Mongolian?
-I worked in many places such as Tuva and Khalimag. Music is a wonderful thing. Neither Buryats nor Mongolians differentiate with music. In my opinion, they gladly accepted me and were helpful. In the music industry, sensitivity and skills are important, not nationality. National Buryat music or their culture isn’t so different, like that of the Europeans. They have orchestras with horse fiddles, flutes, harps, yoochins (dulcimer) and shanzs, so it was fairly easy to work with.
-Apart from being a conductor and musician, you’re also a composer. What compositions have you written? From your compositions, do Buryats feel the Mongolian spirit?
-Of course they do. Despite the fact that I compose, my music is always infused with morin khuur and long song singing, which I spent my childhood listening to. Artists and audiences tell me that there’s some Mongolian feel in it.
I have composed over 40 pieces of orchestra music, and dance scores with two episodes, as well as soundtracks for a film whose director received a golden medal from the Berlin Film Festival. I’m currently working on film soundtracks.
-Senior musicians that work for many years usually become composers. Do people see you as being too young for the job? What sorts of hardships do you face?
-From my observation, lately, European composers have become younger. Working in an industry and workplace that I like is a huge bonus. How I perceive music and how I make others interpret it is the main factor. When working on foreign music compositions, I try hard to feel what the composer wanted to indicate and give correct directions for the musicians.
-Which one do you prefer, conducting or playing music?
-Conducting is an art where you direct and guide musicians to one direction and organize. Similar to the fact that a car cannot move if it doesn’t have a driver, no matter how powerful or good it may be. Musicians, on the other hand, have to not only play the song but also express its sentiments with their instruments. A conductor and musician may seem similar, but in fact, they are completely different. It’s impossible to make them compete.
-What should a conductor be like?
-Not every musician can become a conductor. Conductors don’t just give random signs in front of musicians. There are teachers and professional psychologists who educate people through music. Most importantly, you need to be close to music to conduct. You need to feel and know what they want from you, how to make them play and not to play. There’s no other way to conduct.
-Is there anything from Mongolian folk music that you’d like to infuse with Buryat music?
-When comparing the two genres, there are some things you can and cannot infuse because they are two different compositions from two different nationalities. It’s not like you can infuse long singing rhythm in Buryat music or Buryat round-dancing into long singing and compose folk music.
Great musicians of Mongolia were educated in Russia during comminist times. In my point of view, it will not be too bad for conductors and composers to continue receiving an education in Russia.
-Which direction does the Buryat cultural policy aim towards, classical or folk arts?
-Nations do not have set rules, rights or ethics. They should develop all types of arts and music. Buryat folk music is rather young. The Ministry of Culture and the Russian Federation Government are working to develop small ethnic groups in many aspects.
-Do you consider yourself a patriot?
-I am patriotic. I don’t know why, but I’m very proud of my country. It might be because I’m beyond my country’s borders. Especially when my new compositions are recieved kindly by the audience, I am proud of being Mongolian, and proud of being my father’s son.
-When do you plan on working in your homeland?
-Whenever my homeland calls for me, I’ll be ready. It doesn’t matter where I compose music as I don’t discriminate against people for their race or religion; a person is a person. Nevertheless, I have always thought of working in Mongolia.
-Many art related people, like poets and painters, are fond of growing their hair. Why do you grow your hair?
-I don’t know about other people, but I have had long hair ever since I started listening to rock. Now it’s become only this length after all the trimming. I guess it’s a residue of rock. I’m pretty used to it now.
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