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119. Technique Of Performance

The technique of performance among different groups and individual shamans is subject to great variations. However, there are many common elements and methods. A certain number of these elements and methods depend upon the paraphernalia and the general conditions of shamanizing, e.g. the dwellings, conditions of weather, etc. The sex of the shaman also has a certain influence. In fact, the female shaman are physically weaker, shorter in stature, and their movements are not exactly like those of the males. Therefore, in discovering common elements the difference in paraphernalia and other «material» conditions, as well as the sex of the performer must be kept in mind.

Shamanistic performances are usually carried out in the dark. However, some forms of shamanizing, e.g. among the Reindeer Tungus of Transbaikalia, the shamanizing — at least a part of it -to the spirits of the upper world, may be carried out both by day and at night, which depends on the shaman. According to all Tungus groups, the spirits come down to the shaman much easier during the dark period of the day, and some spirits cannot be brought and dealt with in the day time. This is true not only of the shamans, but also of other people. The first idea that comes to one's mind is that during the day time the people are busy, and this is the reason why the shamanizing is carried out at night. However, this supposition most be excluded, for e.g. the Tungus in the day time, during almost the whole summer, are free, because hunting and nomadizing are carried out during the dark hours of the day. in most cases the dealing with the clan spirits among the Manchus takes place during the day, while the shamanizing is performed during the night hours. The inference to be made is that the darkness is a favourable technical condition of shamanizing — the spirits come more readily in the dark, as the Tungus assert.

In almost all forms of shamanistic performances, when the extasy of the shaman and the excitation of the audience are needed, i.e. with the exception of some cases when the shaman is alone, several technical methods for bringing up a necessary psychic condition of the shaman and the audience are used. These are rhythmic effects, music of the performance, particularly rhythmic movements, dancing, drumming and production of various noises with the costume, also singing or reciting, and the contents of the text of the performance, i.e. description in words of the relations between the shaman and the spirits, the people and the spirits.

The performance is usually opened by the shamans with a soft almost monotonous drumming at a slow tempo, in 2/2 and 4/4 time. This moment corresponds to the drawing of the attention of the spirits. No singing is used. The shamanizing in rare cases begins with a very passionate introduction. In these cases spirits have already entered the shaman during his actual or supposed sleep. This would mean that the shaman and the audience are psychologically prepared for the performance. This may take place also when the shaman is certain of the sudden effect of his passionate introduction, or it may also happen with beginners, when they must overcome their own shyness by a sudden start, and at the same time produce a favourable impression on the audience. In fact, it is often believed that a candidate-shaman is suddenly entered by the spirit» wherefore the performance must begin suddenly.

The sounds of the same drum are not alike. First or all, the pitch and clearness of the sound depend on the dryness of the skin, in fact, before the drumming, the instrument is usually prepared by drying it on an open fire — this is done even during dry nights. When the drum is not prepared, it does not produce a good clear high pitched sound, and the shaman is unable to obtain the effect of the rhythmic influence. Many shamans have two drums which are alternatively dried and used. When the shaman does not meet with the sympathy of his audience and assistants, his or her drum is left without drying and it may lose the needed quality. The shaman can have his drum tuned lower or higher, like a kettle drum, and can thereby produce these effects. For instance, in some parts of the performances the drum is only slightly dried in order to produce a low tone, while in other cases it must be high pitched. Secondly, the drum produces different sounds depending upon the part which is being beaten — the center, or the periphery. As a matter of fact the drums, especially those with resonators, do not produce a simple sound, but a complex one, consisting of a principal one and some supplementary sounds. The principal drum may be made forte or piano, which essentially changes the musical effect of the drumming. Furthermore, the way of applying the drum stick (especially the elastic ones) has a great influence on the character of the sound - e.g. the strong sharp strokes which are rarely used; strokes followed by a pause, which stops the vibration of the skin; the sharp frequent strokes which increase the vibration (coincidence of subsequent vibrations); the sharp frequent strokes which stop the vibration (interference of subsequent vibrations) (the shaman must know his drum!); forte and piano, crescendo and diminuendo give a great variety of sound, which may in some cases be a very low, even, almost uninterrupted monotonous sound; in other cases a high, sharp, also almost uninterrupted sound, but exciting; the sound may also be deep-low, sharp low, and so on. Still more varieties are produced if the shaman uses double sounds, obtained from the center and the peripheral sections of the drum, especially combined with stopping and repetition. Furthermore, the sounds of the drum can be increased by means of trinkets and even bells. Their rhythmic shaking may produce new additional sounds — noises of a definite musical quality. From the above remarks it is evident that the shamans can produce a great variety of sounds with distinct effects upon themselves and the audience [619].

This slow and soft drumming of the beginning of the performance produces its effects: the attention of the shaman is concentrated, as well as that of the audience. The spirits may now arrive at any moment. Since the arrival of a spirit means extasy, the drumming shows gradual increase of tempo and gradually changes from piano into forte. There may be a change of the rhythm too. At the moment of culmination of extasy the shaman usually makes the last fortissimo stroke and throws away the drum. The drum can fall down, but it is usually taken away from the shaman's hands at the due moment.

The dressing of the shaman in his costume, even partly, e.g. only apron and head-dress, or belt with conical trinkets (Manchus), can take place prior to the first drumming, or at the arrival of the spirit. When the shaman is dressed, he has at his disposal new means of producing sounds — various trinkets of the costume. As I have already pointed out, in the Tungus costume they can be arranged in such a way, that different parts of the costume could produce distinct complexes of sounds, e.g. to the upper part (on the back and chest) thin pieces can be attached which would produce a high pitched rustling; to the middle part heavy iron rattles can be attached which would produce moderately pitched sounds and to the lower part conical trinkets can be attached which would produce a low pitched clinging sound, the costume may also be supplied, e.g. in the front and back parts of the coat, with assorted bells to produce different musical accords. The sounds of the iron trinkets and of the brass mirrors (especially when they are different in size and thickness) are naturally contrasting. The art of the shaman consists in knowing how to use this source of sounds. An inexperienced or non-musical shaman will produce merely a rhythmic noise, and he will not be appreciated by the audience; while a good shaman-artist uses all possible varieties of sounds and, when needed, an impressive tutti. Indeed, a good shaman knows how to arrange his costume. A shaman who does not know how to use these effects will simply be considered as a bad shaman.

The use of the musical attributes of a costume is possible only when the shaman is moving. The movements may begin at the moment of the first calling of the spirits, but the maximum can be reached only when the shaman stands up and begins his dancing. It may consist of rhythmic movements of the whole body, which produce variable tutti: piano and forte, short (staccato) and continuous (tremolo); or rhythmic movements of different parts of the body, affecting different sounding groups of trinkets; or alternation of movements of the whole body and its parts, e g. only the front or back sections of the waist with the bells, and the upper or middle part of the trunk. These movements, correlated with the production of simple and combined sounds, entail various steps, rhythmed in 4/4, 2/4, 3/4, time, all with variable accents. The shaman makes, for instance, two soft movements forward, alternatively producing sounds with the front and back parts of the coat, and one sharp movement back producing sounds of all of the trinkets. They may be increased with the additional movements of the shoulders producing a continuous high pitched rustling. A long phrase may be concluded by a tutti — forte, produced by a short strong leap on the spot. So the dancing is partly called forth by the necessity of producing rhythmic sounds. But there is also another reason, namely, the association of the visual rhythm to the sounding rhythm, and the shaman's reaction on it. In fact, the shaman's rotations, e.g. round the fire place, and on his own axis may attain such a tempo that the shaman may at least temporarily lose consciousness.

During the dance the shaman may or may not use his drum himself. In the latter case the drumming is produced by the assistants, sometimes even with two instruments at the same time. The drumming must exactly follow the movements of the shaman, so that the rhythmic noise produced by the costume is increased by that of the drum. It is thus evident that the assistants must know the art of drumming and must understand the shaman's movements. The changes of movements, and the ensuing musical effects, correspond to the spirits' activity, when they are introduced into the shaman, and to what the shaman (his soul) does during the travellings. For instance, when the shaman needs additional increase of extasy, the movements become faster and the music becomes louder; when the shaman is already in his trance, this condition must be maintained by keeping the same tempo and rhythm; when the shaman falls down, the drumming must be stopped at once, at least for a while, if he is in a deep trance, or it must be reduced to a pianissimo tremolo. The individual character of the shaman is of great importance, and the assistants must know it.

There are two effects more produced by the shamans by the musical content of their singing and the sense of their words. First let us consider the musical character of the singing. It should be noted that most of the shamans possess rather good voices, from the European point of view. The majority of them are male — baritones, and female — contraltos. I do not remember having met tenors and mezzo sopranos, and only in a few cases I met with rather high basses. The Tungus, as well as Manchu shamans sing in two manners, namely, with full voice in European manner, and with gutturalised voice (the falsetto of Chinese singers is not used, perhaps with the exception of Chinese shamans). The shamans first practice singing, and they must be rather careful with their voices, for the performance sometimes lasts several hours.

The shamans do not sing the whole time during the performance. They begin by drumming without singing, the latter being gradually introduced into the performance. Since the introductory part usually consists of the invitation of the spirits, the explanation of the cause of shamanizing, etc., the singing is rather quiet and monotonous. When the spirits are approached by the soul of the shaman, the singing becomes passionate and it culminates in a scream of extasy when the spirit enters the shaman. After the spirit has entered into the shaman, the singing changes in melody, in rhythm, tempo and character (there may be even a change of the voice!) and it turns into a dialogue -almost a recitative — between the shaman and his assistant. Thus, the music becomes usually poorer, than before, and the sounds of the drum and of the attributes of the costume grow fainter. The shaman is then usually sitting on the ground. However, the shaman's travelling and the further increase of his extasy may be accompanied by a singing of a richer musical production.

When the shaman sings he is always «helped» (according to the Tungus expression) by the assistants and even by other people, who usually repeat the same refrain, first given by the shaman. The refrains may be shorter or longer, as seen from the examples given here, and they are always connected with certain spirits. However, there are also some refrains which are used only for special types of shamanizing, e.g. when the shaman goes to the lower world. The refrains have a great importance in the performance, for they intensify the emotion of the shaman and the audience in different directions: depression, sadness, joy, excitement. They also act as an intensified hypnotic method on the shaman, the audience and sometimes tin the sick person that is being treated, especially when the singing is well executed. On the other hand, when the shaman is not «helped», the performance may fail altogether.

The shaman's singing and the «helping» of the audience, together with the drumming and the music of the costume, performed by an experienced shaman, the assistants and the «helpers», may thus form a very complex and varied performance of the greatest emotional effect upon the performers and the audience. A musical analysis of this complex manifestation is out of question, for, first of all, it was impossible to record even a small part of the actually produced sounds. In fact, the performances, carried out at night time in wigwams or badly lighted houses (among the Manchus), cannot be directly recorded. Secondly, most of the music cannot be rendered at all with the European notation and thirdly, the complexity of the sounds is so great that only a poor idea of it could be given. A small part of the actual musical side of the performance might be memorized and later reproduced, but only a very small part of them might be put in the form of European notation. Phonographic recording is also technically impossible, for the shaman and the audience are in extasy and the use of the phonograph would disturb their finely balanced emotional state [620].

These remarks may serve as an explanation of the fact that the present description of the shamanistic performances cannot show the exceptional psychological power of the musical part of shamanistic performances. Persons with out defective musical ability feel the emotional effect which is aesthetically perceived; those who cannot notice it, cannot understand and cannot penetrate the essentials of shamanism.

I refer below to a few example of shamanistic «songs» which have been published, but I must note that, as single songs reproduced by the shaman, they give a poor idea of shamanistic music as a whole. If a comparison is permitted, I should say that they are like the segregation of the score of one instrument of a great orchestra. Nevertheless they are interesting.

Madame Shirokogoroff has published some shamanistic songs [621] and J. Yasser has analysed some of them [622].

From the analysis of these songs we see that some of them are composed in a pentatonic scale, which fact points to a Chinese influence, if we agree that the pentatonic scale is a Chinese one. However, such an assumption cannot be made, for the Chinese pentatonic scale itself is only one of the variations of a still wider ethnographical element — «the pentatonic scale» [623]. By this remark I do not want to say that the shamanistic songs used among the Northern Tungus and Manchus did not come from China. Their Chinese origin is quite possible, but they might have been borrowed quite independently of «shamanism», while a pentatonic scale might have been used among the Tungus before shamanism had originated in its present form. However, the fact of musical connexion between the shamanistic songs and the Chinese cultural complex is of importance, when we group together other facts concerning shamanism. The Tungus have employed what they had at hand for building up this complex.

It remains now to discuss the question of the contents of shamanism expressed in words. First of all, it must be pointed out that in almost every shamanizing there is something new, for the occasions of shamanizing are not alike and the relations which originate between the spirits and the shaman, in connection with the shamanizing, are not the same. On the other hand, some moments in shamanizing are essentially similar, e.g. the calling of definite spirits will be more or less similar in all cases; in a sacrifice frequently offered to the spirits, the wording of the address will be more or less the same; if the shaman uses the same spirits, for instance, for treating persons, sick of the same diseases, by sending off the spirits, the wording will be nearly the same. Here it should be noted that some forms of shamanising are extremely rare, as for instance, the shaman's going to the lower world, which, among the Reindeer Tungus of Transbaikalia, takes place once in several years and under variable conditions. Owing to this we find in shamanizing: (1) some well fixed elements, as for instance, prayers to the spirits on the occasion of a ritual sacrifice and calling of spirits, frequently used by the shamans; (2) some other elements very rarely used and therefore leaving a certain liberty to the shaman in the choice of wording; and (3) some elements which are always renewed, for the spirits are new and the conditions requiring shamanizing are variable, demanding almost spontaneous creation on the part of the shaman. In a great shamanizing the fixed elements form only an insignificant part of the shaman's songs (wording!), while the greater part of them are the product of his direct and spontaneous creation.

When the shaman begins a performance he usually pronounces in a more or less distinct manner — it depends on the individual ability of diction — the words for calling spirits which are usually known to the audience, or at least to some of the listeners. As we have seen in the examples of prayers (cf. supra Part Three), [624] the expressions and constructions, as a whole, are products of poetic creation. They prepare the audience and the shaman, and they transfer them into the world of images. At the next step, the shaman in a rhythmic and sometimes rhymed form may expound before the spirits the concrete cause of the shamanizing, which is understood by the audience. The audience takes it emotionally, for the cause concerns them personally, as, for instance, the sickness or senior relatives, beloved little children, etc. in this way the world of images is connected emotionally and personally with the living people, and the shaman, as an intermediary between the two, establishes a close contact with the audience he becomes the link. If the spirit which is called in is one with whom the shaman and the audience are familiar, the words sung by the shaman are known and sometimes quite clear. The spirit is present in person and the emotion of the audience, directly produced by the words, becomes more intense. The dialogue between the spirit, especially a spirit which is not known, and the shaman's assistant is always very exciting, for the solution of the problem can be found in what the spirit says through the shaman, helped by the assistant, in this part of shamanizing a great part of what is said (sung) may be misunderstood or unintelligible altogether, for with the approach of the extasy at that moment the words pronounced by the shaman may not be clear. If the spirit is a foreign one whose language cannot be understood (the shaman himself sometimes does not know it, and confines himself to a repetition of a few words quite confused), the assistant and the audience try to understand the spirit's words from the gestures of the shaman. This augments the intensity of the emotional state of the audience. Lastly, when the shaman attains the extasy, his words may become still less understandable than during the period when the shaman maintains (responds to) a dialogue with the assistant. However, every word pronounced by the shaman is interpreted or misinterpreted by the audience, every one understands it in accordance with the produced situation as the result of a series of reactions in each personal complex, due to the stimulus of the shaman's words and to his whole performance in public. Finally, there may arise a situation when nobody would understand the shaman and the audience and even the experienced assistants could only guess the meaning of the shaman's behaviour. However, in such cases the psychic tension of the audience does not decrease, for the audience is in the presence of and in contact with the spirits: the imagination responds in one direction, if these spirits are dangerous and in another direction, if the spirits are benevolent.

From the words pronounced by the shaman the audience may follow the shaman's progress in his interference in the world of spirits; by means of the pronounced words the shaman leads the audience towards the desired state, i.e., in most cases, a state in which suggestion and hypnosis become possible. Herein lies the importance of the contents of the words pronounced in a performance.

If the shaman fails to attain his aim, in so far as the wording is concerned, he is not considered to be a good shaman, although perhaps the audience and the critics cannot formulate the actual defects of the shaman. In fact, the audience is very often unable to understand the shaman; but if he cannot be understood at all, he is not good in the public opinion. If the period when his wording is very confused lasts too long, the audience becomes also tired, and the shaman is not considered to be a good one. Thus the relation which is observed between the shaman and the «master» the spirits, but when they are in the shaman, the audience is very delicate. The shaman is supposed to may act according to their will; the latter point is admitted. Furthermore, the audience is supposed to be influenced by the spirits, which is actually the shaman's influence. If the audience cannot understand the spirits, the psychic tension is relaxed and the audience becomes dissatisfied with the shaman, for the latter cannot sufficiently «master» the spirits.

While a complete record of the text of a shaman's performance is technically possible, with the help of modern instruments, a great part of it cannot be understood, and would be only an incoherent, inconsistent string of phrases, even of words, some of which may be even words of a foreign language or merely meaningless combinations of sounds supposed to be the spirit's language. This is especially true of the moments when the shaman change the spirits, or when he is in a state of unconsciousness, complete or partial. A part of the shamanizing, also important, is when the shaman is silent and the audience can only guess what is going on with him.

Most of the records of the shaman's songs which I myself have made, and also which have been made by other observers, are only prayers of the shamans, quite stabilized and known by heart by the shamans, by their assistants, and also by those who frequent performances. «Callings» of the spirits can also have a fixed form. It should be noted that the Manchu poem, or rather a record of shamanizing, the Nishan Saman, here often mentioned, is either a pure artistic production or a simplified record, which the authors might have modified with additions, interpretations and omissions. So it cannot be considered as an authentic record. However, the assistants of shaman, as will be shown, after long practice with the same shaman, may have a more or less correct idea of the performance and may represent the process in the shaman's words. A certain fixation of the process of shamanizing is theoretically possible, and it does exist, even in sections of shamanizing, when the shaman is half-conscious, but it would naturally be subject to great individual variations; when the shaman acts alone, the individual variations may be still greater.

In the above description of the technique of shamanizing I have not referred to definite ethnical groups here described. However, in the matter of technique, the ethnical differences are of great importance. In fact, first of all, the musical means of drums and costumes are not alike. The Manchu costume may produce only rhythmic noises with the belt, and movements with the back. Owing to this, the «dancing» of the Manchu shaman does not include complex movements with different parts of the body and is relatively simple. The Manchus live in houses, where the space for the shaman's moving round is very limited, so the dancing does not assume very complex forms and there may be no such movement as that round the fire-place. There are also essential differences between the technique of the Reindeer Tungus shamans and that of the Tungus of Manchuria. In fact, the musical possibilities of costumes, as shown, are quite different. When we proceed to the description of the shamans state during the extasy, the difference will be still better seen. There is one more factor which has a great influence in the technique, namely, the degree of fixation of rituals, especially stabilized owing to the existence of writing among the Manchus. This aspect will be discussed in the section dealing with the ritualism.

619. The art of playing the drum, as good shamans do, is not easy. I had to spend time before I could reproduce some varieties of sounds. As a condition of the performance it is much more than a simple «drumming». Some interesting remarks as to a Yakut shaman have been made by N. A. Vitashevskij; (op. cit. pp. 174-175).

620. The musical side of shamanism was one of the aspects which attracted special attention of Madame Shirokogoroff; we tried to record what was possible. Several dozens of phonographic records now preserved in the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Siences, contain songs of various groups, but they were only partly deciphered However, the shamanistic «songs» were not taken during the performance, but on special request, so that they cannot be considered as an exact reproduction of shamanistic «songs» during the performance. The deciphering of the records and their notation represented insurmountable difficulties. This was true not only in our case. The experienced analyst of folkmusic, S. Maslov (of Moscow), could render in European musical notation only four of the twelve records of Yakut songs, and they were but approximate ones (quoted from J. Yasser's paper, vide infra) (cf. also remarks to H. H. Roberts and D. Hemmes, Eskimo Songs, by the first author who analyzed phonographic records, p. 17 et seq.). Indeed, a great number of needed signs are lacking in the European notation. The only way of obtaining a reproduction of a shamanistic performance is a record with the most recent recording instruments, and there will still remain the problem of analysis and description which are, at least at present, beyond reach in fact, it is impossible to give in words an exact description of musical and painting creations — one must see and hear and understand them.

621. Cf. Elizabeth N. Shirokogoroff, Folk Music in China, in: The China Journal of Science and Arts, March, 1924, pp. 6, with 51 examples of various songs, including ten songs of the Manchus and Tungus.

622. Cf. Joseph Yasser, Musical moments in the Shamanistic Rites of the Siberian Pagan Tribes, in Pro-Musica Quarterly, March-June, 1926 pp. 4-15. As I show below, no supposition as to the Chinese source of shamanism is needed for understanding the fact of «Chinese» scale in shamanistic songs of the Tungus.

623. A very instructive, for an ethnographer, analysis of the history and geographic distribution of the pentatonic scale, also of the infradiatonic scale, is found in J. Yasser's work A Theory of Evolving Tonality, N. Y. 1932, American Library of Musicology, Contemporary Series: Volume one.

624. Here I give no specimens of shamanistic «songs» and «prayers» (I shall give them in another publication, dealing with Folklore) because as far as style, language and construction are concerned they do not differ very much from the above cited examples.

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