For Quray (Tatar folk instrument similar to Penny Whistle) and Symphony Orchestra
3*.2.2.2 188.8.131.52 3+timp hp pno strings
*flauto 1 = flauto piccolo
flauto 3 = Quray
Quray: amplified. Provided upon request.
Premiered by Nina Shekhar, quray, and the USC Thornton Symphony Orchestra on February 28, 2020, in Los Angeles, CA.
Bolghar is an ancient city located in Tatarstan, Russia, from as early as the 8th Century, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although the present-day Tatar capital is Kazan, many Tatars consider Bolghar to show a glimpse of their ancient Muslim Bulgar way of life.
I visited Bolghar a couple years ago, in the summertime, for my sister’s wedding, which was in a beautiful big white mosque, not far from an archaeological museum. The place itself is located on the left side of the Volga River. It’s a beautiful town, surrounded by some forest, woods and fields. Its beauty comes from its monuments, temples, museums, mosques, and its proximity to nature. People also live there, leading private lives. They work at the museums, or they just live there. Some of the population keep livestock, like chickens. The city is a combination of everything; you may see a modern car there, and then a person riding a horse as well — not just for tourists, but because they keep horses. I wouldn’t call it eclectic in a loud way, because there isn’t a lot of noise or activity. No, it’s very spacious, with large distances between buildings. It’s filled with green, with trees and gardens.
To me, this place is an intersection of moments in time. When I walk there and listen to the environment, the sound travels far in the open spaces. I feel that I am far from the contemporary world; I am somewhere else. And I can almost hear whispers from the past. They have musicians there, playing folk instruments. I bought a Quray there, (like a western penny whistle) one of my collection — a simple one, painted with some Tatar national patterns. To me, this is a place that’s unique from the rest of the world. In the midst of ongoing archaeological excavations there, we almost get to overhear voices from the past. History is concentrated there, with all the associations the town carries.
When I’m in Bolghar, I feel my identity more precisely. I hear its voice more distinctly. It awakens in me, feelings that I am not just myself — I am someone that comes from this culture, these older generations. I often think about my grandparents and my family there, and nature itself. As I am visually-impaired, sounds show me my environment. When I was there this summer, it was sunny before noon. I heard the birds and the wind in the branches. In the afternoon there was light rain, and we walked along the river. There were many layers of sound, to me, all at once: water, wind, raindrops, the river running, people talking far away, and music in the distance. Sometimes we cannot hear these faraway sounds when we’re in a big city: we have too many sounds of cars, people and machinery nearby.
This piece features the Quray, the Tatar folk instrument. Because Bolghar is incorporated so well with nature, I’m using all the possibilities where I can refer to the basic nature of the orchestral instruments. I base my harmonies on the overtones series. With strings, I use a lot of harmonics and open strings. With winds, I use the sound of air, but it’s formed as a ritual: repeating patterns with slight differences. With the quray, also, the gestures refer to ritual sounds. The quray doesn’t have any virtuosic scales — it’s just the most natural sounds of the quray, playing with the overtone series and overblowing on the instrument.
Sometimes in the piece, musical gestures finish abruptly, returning to a completely different color. In the climax, the music jumps to the past, and back to the present, back to the past again, and finally to the future. When I’m in this town, I feel flashes of the past — and then again I am brought to the present, talking to my friends and family. In the next moment I am thinking about the future — what’s next for us? We have to save these beautiful places. We have to take care of our heritage for the future — which is a question, because we never know what’s going to happen. But we have to preserve the beauty we already have and appreciate who we are in the moment.