A.Dashpeljee: We work to train world-class artists

A.Dashpeljee: We work to train world-class artists

  • By Misheel   -   Nov 15,2021
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It has been 100 years since the modern education sector was established and developed in Mongolia. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of a university that trains specialists with higher education in culture and arts.

The multinational audience was moved to tears when the School of Dance of the Mongolian State University of Arts and Culture (MSUAC) performed the ethno-ballet “Khumurgun Gurvaljin” at the United Nations Concert Hall in Paris. There is no denying that the next performance on the UN stage will be “Galaikhan”.

We’re seeing the results of MSUAC’s training for culture and art specialists in many ways. Today, the university has benefited from the rapid introduction of an integrated management system, development of two unique master programs, introduction of credits system, and modernization of its curricula.

People’s Artist of Mongolia and teacher of the School of Music of MSUAC A.Dashpeljee delved into his school’s activities in the interview below.

How many years have you been teaching at the School of Music of MSUAC? 

In 1977, I won a national competition, which was organized to train young opera singers, and went to Europe to study at the Bulgarian State Conservatoire. After graduating from the school in 1982, I began working as an opera singer at the State Opera and Ballet Academic Theater of Mongolia. Like so, my life changed from rural to cultural, particularly merging with classical music. From 1982 to 2010, I worked as a soloist at the theater. From 1996 to 2001, I served as a singer and the director of the theater.

On January 16, 2001, I submitted a request to resign from the post of theater director to the minister of education, culture and science. In my resignation, I wrote, “During Mongolia’s transition to a market economy, I worked my best. I completely renovated the theater. I restored its internal activities and foreign relations. Now I just want to work as a singer.”

But two or three days later, teachers G.Khaidav and Ts.Purevdorj called me to MSUAC. When my seniors, the gods of music, called me, I went straight to them. They said, “We are old now. This school must expand. We must prepare our successors. You started your career as a singer at the theater but now, you should work here and be the head of the Music Department.”

I told the truth that I didn’t know anything about music training, but neither of them acknowledged it. I couldn’t say no to my elders so I accepted the job. At that time, I was in charge of six or seven students. That’s how I started my career at this school.

Was it difficult to lead the department in the beginning?

I was a teacher and department head from 2001 to 2010. In 2010, when art schools were merged under a government decision, E.Sonintogos was appointed as director of MSUAC and restructured the university. In particular, the School of Culture, School of Radio and Television, and School of Fine Arts, which were operating independently at that time, were merged with MSUAC. As the university expanded, the School of Music was established as a separate school.

At the time, I didn’t know my director well. Before classes began in fall, the new director called me over and said, “I know you, but you don’t know me.” She also explained why she had set up affiliated schools, and told me, “I’ve learned about you as much as I could. I am offering you the position of director of the School of Music. Please give me a response as soon as possible.”

At first, I was skeptical. I was worried about the tuition fee, student enrollment and teachers’ salaries, and told my team about it. But teachers M.Naidalmaa, Ts.Yeruu, D.Dashama, D.Jamiyanjav and O.Ichinkhorloo told me, “You should work hard to improve them.” Therefore, I became the director and worked there for three years. The team worked well, so we developed the school well.

Tuition fees had to be high, as there are many one-on-one classes. So we had to put it in an academic credit system. We accomplished this goal altogether. Directors of the main branch of MSUAC were concerned about the music school’s transition to a credit system. They thought that it was difficult to change the system as it has a lot of educational features. However, we were the first to transfer our training to the credit system. Deputy Director of MSUAC Ch.Altantsetseg helped a lot. She previously worked at the Mongolian University of Science and Technology, which introduced such a system, so she had a lot of experience. Frankly, we, artists, are far from paper works. We know only art. We also changed the old systems of examination and grading and the outdated curricula.

What are the advantages of transferring the training to the academic credit system?

There are many advantages. Payment and time allocation were improved. The curriculum was updated accordingly. A training program for classical and traditional folk long song singers was accredited. In the past, we enrolled students in classical, folk long songs, and pop songs, but with this reform, we began offering students a bachelor’s degree in khuumii (Mongolian throat singing). We also developed a training program to train specialists in the field of folk songs.

Are you still training students in this field?

Yes, we are training students in folk songs. Teachers D.Baasanjav and L.Chuluunchimeg teach folk songs at the School of Music. In order to train teachers of folk songs, teacher Sukhtogoo and I talked for a while and decided to train singers in a two-year accelerated program and provide bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The same goes for khuumii training. Teacher Odsuren taught it for the first time. Many students have graduated with a bachelor’s degree in khuumii. The root arts of Mongolia, traditional folk long songs, morin khuur (horsehead fiddle), and khuumii were registered as world cultural heritage, and the contribution of MSUAC in this work is enormous.

MSUAC has several new “products“, one of which is the training for singers. What do you think about this training?

I think I did a great job during my three years working as the director of the School of Music. For the past 20 years, our university has been teaching acting to students, but from the beginning of the last decade, we have been teaching opera stage management. With the help of our students, we were able to stage large and small operas. Our students even performed children’s operas “Wolf and the Seven Goats”, “Khukhuu Namjil”, “Uulen Zaya”, “Uchirtai Gurvan Tolgoi” and “The Magic Flute”. When we started to stage operas thanks to the efforts of our teachers and students, our director announced a competition to create a project to decorate and renovate the Student Theater. Also, her initiative to have a tradition of funding and implementing the best projects continues to this day. Personally, I think this is a great achievement for both the School of Music and MSUAC. The Student Theater was renovated very beautifully. Equipment, sound, lights and everything were installed at the theater.

As soon as the theater was renovated, we staged successfully one of the famous Mongolian operas, “Uchirtai Gurvan Tolgoi” (Three Dramatic Characters). Following this success, we decided to make a new play on the theme of “Uchirtai Gurvan Tolgoi” without changing its main plot or characters of Yunden, Nansalmaa and Balgan. Poet D.Chinzorig and composer T.Ser-Od composed its music. Then we staged a musical called “Continuation of Love” with great success. At that time, we used all the technical advances to stage it. This was the beginning of our big projects. It is also considered a great achievement to start preparing khuumii performances at a professional level. There is a play called “Humurgun Gurvaljin”. This ethno-ballet, composed by teacher S.Dulam, based on petroglyphs of Del Mountain in Ulziit soum of Dundgovi Province, was performed not only at MSUAC but also at the concert hall of the United Nations in France. This is the achievement, success and honor of our university. The “Continuation of Love” and “Galaikhan” could be performed on that stage. Restoration of the history and cultural traditions of the nation at this level is a creative cultural activity and production. I am always proud of the schools, teachers, students, and alumni who have “revived” and disseminated history, and made it world-class.

You said, “Mongolia is a country with its own teaching method for training singers. Do I have the right to speak out about it or not?” If you don’t speak up, who will?

Mongolia has been training opera singers since the 1960s. The school also began training directors. Most teachers studied in the Soviet Union, and some graduated in Bulgaria. Personnel, studied at three different schools in Russia, have been active in the Mongolian opera industry. For instance, G.Khaidav and A.Zagdsuren graduated from the Moscow State University, while singers Ch.Munkhshur and J.Tsetsgee and conductor Ch.Jamsranjav studied at the Leningrad State University. Also, D.Jamiyanjav, D.Jargalsaikhan and L.Erdenebulgan graduated from a Bulgarian school. They have all been sharing experiences in their home countries for many years. Later, B.Erdenetuya brought the Italian training of singing to Mongolia. Thus, the graduates of five schools of the world came together.

Mongolians are not well-distinguished like Europeans in terms of its singing training, but we have our own method. This is the folk long song. We have not yet fully studied our own technique. We are still studying it. Opera artists and MSUAC have created a Mongolian songs training. Proof of its efficiency are singers who sing on the world stage today, including Mongolian operatic baritone and State Honored Artist E.Amartuvshin. He has won the Best Baritone award at the International Opera Awards (The Lyric’s Oscars). This is the achievement of Mongolia’s establishment of a higher education institution called MSUAC.

In conclusion, we have been working to train world-class artists. One thing must be said here. I worked as the director of the school for three years only. The success of the last 10 years is attributed to the efforts of Director G.Gantsetseg.

Misheel Lkhasuren