Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Burmese Hsaing and Anyein

Hsaing Waing Ensemble

Hsaing Waing Ensemble

The hsaing ensemble contains a richly varied set of instruments. The leader of the ensemble is always the player of the drum circle, patt waing. This is a set of 21 drums hanging inside a circular and ornately decorated frame. Each drum is carefully tuned by the application of a bit of tuning paste to the center of the drum. The tuning is frequently altered during a performance according to the requirements of the particular composition being played. The player evokes a variety of sounds from the patt waing by several different types of deft strokes with the bare fingers on the head of the drum.

The strong contrasting instrumental voice in the hsaing ensemble is that of the small double reed instrument called hne. For certain ceremonial compositions such as the sido gyi, a larger version of this instrument, the hne gyi is employed. The patt waing and hne frequently work together, often going into a kind of musical game of tag in which the player of the drum circle improvises a short phrase which must be imitated precisely by the hne player with the audience passing judgment throughout. Two other melody instruments, the kyi waing and the maung hsaing, fill out the ensemble, usually supporting the drum circle but often switching sides to play with the hne for purposes of contrast. The kyi waing is a high-pitched set of bronze gongs played with mallets and set in a gilded wooden circular frame similar to, but lower than that of the patt waing. The maung hsaing is a set of bronze gongs lower and more mellow in tone than those of the kyi waing. The gongs of the maung hsaing are set in a rectangular frame.

The foundation of the musical structure of hsaing music is provided by these instruments. The hcau loun patt by name means six drums but is, in fact, a set of eight drums played by a single musician. Two large double-headed drums dominate and are used to set the underlying patterns of the music. In addition, a row of six smaller drums sit in front of the player and with these he creates patterns of contrasting high pitches to offset the basic patterns played on the large drums. The bell and clapper, his and wa, each played by a different musician, provide the main beats of the music with the stroke of the bamboo or wooden clapper maintaining the synchronization of any rhythmic or melodic phrase. In addition to these instrumentalists, there is often another musician in the group who plays whatever other drums may be required to create to a particular atmosphere for a special composition. There may also be a singer with the ensemble, but frequently the bell or clapper whether accompanying the voice or playing as solo instruments.

Two other instruments not traditionally part of the hsaing ensemble may be used to accompany songs in the more intimate court singing style. These are the saung gauk, a beautiful wooden harp with silk strings, elaborately gilded with the sound-body covered with deer skin. The patala is a xylophone with bamboo keys also used to accompany the voice. Both the harp and xylophone require the addition of the bell and clapper whether accompanying the voice or playing as solo instruments.

The Burmese musical system is based on a series of seven notes arranged in a number of different patterns of strong and weak notes to provide a rich variety of modes. When the hsaing performs a purely musical concert, it usually begins by playing in the ceremonial mode Hkun Hnathan Gyi. The principal portion of the performance requires that the drums be returned for playing in the Than You mode. The hsaing may play this way until midnight at which point the drums are returned for Nga Bauk. In the early hours of the morning the musicians will begin the last portion of the performance playing in Patt Sa Bou. However, when the hsaing accompanies either dance or drama, the tunings must be changed frequently in accordance with the compositions required by the action on the stage.