Preserving Bhutanese folk songs: Musical notations for 250 songs to safeguard cultural heritage

The Traditional Performing Arts and Music Division, formerly known as the Royal Academy of Performing Arts, has taken a new initiative to safeguard and popularise Bhutanese folk songs. Their goal is to make these traditional songs known worldwide and ensure they are accessible for future generations. To achieve this, the division has started creating musical notations for 250 folk songs. Musical notation is a system of representing musical sounds or notes on paper or other media. These notations allow musicians to play the songs on any instrument, preserving their cultural importance even as contemporary music gains more prominence.

The centre has set a goal to create 250 folk songs within two months. They will provide both audio and text versions of these songs.

To ensure their long-term availability, these songs will be preserved in an archive, safeguarding them for future generations.

Sunmi Paik, a well-known music expert from South Korea, is currently a professor at Kathmandu University in Nepal. She is actively involved in the project and provides valuable assistance.

Professor Paik spends her time transcribing detailed musical notations and training the artists throughout the day.

Her extensive knowledge and unwavering dedication play a crucial role in ensuring the project’s goals are successfully achieved.

“These days, the younger generation is not interested in traditional music. If we do not put traditional music on paper, it will disappear. This is a really serious issue from my point of view. So, western notation is one of the best ways to preserve Bhutanese traditions and culture.”

The project not only helps preserve our culture but also makes it easier for foreign musicians to learn and play Bhutanese traditional songs.

“All foreign musicians have their own western notation written on paper. In the future, they will be able to refer to our notation. Learning notations did exist in our culture but lacked the proper method to do so. But now, we have a clear method, which will help avoid any misinterpretation of the tunes,” said Sangay Phuntsho, an artist.

Although there are over a thousand folk songs in the collection, the centre is currently focusing on the most well-known ones due to time limitations.

However, there are ambitious plans for the future to include all songs, including classical compositions, to ensure the complete preservation of Bhutan’s abundant musical heritage.

“Our culture should be nationally rooted and globally competent. Likewise, seeing the need for making musical notation for our songs we invited a musical expert from South Korea, and the creation of a musical notation is currently underway. The benefit of the project is that if ever there is a deterioration of folk songs, we will be able to revive and preserve them for future,” said Phub Wangdi, Officiating Principal of the Traditional Performing Arts and Music Division.

The acting principal added that this project is one of the largest projects ever undertaken.

Highlighting the importance of traditional songs and music as essential parts of Bhutan’s tangible culture, the acting principal said that preserving them is crucial for maintaining the country’s identity and independence.

The project is funded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization through their Documentation, Advocacy, and Awareness Programme on Intangible Cultural Heritage of Bhutan.

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