• A look over the shoulder of jew's harp maker Petr Osipov

    Jew's Harp Black Smith Petr Osipov from YakutiaPetr Fedotovich Osipov has been fascinated by the jew's harp for as long as he can remember. Already as a child, he sat with musicians who picked up their khomus, the jew's harp of the Yakut people, occasionally listening to them for hours. In 1980, when he finally met one of the traditional Yakut jew's harp makers, Kiril Kirilovich Maltev, he began to learn from him - and later from other artisans - the art of khomus fabrication. He acquired his skills from some of the best Yakut khomus makers. This education still characterises the instruments from his workshop: Petr Osipov produces khomuses in the traditional old style, without ornament or embellishment, without technical distinctiveness or experimental shapes. It is a question of innate bearing.

    In order to make a good jew's harp, according to Petr Osipov, it is not necessary to follow a technical manual but more importantly to have an intrinsic feeling for the musical instrument. "When producing a jew's harp it is important that you be involved, body and soul. Patience is required. You create an idea in your head, you pray - call it whatever you want - you simply ask that this khomus be able to create the best possible sounds from now on." Producing a khomus can take a very long time. Jew's harp makers of earlier times devoted themselves totally to the person for whom the harp was intended. First they came to know the person thoroughly, asking about his or her life, feelings, desires and dreams. They also attempted to ascertain the person's nature and character. The artisan began to work the material and manufacture the khomus only after this familiarization phase. Today there are completely different technological options that shorten production time. The interpersonal aspect is increasingly absent. Petr Osipov maintains that it is evident in the sound of a jew's harp if the maker is lacking this spiritual component.

    Petr Osipov at the DAN MOI stand - Ancient Trance Festival for Jew's Harp and World Music 2014 Petr Osipov visiting the Dan Moi stand at Ancient Trance Festival for Jew's Harp & World Music 2014

    Since Petr Osipov gave up his teaching career and went into retirement two years ago, he invests somewhat more time in building jew's harps. Nevertheless, he produces very few instruments. This is not least because Osipov lives in the country and takes daily care of his ten horses, farm, and supply of firewood. He is also representative of the old school of jew's harp making: "I produce jew's harps the traditional way, making time for the people and the instrument. I try to determine if the pitch of the Khomus should be low or high, whether the metal tongue should have a softer or firmer touch. The jew's harps I produce are individualized; they are aligned to each person's unique needs. Therefore, I produce at the very most 200 jew's harps per year." In Yakutia the fabrication of jew's harps is a job for individual instrument makers. A few of them can also make a living from their craft.

    Khomus Jew's Harp made by Petr Osipov Khomus Jew's Harp made by Petr Osipov

    The sound of a Yakutian jew's harp depends on the tension of the tongue. Petr Osipov says that the secret of jew's harp making can be found there. "I have my own technique for making tongues. It is not just that the tongue must fit precisely in the frame: it must also be cast in a particular way." In order to prevent a jew's harp from leaving a metallic taste in the player's mouth, Petr Osipov places the finished harp in a blazing fire for a few minutes. This too, he says, is an old trick of jew's harp makers. The jew's harp maker passes on his knowledge to new generations of Yakuts. He is an invited consultant and workshop leader in all parts of Yakutia. He says, "Sharing these specialized khomus-making skills is also important for musicians. When they play the instrument, they also learn the story of how their khomus was made." Osipov has been officially recognized as a khomus maker by the People of the World Khomus Museum and Center in Yakutsk.

    There is a saying in Yakutia:  "Bury your parents in a casket," which means "Take care of your parents." Petr Osipov follows this wisdom by making wooden caskets for his jew's harps. They are shaped like animal hooves. This gives the khomuses a solid support, especially to protect them against becoming bent. Petr Osipov is a passionate maker of Yakut jew's harps. He shares his craftsman's philosophy with interested people from all over the world, not least as a guest at international gatherings of jew's harp experts in Austria, Germany and Norway. A few times, as he relates, international guests have even visited his workshop in Khampa, Yakutia, and have looked over his shoulder during the production of a khomus. So did DAN MOI founder Clemens Voigt in 2003, here are some impressions:

  • Yakutia's most famous Jew's Harp players and makers visit DAN MOI

    Jew's Harp players from Yakutia visit DAN MOI in Taucha The Yakutian Jew's Harp elite visit Taucha

    Yesterday we have got visitors from Yakutia where the Jew's Harp "Khomus" is the national musical instrument. After being guest at the Ancient Trance Festival here in Taucha, when there was not enough time to visit the jew's harp paradise of DAN MOI, the Yakutian delegation of jew's harp players, makers and researchers dropped in for an evening on their way back from a concert round trip in Europe.

    Tauchas mayor Holger Schirmbeck, the organizers of the Ancient Trance Festival and Clemens and Roxi from DAN MOI received the Yakutian Jew's Harp Medal of Honor.

    It was a convivial evening with barbecue and hop juice, with fun and traditional Yakutian folk dance. The highlight was the walk through the DAN MOI headquarters and the Jew's Harp storage room.

  • The Jew's Harp collection of DAN MOI at the Ancient Trance Festival 2014

    Ancient Trance Festival 2014 - Nahaufnahme Sortiment DAN MOI Maultrommel Stand

    It is probably the largest buyable jew's harp collection that has been displayed by DAN MOI at the 7th Ancient Trance Festival (Aug 8-10) in Taucha near Leipzig (Germany). Accordingly crowed was the DAN MOI musical instruments stand at the festival. The about 300 different jew's harp models have not only been there for watching - Testing and Playing was explicitly welcomed.

    Anne is already visiting the Ancient Trance Festival in Taucha for four years.  For her it is part of the festival experience to play through the DAN MOI jew's harp collection. "I find it super exciting to touch and try these far-travelled instruments." says the 26 year old and reaches for a jew's harp from Rajasthan, India. Every year she is making herself a present with a new jew's harp: this year she's going to take the Morchang from Northern India back home to Hof (Saale), Germany.

    Oliver Klimt of DAN MOI explains: "This year we wanted to present the full range of jew's harps we have in stock, which also includes vintage jew's harps that don't even have reeds anymore beside all the playable instruments." On the table there are playable vintage jew's harps, too, like a well preserved jew's harp from the 1930s with an embossing of its origin country England. Another piece comes from Pakistan and has been produced around 1975. "Many of the jew's harp you see here at our stand are hand-wrought, like these from Pakistan, Ukraine, India, Nepal, China or Russia. Others, like some of the jew's harps from Austria, USA and Vietnam are nowadays predominantly produced using machines. The jew's harps made of wood or bamboo come from Vietnam, Cambodia, Papua, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos, Indonesia and so on. These are produced by craftswork, too." Oliver Klimt knows the history of almost all trumps in the collection. And it happens every once in a while that he teaches the first basic techniques of playing directly to customers at the stand who hold a jew's harp in their hands for the first time.

    The reason DAN MOI is putting so much effort in presenting the jew's harp collection is last but not least their special relationship with the Ancient Trance Festival. "The first two Ancient Trance Festivals 2007 and 2008 emerged from the idea to build a platform for international jew's harp music in the local area of Leipzig.", DAN MOI founder and jew's harper Clemens Voigt remembers. "As DAN MOI we were already selling jew's harps all over the world since 2001. We have been popular internationally, but in our hometown we haven't been quite apparent. We organised the first two Ancient Trance Festivals in order to get together with musicians, jew's harp makers and fans, and at the same time to introduce us and our work to people in Leipzig and surroundings." The Ancient Trance Festivals - in 2007/2008 still in the winterly town of Leipzig - quickly found a grateful audience. There seemed to be a great interest in listening to live jew's harp music and to learn to play this instrument in workshops. Recognising this DAN MOI started to plan a larger format of the Ancient Trance Festival, uncoupled it from the company and founded in 2008 a registered (non-profit) assosiation together with many friends from Leipzig, the "Maultrommel e.V.", today's organising agency.

    Then as now DAN MOI's second founder Sven Otto, mostly known as Roxi, is deeply involved in the festival conceptually: "The goal of the festival was to make a cultural contribution and to throw a glance at the jew's harp here and now. There are not only traditional ways of playing the trump (jew's harp), but there's a young, creative and very active music community that is worth to get introduced to a larger audience." Making use of the worldwide contacts of DAN MOI the Ancient Trance Festival 2014 managed to bring the congress of the International Jew's Harp Society (IJHS) to Taucha. The IJHS that has established as an international platform for the instrument jew's harp since 1998 attracts musicians, jew's harp makers and scientists (i.e. ethno-musicologists). For Roxi this is definately a peak in the history of the Ancient Trance Festival: "In this year the Ancient Trance is indeed an encounter of generations and cultures -  not least because of the more than 200 congress attendees. The festival program shows the life with the jaw harp in its full range."

    Ancient Trance Festival 2014 - Petr Osipov, Spiridon und Nikolay Shishigin am Stand von DAN MOI mit Oliver und Kai Yakutian jew's harp celebrities at the DAN MOI stand: Spiridon and Nikolay Shishigin (front) and Khomus Master Blacksmith Petr Osipov between Oli and Kai of DAN MOI (back)

    And therefore it was likely to stand right next to a Khomus master play from Yakutia when visiting the DAN MOI stand, or to buy a jew's harp directly from the famous master blacksmith Zagretdinov from Bashkiria, or to listen to the history of this instrument in Japan narrated by an Ainu (minority in Northern Japan) player. For the team of DAN MOI the Ancient Trance Festival is always a very special event - just because of those manifold musical and cultural encounters.  The jew's harp collection of DAN MOI will be there at the next festival, just as Anne will come again. Next time, she says, she is going to get a Norwegian Munnharpe.

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