In 2003, the Music Programme helped establish the Bishkek-based Centre Ustatshakirt. Its mission was to develop, test and promote innovative music teaching, and to support master teachers and instrument makers in their efforts to transmit their knowledge and craftsmanship. Centre Ustatshakirt currently operates throughout the Kyrgyz Republic’s seven regions in collaboration with educational institutions ranging from primary schools to universities.
Centre Ustatshakirt’s Umtul programme has developed scalable models and methodologies for music education. Its target beneficiaries are primary and secondary school children in the general education system. Under the umbrella of the Umtul programme, Centre Ustatshakirt also operates a nationwide network of theatre clubs. These create and stage children’s theatre productions whose themes underscore the values of cultural pluralism. Amongst other activities, participants learn to recite excerpts from the monumental epic Manas, widely viewed as the most treasured expression of Kyrgyz national heritage.
Centre Ustatshakirt presently offers more than 200 Umtul classes that serve close to 8,000 students in 41 schools. A complementary programme, Muzchyrak, offers seminars and short courses for music teachers that develop skills for teaching and music making, and provide teachers with musical repertoire as well as instruments for children’s ensembles. Since Muzchyrak’s inception, some 2,000 musical instruments have been presented as gifts to teachers.
Performance and Dissemination
Alongside Umtul and Muzchyrak, Centre Ustatshakirt maintains its own performing ensemble of young musicians. In addition to rigorous training on Kyrgyz instruments, these emerging artists study music arranging and composition with the aim of adapting traditional Kyrgyz musical styles and genres to neo traditional and contemporary artistic languages and idioms. An ensemble comprising graduates of Ustatshakirt’s programmes plays an active role in events organised by AKDN throughout the Kyrgyz Republic. In 2019, the Centre’s Ensemble performed at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, showcasing Kyrgyz music and culture during the country’s successful bid for membership on UNESCO’s executive board.
Kyrgyz music has been well represented in several other notable projects of the Aga Khan Music Programme. These include Music of Central Asia, a 10-volume CD-DVD anthology released worldwide by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, whose first volume (2006) features Ensemble Tengir-Too, directed by Nurlanbek Nyshanov, and a comprehensive textbook, The Music of Central Asia, published by Indiana University Press (2016), whose co-editors include Dr. Elmira Köchümkulova, head of the University of Central Asia’s Cultural Heritage and Humanities Unit and an associate professor in UCA’s School of Arts and Sciences. In 2018, the Aga Khan Music Programme premiered Qyrq Qyz (Forty Girls). This was a multimedia reinterpretation of an ancient Central Asian epic, whose performers included Kyrgyz multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Makhabat Kobogonova. Qyrq Qyz toured in the USA, and was presented in prestigious venues in France, Germany and Uzbekistan.
University of Central Asia’s Cultural and Humanities Unit
The University of Central Asia’s Cultural Heritage and Humanities Unit (CHHU) helps different peoples of the region preserve and draw upon their rich cultural traditions and heritages as assets for the future, through research, documentation, teaching and public outreach activities. It generates new dialogues on Central Asian heritage and identity and addresses contemporary cultural production and cultural institutional issues.
CHHU works with a network of regional scholars and cultural practitioners to achieve its goals. Its staff also teach classes in the Liberal Arts programme of the School of Arts and Sciences.