Ever since I bought and started listening to Jantsannorov’s CD back in college, I was drawn to the sound of the Morin Khuur. Though I loved listening to the melodies, I had never dreamed of learning to play the instrument by myself. There is too long a story behind what made me want to learn to play the instrument, so I will leave the story for next time.
Not long after I had this yearning for learning the horsehead fiddle, I learned of an interesting person from a friend of mine. That man was Steve Morel, a Frenchman who left everything behind and came to Mongolia in pursuit of his passion to learn play the horsehead fiddle four years ago.
Steve did not want just to learn to play the instrument. He aspired to play it with all his heart (he is an adept player now). My friend connected me with him on Facebook and I got to meet him the following day to take my first lesson at his apartment in Sansar-district of Ulaanbaatar. The lesson went very well. When I expressed my wish to become his disciple, he said jokingly, “Did you bring your offering of milk and khadag?”
I wanted ask him two questions. Firstly, what exactly made him leave everything behind and come to Mongolia to learn the Morin Khuur and, secondly, what does he feel when plays the instrument? However, I got my answer to these two questions from his website.
In an interview he gave in March of 2016 for local news website medee.mn, he said “It felt as if something deep inside me came out, or awoke. It felt really good… I felt it’s so soulful, so alive, so deep.”
He answered to the second question, “I feel in peace, I feel like travelling, but I know that I can’t play it well. My skills are not that great, my finger are still a bit stiff, sometime I loose myself in the melody. It’s been only two years that I’ve been playing, and I need to keep playing continuously for at least 4 or 5 years to be able to play it a bit close to well! I wish to play the Morin Huur with my heart, and in a traditional, emotional way. But I don’t think I feel as Mongolian feel, because I don’t know much about the culture itself, and also the horses galloping, and country side sounds and life. Because to play this instrument, a Morin Huurch need to know, and feel all those things, otherwise, it can’t be “real”, and the feeling is just an artificial one, from my opinion of course. But I believe that within few years I might be able to feel it, to get close to the “real” playing, and play it like a Mongolian”.
He is playing more and he is getting closer to the feeling. While writing this part, a certain tale about the Morin Khuur comes to mind. There are many tales but the one that came to my mind is as follows.
Once upon a time on a boundless vast steppe, there lived a boy named Khohuudei in his snow white ger. One day he resolved to wander around the world in search of magic and charm. He needed a good horse for his quest but he could not find one.
One day he heard an enchanting melody. It was coming from a horsetail hair stretched between horse dungs whizzing and vibrating in the wind. So he went home and tried to recreate the phenomenon by making a body with leather stretched upon a wooden scoop, a neck with the handle of the scoop of which the tip was carved as a horsehead, two strings with a horsetail hair tensioned on the handle of the scoop, and a bow with another strand of hair tensioned on a willow branch. Such is how the Morin Khuur was crafted. When he played the instrument, the temper of a team of horses became calm and grazed quietly.
Khohuudei kept playing and one day he saw a tall grey horse trotting his way. He kept playing the Morin Khuur and at dawn of the third day, he saw that she had wings and she flied and landed by him. When the tall grey horse landed by him, many good horsemen of the steppe gathered and tried to catch her with lasso, but to no avail.
When the boy gave up and withdrew having played for three months, the horse head on his Morin Khuur seemed to neigh. Right then, the flying horse landed next to him. That is how he got a good horse.
People questioned why he is not going on his quest. The boy replied, “What more magic do I need when I have my melodious and enchanting Morin Khuur? Thanks to the magical sound of my Morin Khuur, I was able to tame the flying wild horse on whose back rode no-one but the winds of the sky. If there is real magic in the world, it is the Morin Khuur.”
I think that maybe Steve has found himself. The sound of the Morin Khuur has awoken something that was dormant inside of him; something that I cannot describe with words. When can we be just ourselves? It is when we are doing the thing we love; maybe the thing that we are meant to do. Steve found the thing that he loves. His dedication for what he loves is what made me respect him. Steve continues to play, and one day his flying horse will land beside him.