A morsing (also mukharshanku, mourching, morching or morchang; Telugu: మోర్సింగ్, Kannada: ಮೋರ್ಸಿಂಗ್, Rajasthani: मोरचंग, Tamil: நாமுழவு அல்லது முகச்சங்கு, Malayalam: മുഖർശംഖ്, English: "jaw harp") is an instrument similar to the Jew's harp, mainly used in Rajasthan, in the Carnatic music of South India, and in Sindh, Pakistan. It can be categorized under lamellophones, which is in the category of plucked idiophones. It consists of a metal ring in the shape of a horseshoe with two parallel forks which form the frame, and a metal tongue in the middle, between the forks, fixed to the ring at one end and free to vibrate at the other. The metal tongue is bent at the free end in a plane perpendicular to the circular ring so that it can be struck and is made to vibrate. This bent part is called the trigger.
|struck using the other hand to produce sound.|
An instrument with a history of 1500 years, its exact origin in India is not well documented. In the tradition of the Indian gurukul system of teaching, thus folk tales are a secondary source of its history. In India it is found mainly in South India, Rajasthan and also in some parts of Assam. It is also sometimes used while playing Rabindrasangeet in Bengal and in Assamese folk songs. In South India, it features in Carnatic concerts and percussion ensembles. It is said to be the percursor to subsequent instruments such as the harmonica and the harmonium.
In Rajasthan it is called morchang and is used as a percussion instrument in lok geet (folk music). It was often used in Hindi cinema by music directors like R.D. Burman and S.D.Burman, and has resurfaced in the twentieth century, with street performers like Varun Zinje playing it in a renewed style.
The morsing is placed on the front teeth, with slightly pouted lips and held firmly in the hand. It is struck using the index finger of the other hand to produce sound. Movement of the player's tongue while making nasal sounds is used to change the pitch. This can be achieved when the syllable 'Nga' or a variant thereof, is sounded through the nose while air is pushed out or pulled in through the mouth. This aids the meditation process and thus some players use it as a form of practising pranayama. Others speak into the instruments while playing, thus giving it the effect of a light haunting echo.
The morsing is firmly held in the hand, the frame or the ring between the palm and the fingers usually in the left hand. Care should be taken to see that the middle part or the metal tongue is not being touched when held idle. Then the upper of the two parallel forks is firmly pressed against the front upper teeth; the lower fork, against the front lower teeth with the lips helping to keep the contact, so that the metal tongue will not contact the teeth when it moves. The trigger is plucked with the tip of the index finger. Sound is produced due to the vibration of the metal tongue that is transferred through the teeth and sounds in mouth and nasal cavity. Movement of the player's tongue with constant plucking can produce very fast patterns of sound. By constricting the space in the mouth the nostrils can produce sounds in different phases, similar to phasers in electronic music.
While traditionally made of iron, variants can be made from brass, wood, bone, and even plastic and credit cards.
The basic pitch of the instrument can be varied very little. Significantly, the pitch of the instrument can only be reduced and not increased. To reduce the pitch a little, beeswax can be applied on the plucking end. To increase the pitch, it can be filed, although this may damage the instrument.
Advanced playing and the art of accompaniment
As the morsing is played most of the time along with the mridangam or dhol, it is necessary to know the syllables or aural interpretation of what is played on mridangam. It is important to know the aural representation of the ferns (pattern of syllables played on percussion instruments) played on mridangam as it is being silently recited while playing the morsing. This vocal art of reciting the syllables played on the mridangam is called konnakol. But while playing on morsing you don't actually make sound of reciting the syllable but just move your tongue that way so that the air passages gets blocked and cleared in a pattern so as to produce the sound of the ferns. It is essential to follow the mridangam and play the same ferns as far as possible, though it is difficult owing to the limitations of the instrument.
Glimpses of uniqueness and versatility of the morsing can be shown when accompanying singly for the song or during neraval or swara prastara (stages of song rendition in Carnatic music). The morsing is played as a shadow of the mridangam throughout the concert and the instrument's capabilities should be exhibited when playing or accompanying alone or during Thani (percussion round in a concert) or talavadyas (percussion ensembles).
Though working on completely different principles, the music of the Morchang sounds similar to that emanating from the Australian didgeridoo.
Prolonged playing may stain and wear down teeth, if a teeth guards of any sort aren't used. Night guards (to help wearing down of clenched teeth at night), retainers (for use after teeth straightening) and the like may help with this. The vibrating instrument will also make small chips in the front teeth. The chips will become visible over time.
The musician's smile may become irregular over time, if the morsing isn't alternated between the two sides of the mouth, and the two hands. It should be very easy to learn to play the morsing with the other side. It's not known whether regular corrective smiling (in the mirror) may improve this.
Research is yet to be done on morsing and painful chronic jaw issues.
Variants across the world
The Morchang exists, in nearly the same form and design all over the world, and is called by different names (estimated to be around 900) in different languages. For example: Morchang / morsing (India), Kou-Xian (China), Vargan (Russia), Munnharpe (Norway), Zanboorak (Iran), Maultrommel (Germany), Guimbarde (France), Marranzano (Italy), Doromb (Hungary) and Dambrelis (Lithuania). It may have spread and been shared between countries through the ancient trade routes between Asia and Europe, including the Silk route. There is a theory according to which the popular name Jew's harp is a corruption of the name jaw harp. This theory is described by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as "baseless and inept". The OED says that, "More or less satisfactory reasons may be conjectured: e.g. that the instrument was actually made, sold, or imported to England by Jews, or purported to be so; or that it was attributed to them, as a good commercial name, suggesting the trumps and harps mentioned in the Bible."
It is also said that this instrument is prevalent since Ramayana Period where this instrument is referred as "Dhantha Vadhyam"
Players of the Morchang / Jaw harp are sometimes called Morsingists. Current day players include Varun Zinje (Morchangwala), Sundar N (Chennai), Ortal Pelleg, Valentinas, Viaceslavas, the Barmer Boys (Rais Bhungar and Mangu Khan) and a number of Rajasthani folk music players from the traditional entertainer tribe of Laggas. Morsingists from earlier eras include Abraham Lincoln and the Russian Tsar Peter the Great and Sri Mannargudi Natesa Pillai, Sri Hariharasharma (father of Sri Vikku Vinayagaram),Pudukkottai Mahadevan from South India.
Other notable Morsingists include:
- "The morchang: an iron jews harp from Rajasthan". YouTube. Asian Music Circuit. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
- "Saving the jaw harp: Varun Zinje a.k.a. Morchangwala at TEDxEMWS". Tedx. YouTube. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
- "Jew's Harp, Listen and You Will Hear It: Valentinas & Viaceslavas at TEDxVilnius". YouTube. Tedx. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
- "Jews' trump, Jew's-trump". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 1989.
- Pelleg, Ortal. "POWERFULL Mouth Harp(morchang) in 7 Beat". YouTube. Ortal Pelleg. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
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