History of Tibetan Music
The music of Tibet reflects the cultural heritage of the trans-Himalayan region, centered in Tibet but also known wherever ethnic Tibetan groups are found in India, Bhutan, Nepal and further abroad. First and foremost Tibetan music is religious music, reflecting the profound influence of Tibetan Buddhism on the culture.
The Lama Mani tradition - the telling of Buddhist parables through song — dates back to the 12th century. The songs were performed by wandering storytellers, who traveled from village to village, drawing on their own often humble origins to relate to people from all backgrounds. Vividly illustrated Buddhist thangka paintings depicted the narrative and helped the audience understand what was essentially a teaching.
Tibetan "street songs" were a traditional form of expression particularly popular as a means of political and other commentary in a country that was previously without newspapers or other means of mass communication. They provided political and social commentary and satire and are a good example of a bardic tradition, akin to that that in medieval Europe or, more recently, the role calypsos played in the West Indies. As song lyrics in Tibet usually contained stanzas of 4 lines of 6 syllables each, the lyrics could be easily adapted to almost any melody.
Secular Tibetan music has been promoted by organizations like the Dalai Lama's Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts. This organization specialized in the lhamo, an operatic style, before branching out into other styles, including dance music like toeshey and nangma. Nangma is especially popular in the karaoke bars of the urban center of Tibet, Lhasa. Another form of popular music is the classical gar style, which is performed at rituals and ceremonies. Lu are a type of songs that feature glottal vibrations and high pitches. There are also epic bards who sing of Tibet's national heroGesar.
Tibetan music has had a profound effect on some styles of Western music, especially New Age. Composers like Philip Glass and Henry Eichheim are most well known for their use of Tibetan elements in their music. The first such fusion was Tibetan Bells, a 1971 release by Nancy Hennings and Henry Wolff. The soundtrack to Kundun, by Philip Glass, has helped to popularize Tibetan music.