This page is dedicated to H.H. Dalai Lama who has supported and encouraged the preservation of the Tibetan Performing Arts in exile.
The social life of Lhasa centered around the households of the aristocracy. The Tibetan political system has been described by Goldstein as "a type of centralized feudal state", and the government, which was headed by the Dalai Lama, was administered by members of the aristocracy and a monastic official elite. Government officials "spent much of their resources in mutual entertainment on a lavish scale", and music was an essential background at the many parties and receptions given by the officials and noble families of Lhasa. Wealthy sponsors would invite both amateur and professional musicians to play the type of music known as 'nangma-toeshey'.
Nangma, sometimes referred to as "the classical music of Tibet", was performed by an instrumental ensemble. The instruments used were flute, dranyen (lute), pi-wang (a two-stringed fiddle) and the yang chin (hammer dulcimer), which was most likely brought to Tibet from China. Other Chinese instruments were also used sometimes, such as the ho-chin and dal-chin, two types of Chinese fiddles.
It is not certain when this form of music was first played, although one of the main instruments used in the ensemble, the hammer dulcimer known as yang-chin, was reputedly brought to Tibet from China at the end of the 18th century. Many of the composers and performers of nangma were Tibetan Muslims, whose families came from Kashmir or Turkistan.
Lhasa toeshe was a style which was introduced in the 1920's or 30's. These songs were popular versions of folk songs and dances which came from Toe (Western Tibet) and which had been adapted to the Lhasa modulations and dance refinements. Toeshe songs were also performed in the taverns of Lhasa and were less sophisticated than nangma coming closer to the life of the ordinary Tibetan. The pieces conclude with a lively tap dance.
Another popular song style were the satirical street songs which were an accepted form of social criticism, although usually anonymous creation. They often lampooned prominent officials. In Lhasa, a group known as the Nangma Kyido, "The nangma group of mutual support through good and bad times", was a society who performed nangma and toeshe and became well-known around the beginning of the 20th century. Its 60 or so members from all levels of society were mostly amateurs, although some of them did earn their living by playing music and became quite famous. The society was required to perform for government ceremonies such as the official autumn picnics.