In Memory of Khan Sahib

Hindustani Music, Music, Oud No Comments

It was an act of great generosity for a master of Khan sahib’s stature to have given so much so willingly to students of limited musical training and little or no knowledge of Hindustani music.

Regardless of their background, Khan sahib took his students seriously and required that they take themselves, music, and the labor of music (practicing, what else) seriously.

During my short time at the Ali Akbar College years ago, I also got to experience the genius of Khan sahib. His instrumental classes consisted much of the time of him composing on the spot, singing the composition to the students in Sargam or playing it on the Sarod, and explaining the theoretical issues that the piece touched on. The students would play back the compositions to him. In the singing classes I have seen him repeatedly pickup an old poetry book, choose a poem, and by the end of the class he will have composed a masterpiece which we will have all learned.

I have also seen the devotion of his students to the music and their great love and respect for Khansahib.

I am deeply grateful for the honor of having attended his classes, if only briefly, and deeply saddened for Khansahib’s passing.


Music No Comments

I haven’t published new posts for a few months, mostly because I’ve been busy. I am still busy, but musifying means a lot to me, and apparently something to a few others since the blog receives more hits today than it did last year when I was writing daily.

It has never been interesting for me to make the blog a personal thing. It was always and will continue to be about the work. I will make its work more manageable by writing in parts and publishing about once or twice a week rather than daily.

I have a few things in mind I want to work on, but I also welcome your suggestions or question about things to discuss in the near future.


Some thoughts on the Samai form

Arabic Music, Music Theory 1 Comment

The Samai form is prevalent in both Arabic and Turkish art music. Though I couldn’t find out exactly when and where the form assumed it’s modern shape, it seems to be fairly accepted that the form is about 200 years old. By some accounts it is as old as 300 years. It is also generally accepted that the form is of Ottoman origin: although the its exact place of birth in the vast Ottoman empire of 200 years ago has not been established, by most accounts it was born in Turkey. Since the 19th century, the art-musical form has been popular both across much of the Arab world, as well as in Turkey.

In this essay, I am going to touch on the different aspects of the form that are of interest both to the performer and to the musicologist.
Read the rest…

The Best Free “Serious” Music Courses Online

Music No Comments

What would you say if I told you that you can take complete music courses for free at excellent music schools. Well, first a cautionary note: this is not for everyone. No the schools woun’t turn you down, but it’s a question of whether or not you are an autodidact or not.

However, if you do have the drive, discipline, and interest to do it on your own, you should check out some of the music coursework available online for free. Read the rest…

Green Music. 9 ways to keep the music and the planet happy.

Music 1 Comment

Making music is not necesserily the most earth damaging social phenomenon. But we can, and should, do what we can to to minimize our impact on the planet.

Are there things that a musician can do to reduce the damage that their music making causes? Well, I can think of a few, and invite you to participate in this discussion and share your advice. Read the rest…

Arab Avantgarde Music (Part 4)

Arabic Music, Music, Music Theory 2 Comments

In the first three parts of this series, I addressed the problematic aspects of talking about Arab avantgarde cultural activity. The reason a problem exists are ambiguities related to the term avantgarde, and the fact that the term, by now, has connotations resulting from its usage in the context of western avantgarde music and cultural activity.

I would like to close this series by touching on some of the unique characteristics of Arab avantgarde cultural activity in the twentieth century with a focus on music. Read the rest…

Arab Avantgarde Music (Part 3)

Music, Music Theory No Comments

In part 2 we started a series of mental exercises the goal of which was to establish the rules for how to have a discussion about avantgarde music in the Arab context. In this post we will contemplate two more mental exercises and draw conclusions from them that will bring us closer to that discussion. Read the rest…

Arab Avantgarde Music (Part 2)

Music No Comments

The first part of this series offered a few questions that require answers in order to be able to have a discussion about Arab avantgarde music. The questions have to do with the term avantgarde in general, with the terms Arab and Arabic, and with possible conversations that could be had based on the answers we choose to the questions raised.

I emphasized choose because there is a measure of arbitrariness and/or subjective judgment in answering these questions. This post begins the process of answering these questions. Read the rest…

Arab Avantgarde Music. (Part 1)

Arabic Music, Free Improv, Fusion, Music Theory 1 Comment

Having received a call for submissions for essays on Arab avantgarde, I thought this one was just down my alley..

Thinking about the subject, the questions that seem the most urgent to answer are not about the Arab avantgarde music movement itself just yet, but rather questions about how to have a discussion about Arab avantgarde music. In fact, the questions touch on some of the vague aspects of the term not necessarily in relation to Arab avantgarde.

Read the rest…

Simon Shaheen and the Art of Silences and Suspences in Taqasim

Arabic Music, Music, Oud, Taqasim No Comments

Can the sound of the passing time, thousands of years of culture, history, and stories of people and places, journeys, dreams, loves, conflicts, can all those be told in music? Can they be told in one piece of music? Can they be told in one piece of music that lasts a few minutes (seven minutes and six seconds to be precise)?

In the third track (maqam bayyati) of Shaheen and Racy’s “Taqasim”, this is accomplished.

I got this CD almost 15 years ago. Since then, I have listened to it more than any other. We are blessed that we live in a time when recording is possible. When we read accounts of the beauty of someone’s music, we can try to imagine. But how can one imagine music that is unimaginably powerful.

In Taqasim, especially in the third, 7 minutes (and 5000 years) long track, a lot is packed. Simon’s, melodies, tone, and technique, even after 15 years of listening (and knowing the thing by heart), continue to be exciting. New details emerging with each listening. As if the performers secretly rerecord it anew every week or so.

So what makes it work so well? I have repeatedly dwelt on that. Over the years the answers change.

At first, I thought it was technique (isn’t that all we think about when we’re young?). Then it was the melodies. Then it was the recording quality and clarity combined with melodies and technique.

As, despite our best efforts to the contrary, we mature, our ears do too.

It is now clear to me, that he who wants to master the sounds, must also master the silences between them. The music of “Taqasim” stays alive and relevant, because the performers breathed their life into it. The variations in dynamics, pulse, pick technique are at times subtle and at others startling, but they are always natural. The melodies are at times lyrical and at others anxious, and pained. But they are always immediate.

Instrumental music is music where the listener gets to fill in the lyrics, silently, and then revise and re-revise. Millennia can thus be distilled into minutes, and countless stories find home in a jewel case.

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