Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Heavy Hitting Maqam of Saba

The work of a free-lance writer has its interesting moments. These days I am a short order cook with a dozen dishes cooking, some just being dreamed up, some being garnished and sent off to the table. I'm grateful for all projects in the pipeline, as well as other unusual opportunities that have come my way.

Yesterday I had the honor to be part of a panel at Berklee College of Music, talking about emotional expression in Arab music. I was asked by Simon Shaheen, who recently joined the faculty there. Also on the panel was Robert Browning, the founder of the World Music Institute , accompanied by his lovely wife Helene, as well as qanun maestro Jamal Sinno and the excellent percussionist Tareq Rantisi, a recent Berklee grad. Simon asked me to join the panel in large part because there was no budget to bring anyone from out of town. I am glad for the opportunity. I focused on the heavy emotional content of the maqam called Saba. I really enjoyed the chance to sit back and think about this particular maqam, and how one has to handle it. Then, Simon, Jamal and Tareq played a section of Simon's composition Arboresque that is all in Saba. Robert Browning spoke about his perspective on Tarab, musical ecstasy, in Middle Eastern music, based on his decades of presenting this music in New York City. The audience were Berklee faculty members, and this in itself was fantastic, for they all have incredible musical hearing abilities, and they all 'got' the theoretical aspects of what we were saying. What an audience!

You can read more about Saba and listen to samples of it at: - page on saba  I am thinking about writing a short piece on Saba ----- based on what we discussed and discovered. The emotional effect of the various maqamat is a subject of discussion among scholars, but from my own experience as a 20 some year student of the oud, musicians themselves don't TALK about the emotion of it, they just play it and experience it.