This week I have arranged a set of three tunes originating from the heart of the Middle East. It’s a bit of an epic one at seven minutes long, with a slow burner to start – so you might like to make sure you’re sitting comfortably…
I hope you enjoy listening to this as much as I have enjoyed playing it and I really look forward to performing it live in the future – in some shape or form!
The first tune is called ‘Masar’, which translates from Arabic as ‘route’ or ‘path’ (taken to get to a destination) and is written by the Palestinian trio of Oud players, Le Trio Jourban.
Masar is originally composed for a trio of ouds and percussion. Structurally it is one big crescendo from beginning to end which increases its complexity in rhythm each time the tune is played. The sound of the oud’s plucked strings, not to mention the timbre of the instrument, is very contrasting to a bowed string instrument like the violin. In order to add some variation to the overall texture I use the extended technique of playing with the wood of the bow (instead of the hair) – often referred to as ‘col legno’, and use my viola to imitate the percussion and bass registers.
Harmonically, the Palestinian tune is based around the following sequence of notes (all natural unless stated otherwise):
B, C, D, E, F#, G and A
The tonality is pretty ambiguous, but is clearly centred around the note B.
Similarly based around B, but with a very different tonality, is the music which follows; from Israel.
‘Nigun Atik’ (sometimes referred to as ‘Zemer Atik’ meaning ‘Ancient Song’) is a well-known folk melody, often used for circle dancing. I finish the set off with a lively, traditional Klezmer tune.
Both of these tunes are based around the following sequence of notes:
B, C, D#, E, F#, G and A
The slight change of the raised 3rd (or 7th if you prefer to think of the music as in E) in the scale, from the Palestinian tune makes ALL the difference. I find it fascinating that the tiniest shift of tonality can completely change the character of a piece of music.
It was a very fulfilling experience to immerse myself in these emotive, beautiful and mesmerising melodies with my violin, and learn more about the harmonic structure and different characteristics of these styles of music. I have also experimented more with the loop pedal and multi tracking (for the viola-bass!) to make it all fit together and come across the way it sounds in my head.
Most of my musical inspiration for this set comes from Le Trio Jourban and from the Polish Klezmer band, Kroke. The motivation to share this special music, as well as simply having a huge love of it, stems from a deep concern about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Palestine under the Israeli occupation, and troubling news of a recently enhanced co-operation between the UK and Israeli militaries.
For anybody wanting to find out more information about the conflict – with links to reports by the UN outlining the conditions on the ground in the Palestinian Territories – I would recommend taking a look at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK website: Palestine Solidarity Campaign (palestinecampaign.org)
They also have a facebook page: Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK – Home | Facebook