“Intricacy, Complexity & Beauty” of Traditional Arabic Music

Posted on: May 3rd, 2019 by sabbadi

Our Arabic program at Loyola University Chicago was honored to welcome well-known Chicago-resident Palestinian calligrapher and musician artist, Majed Abu Ajameyeh to a special traditional Arabic music workshop with our Arabic students In March 2019. Abu Ajameyeh works extensively with several academic institutions, high schools, and Middle Eastern educational programs promoting awareness of Arabic cultures. With his colleague, ustaadh Wanees, we have been beautifully introduced to some classical Arabic instruments, their history, rhythm and beat and a comparison to western music. We are thankful to the department of Modern Languages and Lietratures for funding and support.

Malik: It was a very delightful experience seeing the instruments like “the khanoon” (the law) for the first time. Being already familiar with the “loot” as I have seen this instrument once in Palestinian, I found it very informational to learn about the different tones that aren’t heard from the classic guitar. I also loved the musical performance at the end as it reminded me of the times my uncle used to play the “loot” to me as a child in Palestine.

Sadeq: Modern, electronically based Arabic music neglects the core principles that once defined music. The hand-eye coordination, skill, and sophistication involved in playing traditional Arab and Middle Eastern instruments is under appreciated in today’s society, and this music event reminded me of that fact. Indeed, I have fallen victim to this ignorance, and I have never realized the advanced tones Arab/Middle Eastern instruments are able to produce. For example, the riq drum replicates a complete drum set when played correctly, yet, it is only a small, handheld drum. Overall, I am grateful to have attended this event because it has opened my eyes to the beauty of traditional Arab music.

Abubakr: Attending the music event and providing a rhythm for the musicians made me feel like I was experiencing a rich, deep historical culture unfold in front of my very eyes. 

Taha: The Musical Instruments that were played were very soothing and brought me peace. Towards the end when they played one whole piece I kept my eyes closed I felt as if I was transported me to the Middle East and could feel the music and the culture of the Arab world. I have been to a few Arab countries so listening to the music made me feel like I was back enjoying the experiences of the countries. Also there is a game I played a couple years back called assassins creed and this music performance reminded me of those simpler times of less responsibly.

Jose: Having the opportunity to hear live Arabic music was a really great experience — especially since we had the opportunity to play some of the instuments ourselves. The history and etymology of the instruments was insightful and I hope there will be more events like this one in the future.

Zara: The significance of music in transmitting culture, history, and tradition is often forgotten, and this music event reaffirmed the beauty and the power derived from song. 

Iram: I enjoyed attending the Arab musical instrument event yesterday because I was able to learn about the unique instruments. I found it interesting how certain instruments were similar to or had originated from other Arab instruments.

Khadija: The complexity of each note in such instruments– qanoon, ‘uud, Taar, riq– is a display of the complex beauty of Arab culture and history.

Lama: Through the Arabic music orientation I was able to understand why Arabic melodies sound so much different from that of western melodies; I learned that Arabic music incorporates notes that do not really traditionally exist in western music (such as half flats and sharps), accounting for the beautifully distinctive sounds in Arabic music. 

Edris: As someone who tried to learn how to play both piano and guitar in the past I thoroughly enjoyed learning about these new instruments. Growing up I was exposed to Arabic and Western music and I could always tell they were different, but I never knew why. Now I know that Arabic music focuses less on the fingering and plays the third note at a lower octet giving it the classical deep sound that I am familiar with. I also learned that the violin is used in Arabic music because it is fret-less unlike the bass or guitar. My favorite fact that I learned was that the instruments they were using were the ancestors of the guitar, which is my favorite instrument. I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to learn more about my history and background. 

Lynn: Through the Arabic music orientation, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the complexity and fragility of Arabic music, and hence, a deeper understanding and appreciation for the beautiful sounds created by the unique Middle Eastern instruments. 

Amy: I found myself completely mesmerized by the beautiful music of ustaadh maajid, and i could not believe all of the detailed music theory and logic that went into the beautiful and complex songs they played that were so different from the western music many are uses to. This was my first time experiencing such a variety of traditional middle eastern musical instruments, and I am sure I will remember it for a long time.

Emilia: For about 2 years, I did belly dancing and I was familiar with the sounds of classical Arabic music and the general instruments used in making the sounds but I was amazing to see and hear the history behind the music and hear the music being played live and not just from a recording. It was very enlightening to learn which of the instruments generated which sounds and tie it with the sounds I had spend hours dancing to!

Ethan: I discovered the complexity of Arabic music and how it utilizes notes in between those of Western music to create unique, specialized works of art.

Veronika: I was very pleased to be able to experience Arabic music live. Having no general knowledge of Arabic instruments I was stunned by the overall design and sound of the Oud and Qanun. Furthermore, I was able to learn that the distinguishing factor of Arabic music is the addition of extra notes(quarter notes) that are not played by instruments today. That being said, there is great thought and intricacy involved in the creation and the playing of such instruments. This pattern of intricacy, complexity, and the beauty that comes from it is shown in all aspects of Arabic culture – the Arabic language and calligraphy, science and mathematical advancements, literature, and architecture.

Bella: I really enjoyed this interactive event as I got to listen to (and help make) beautiful melodies played on Arabic instruments while learning of their histories and the uniqueness of Arabic sound!

Samira: This event reminded me of my childhood when I was young and my father would play Arab drums with me and my sister on Sunday mornings. I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity and it helped bring me back to my roots and let me enjoy an aspect of my culture that I don’t get to experience regularly.

Sabrina: As someone who doesn’t know much musically, I found great interest in learning about Middle Eastern music and the instruments used to make such beautiful sounds.  I appreciated the opportunity to engage in something outside of my comfort zone.

Nimrah: Attending the Arabic music event helped me learn a lot about how Middle Eastern music tunes are created with instruments unique to the Arabic world and how the variety of tunes differ greatly from those used in western music.

Alyssa: In attending the Arabic music event, it was facinating to see and hear the instruments that have been such an engrained apart of Arab culture for so long. The instruments themselves were beautiful in craftsmanship and being able to hear professionals play was a wondering experience. 

Sara: During today’s experience enjoyed learning about the different instruments and listening to the different pieces of music from the Arab world. I also found it really interesting that you are able to distinguish Arab music from everything else because of the incorporation of quarter and half notes.

Hajera: This event was the first time I have sat down to listen to live Middle-Eastern music and it was very soothing and relaxing to listen to. I also didn’t know that there are various different instruments that are used for middle eastern music and it was interesting to learn about them. I really liked the song that the musicians played at the end because the two instruments sounded very different from one another, but the sound that they created together was very beautiful. 

Adrian: To start this reflection, I would like to express my gratitude in having the amazing opportunity to attend the Arabic music event. It was quite interesting to see the intersections between the functionality in western music instruments and middle-eastern music instruments. I learned so much simply by observing the instructors perform and discuss the variations in pitch of the instruments. I was able to connect with a great deal of the information presented because I’ve played a few instruments since I was 10. It was a wonderful experience overall, and I am very happy for having been able to attend.

Ayesha: It was interesting to learn about and hear the sounds of the different kinds of music instruments found in Arab culture. Before this event, the only Arab musical instrument I had any familiarity with was the ‘tabla.’ One instrument that I was particularly intrigued with was the ‘qanoon.’ ‘Qanoon’ in Arabic means law. The ‘qanoon’ looked kind of like a harp, and I found it very interesting that scholars in the Islamic world developed it through mathematical means. 

Wardah: “It was an absolute serene and gentle experience, to be in the presence of instruments from the Arabic world. The history of the Qanun, along with the translated meaning of ‘law’ caught my attention. Given the complex scales the instruments have; and to be able to hear distinct differences with a single note, played on a different position; allows me to see the connections between art and knowledge.” 

Matthew: As a student of Arab descent, I am familiar with the instruments demonstrated however even with my prior expierience it was an incredible sight to see true professionals show the true potential of the instruments as well as explain what makes them special compared to similar instruments played in the states and across the world.

Yameen: I enjoyed the event very much. I found it very interesting to see how the Arab world had so much influence on music, for example, I learned that the guitar was actually influenced by an instrument, Al-Uud, which was invented in the Arab world. 

Sydney: I greatly enjoyed the musical presentation! Even with my extensive history with music, I had never considered that some cultures may approach music in drastically different ways. I knew that sound profiles were different but never considered that Middle Eastern music involved a large number of musical notes that you will never find in Western music. I thought this was fascinating!

Fabian: Everyday I take your class I am reminded a little more about how I am connected to the Arab world, when the first song was played I closed my eyes, and for a moment I was in the Alhambra of Granada again, thank you for that.

Jonathan: The gentlemen’s lecture was fascinating, putting a very large, complex topic into a wrapper from which even a person without any background in music or Middle Eastern culture could take home valuable information. I was particularly intrigued by their explanation of the origin of the guitar – that al-oud was brought to Andalucía and evolved into the lute (predecessor of the guitar), following the oud’s example in both name and structure.

Abaan: The event was a great experience because it introduced me to both sounds and instruments that I had no experience with; learning about the rich history of Arabic classical music, listening to renowned musical pieces, and appreciating the knowledgeable background of the musicians was truly enjoyable.

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