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Arabic Music

Here they are...

Here's a little (very little) about Arabic Music. First, the
tradition is soloistic, or heterophonic, and improvisatory. Thus, there's
not a true "choral tradition." I've heard tell of Arabic tunes being
harmonized and set chorally. I haven't seen them, but more importantly,
it's really not "done" very much as far as I can tell. It's rather
"outside" the classical Arabic tradition, even though popular and folk music
has a great deal of group singing, largely unison.

THAT SAID, the very good choir of Notre Dame University in Louaizeh, near
here(Beirut), does interesting arrangements of largely Maronite Christian
tunes,in Arabic, which include both harmony and choral unison. But the
harmonic stuff is pretty western sounding.

IMPORTANTLY: The Qur'an (Koran) is NEVER set to music. The call to prayer
is not considered "music," rather cantillation, sort of heightened speech
not unlike the Gregorian psalm tones. I sort of "stepped in it" when I first
arrived here, hoping to find musical settings of the Koran,and was told (by
an American scholar, thankfully), "it ain't done." Indeed in Islam, the
subject of music itself is controversial. The jurists have debated for ever
and anon over whether music as such is desirable for a Muslim.

OF COURSE though, music plays a HUGE role in Arab society (the pop music is
the most fun you've ever heard), esp. in the liberal Arab countries.

So to sum up (my opinions mixed here)
1.I know no published arrangements, but I haven't looked very hard.Trying to
get the choir here to tune a triad without screeching.

2.Be aware of the unison, heterophonic Arabic music tradition. You
should find something at the NYPL perf. arts, or Mid-Manhattan, where you
can browse several world music cds. Not sure tho.

3. Don't let no. 2 keep you from having your kids do some Arabic tunes.For
something really authentic, have a musician come teach your kids the song -
it's really "in the tradition," and you build social bridges with the Arab
community. You can find musicians I'm sure in Brooklyn, or other places.
Sorry, I don't know exactly where. Common traditional instruments are the
'oud (lute), naiy (end-blown reed flute), and derbekki (hourglass hand
drum), and the voice.

Also look at Earthsongs publishers - they have the most world music for
There are a few books there that might be of interest to you. Some of them

Bulos, Afif Alvarez, Handbook of Arabic Music [Arabic Folk Songs], Beirut
Librairie du Liban 1971.

Touma, Habib, The Music of the Arabs, Amadeus Press 1996.

Farmer, Henry, The Minstrelsy of The Arabian Nights: A Study of Music and
Musicians, 1945.
There is a popular Arabic folksong called "El Bulbul."

Sally Monsour and Lois Land have a booklet of arabic folk songs that Sally
collected. I cannot remember the title (Songs of Arabic Children, maybe).
However, it is published by Alliance Music, Houston, 1-800-335-7750 or
1800-833-8432. Also,

Elizabeth Parker
The Children's Aid Society Chorus
219 Sullivan St
NY NY 10012

In the era of arabic music, no one basically wrote
specifically for chorale, pieces were often taken by
later arrangers or composers and performed as for
chorale and orchestra. But anyways I can give you
names of such composers who arranged:
- Salim Sahhab: Lebanese and currently Director of the
"Dar el Operah" Orchestra in Egypt, his work mainly
consists of arrangements for chorale and orch.

- Mohammed el Moujeh: Again arranger and composer,

- Marcel Khalifeh: Lebanese, he has many works with
chorale, he mainly wrote for political causes
(lebanon's wars, Palestine, children..)

Here's a list of great arabic composers whose
music has always been orchestrated and arranged and
it's always possible to put it into chorale form

-Mohammad Abdul Wahhab: One of the greatest and most
influential egyptian composer, very variant in style,
very much influenced by european music.

- Kamal el Tawil: also egyptian, he wrote for singers,
and music for films.

- Mahmoud Darwiche: egyptian, so much of his music was
performed by choralists, he made big changes in arabic
music after Abdul Wahhab.

I will cite three lebanese composers whose music in weight
is not as important as the egyptians' cited above:

-the Rahbani bothers: wrote musicals, and plays mostly
sang by the famous Fayrouz.

-Zaki Nassif: wrote mostly for the Lebanon and his

There is also a form in oriental music called
"Mouwashahat" (mou-wa-sh-sha-hat), which tends back to
the Andalousian arabs, it's a very complex form which
consists on a main melody line in different "maqam"
(scales) and then words are sang in this same line,
the complexity of this form lies first in the compound
beats (5/8, 9/8, 10/8 ...) which are subject to change
and second in the switching from "maqam" to "maqam" in
an exquisitly artful manner. These are very much
performed in chorales.

Elizabeth Parker
The Children's Aid Society Chorus
219 Sullivan Street
NY NY 10012