Palestinian Arab Music: A Maqam Tradition in Practice

Palestinian Arab Music: A Maqam Tradition in Practice


View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Usually ships within 1 week


Palestinian Arab Music: A Maqam Tradition in Practice by Dalia Cohen, Ruth Katz

This long-awaited project presents the results of a major research effort to determine the parameters of the stylistic variability of Arab folk music in Israel. Central to this old and highly improvised musical tradition is a unique modal framework that combines the concept of maqam—the foundation of Arab music theory—with other characteristics, including those of the text. Palestinian Arab Music is a comprehensive analysis of this music as actually practiced, examining both musical and nonmusical factors, their connection with the traits of individual performers, and their interaction with sociocultural phenomena.

Working initially with their own 1957 invention, the Cohen-Katz Melograph, and later with computers, Dalia Cohen and Ruth Katz recorded and digitized several hundred Palestinian music performances. The authors analyzed the musical tradition in light of its main variables. These include musical parameters, modal frameworks, the form and structure of the music, its poetic texts, and aspects of the social functions of the tradition. As a result of their study, the vexed aspect of intonation in practice is revealed to exist in a special relationship with the scale systems or maqamat, which are in turn of great importance to organizing the music and determining its modal systems.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226112992
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 11/15/2005
Series: Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology Series
Edition description: 1
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Dalia Cohen is professor emerita of musicology at the Hebrew University. She is the author or coauthor of six previous books. Ruth Katz is the Emanuel Alexandre Professor Emerita of Musicology at the Hebrew University. She is the author or coauthor of nine previous books.

Read an Excerpt

A Maqam Tradition in Practice

By Dalia Cohen Ruth Katz The University of Chicago Press
Copyright © 2006
The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-11299-2

Chapter One The Research Topic, Problems, Objectives, and the Tradition Studied

The aim of our study is to uncover an inherently concealed regularity in practice. The tradition whose latent rules we sought to uncover is that of the folk songs of Palestinian Arabs who now live within the borders of Israel.


The subject matter of our book is highly complex, comprising many areas of concern and their interrelations. The first of these areas is musical practice, which here pertains to oral material as performed. In the most general sense, the term "practice" as used in music refers to two main aspects of music: a musical corpus containing specific works (written or unwritten), viewed as various realizations of conscious or latent theoretical principles of musical composition; and musical performance (music as heard), embracing different renderings of the same work. In the West, for example, musical works are generally committed to writing and reflect some level of awareness of theoretical principles. The compositional principles of Arab folk music, on the other hand, like those of many oral traditions, are largely latent, and the works are not committed to writing. The absence of the constraints stemming from notation and conscious theory is compensated by the possibilities of freedom in performance because of the vocal nature of the music.

The aspect of vocalism further complicates our study. Vocal material is less consciously defined than instrumental material, which is always joined to a theory of some kind. The textual context of this music only adds to the complexity. The text is a dominant factor bridging musical and extramusical factors and is itself one of the extramusical factors to which the music is related. We have attempted to examine the nature of these relationships by assessing the performers' personal characteristics (general and musical education, area of residence, etc.), the events at which the music is performed, and the attributes of the lyrics (rhyming, meter, content, etc.).

The material for our inquiry was chosen because it includes and offers a high-resolution view of the aspects mentioned above. The specific population was selected because it has a rich, continuous, local vocal tradition (at least since the nineteenth century); is linked with the great Arab tradition; and may serve as a basis for comparison with other ethnic traditions known in Israel that originate in Arab countries.

In the course of this research, several challenges came to the fore. One salient difficulty is that of intonation, a major challenge in the study of Arab music in general. However, while the theory of intonation has been voluminously analyzed since the Middle Ages (by Arab theoreticians such as Al-Farabi and Safi a(l)-Din), and up to and including the twentieth century (by Western scholars, as in the report from the 1932 Cairo Congress [Recueil des travaux 1934], d'Erlanger 1949, and others), in practice intonation has been shrouded in fog. Some scholars believe it useless even to try to discover any kind of regularity in practice, since, by prima facie observation, no such regularity exists. Among those who have dealt directly with the practice in comparison with the theory, we should mention the pioneering work of Villoteau (1799) and his successors, Parisot (1900), Idelsohn (1922), Lachmann (1940), d'Erlanger (1949), and even Curt Sachs (1943). All stress the apparently unbridgeable gulf between intonation in theory and in practice. The present study has attempted to do the impossible, so to speak, and the effort has proved fruitful. Intonation was found to exist in a special relationship with scale systems, which, in turn, are of great importance both in organizing the music and in determining its modal system.

Intonation is only one of the factors that typify this music. Other factors, such as motives, ambitus, tessitura, and central notes, are also less determined in Arab music than in other Eastern musics, such as Persian and Indian, and may vary so greatly from one performance to another that it is hard to determine whether one is hearing a new song or a variation on a previous one. Nevertheless, we believe we have succeeded in determining the parameters of the music's stylistic variability and in gauging its regularity through a painstaking examination of these factors.

Like the music, the text is modified by informants from one performance to the next. Thus it is difficult to discover songs that may be taken as prototypes for the different manifested performances.

As for maqam, a central concept in the theory of Arab music, numerous studies have been done on various aspects of it, one of the most important being intonation. However, much remains to be discovered regarding regularity in practice as manifested both in the raw material and in the rules of composition, performance, and improvisation. Writings by Arab theoreticians seem to have deliberately ignored the practical side. Like many others, we have tried to define the maqam in our work, focusing on the meaning of the maqam in practice, even though most of the informants were not aware of its existence.

The maqam is one of the factors involved in the classification of the material into groups of songs. When we examine the significance of the maqam, we characterize the groups in terms of various parameters and definability. In our material we found that a classification system that is more meaningful and familiar to the bearers of the tradition follows not the maqamat but a set of musical, poetic, and other factors. These genres (of which there are about ten) have their own names-for instance, uruqi, 'ataba, and mhorabe-and we termed them musicopoetic genres (MPG). (For details, see chapter 7.)

We use the term "modal framework" to denote a set of similar songs (songs with the same mode) in different cultures (e.g., raga, dastgah, and pathet). The mode is usually defined (aside from major/minor exceptions) not only by the scale but by additional factors as well, both musical and extramusical. The factors that define the modal framework differ from culture to culture, and the very definition of the modal framework contributes to the characterization of the musical culture (Cohen 1971).

The maqam framework is currently defined primarily (but not exclusively) by the scale factor (and is significant mainly in art music), whereas the genre framework we uncovered is defined by many additional factors, such that we can regard it as an interesting modal framework. Thus we have two different modal frameworks and two classification systems that apply to the same material. Each is significant in its own way, and the two are interrelated. In this study, we have tried to characterize these frameworks and their interrelations. Because different parameters are salient in each framework, the chapters on particular parameters (pitch, rhythm, melisma, and text) address one or both of the frameworks, in keeping with the frameworks' relevance to that parameter. In chapter 7, we sum up the characteristics of the MPG separately.

1.1.1. Methodology

Our task was to assemble a multidimensional matrix combining musical and extramusical factors, of which the most important are components derived from the parameter of pitch, components derived from the parameter of duration, the full range of factors affecting performance, textual components, and modal frameworks in their broadest sense. Additionally, each of the major components fragments into subfactors that create numerous internal matrices. Apart from the basic questions that arise in any musical research, the present methodology is addressed not only to determining the dimensions, but also to breaking them down into meaningful subfactors, most of which are latent and must be exposed.

All this demanded great care in the selection of informants, songs, and methods of transcription and analysis. To construct the matrix we envisioned, we had to draw up a questionnaire that would isolate the components and subcomponents and facilitate their examination and the exposure of their interrelations without the intrusion of irrelevant details (the questionnaires appear in appendix 3). The information marshaled in accordance with the variables presented in the questionnaire was expressed quantitatively and passed the test of statistical significance. It became even more meaningful through the various cross-tabulations. Thus, for example, a standard deviation pertaining to the occurrence of a certain parameter or to the cross-tabulations between variables does more than denote an increase or decrease in statistical significance, since it may also be an important characteristic of the style.

The questionnaire focused in turn on each of the factors (informants, text, musical parameters, etc.) and drew minute distinctions within them. Thus, for example, the first section, soliciting information on the performers, was divided into three subgroups: the informants' social background and education; their opinions about the text and the music and the origins and significance of each with respect to each of the songs; and their opinions about the musical frameworks (maqam and genres). The second part of the questionnaire related to the text in all its aspects. In all, the questionnaire included more than four hundred items concerning each performance of each of the songs, for performance was our point of departure. The questionnaire was set up to facilitate computer processing, but much of the work involved in summarizing the findings was done manually.

Some of the questions, such as those pertaining to intonation, called for precise measurements by means of electronic instruments. This problem of exact measurement arises in most analyses of oral music; with our material, electronic aides were indispensable. The Cohen-Katz Melograph, in fact, was developed in Jerusalem for this purpose in 1957 and has since undergone considerable changes (Cohen and Katz 1967).

Although the melograph has been well received by ethnomusicologists, it has rarely been employed, even simply neglected, because of the "overinformation" it provides. Indeed, the melograph has fallen victim to a misunderstanding. In any analysis, one must separate the wheat from the chaff on each level of discussion, in accordance with the question being asked. The melograph is meant for use on the microscopic planes that may prove to be relevant; however, if they are to be relevant, they should not be left to the theoretical stage of discussion only. Thus, for example, while the exact size of a specific interval is, in many cases, insignificant, the scatter of a certain diatonic interval in a group of songs (in the performance of one informant, or in that of a group of informants) may be so important as to be one of the major components of the latent theory that is to be uncovered.

Below are several of the components of our matrix and a discussion of the analysis used.

Selection of the Informants

The informants were initially classified in two ways: those who provided information on the songs and their background, and those whose songs were examined and selected on the basis of the previous group's answers.

After talking to the informants and visiting their villages, we designed a questionnaire concerning the songs, the way they are learned, and their sociocultural setting. This questionnaire was circulated among informants in the north (the Galilee villages and towns); in the center (the Triangle); and in Haifa (see below, fig. 1.1). We made sure the informants would be representative of the Arab Palestinian population, its religious divisions, the range of vocations practiced, and levels of education (general and musical). Some of them were skilled instrumentalists and singers. From the overall number of informants, a representative group, including all the professional or semiprofessional singers-seventy-three altogether-was selected; it was their songs that were examined. These informants were classified by their general education and musical knowledge (instrumental performance, knowledge of maqamat, etc.) and their place of residence. Five regions were defined, and a further distinction was drawn between villages and towns. (Most of the population lived, and lives, in villages. Nazareth is the only all-Arab city, and Haifa is a city with a minority Arab population.)

Selection of Songs

The informants were asked to sing all the songs they knew, since we aimed to present, in full, the tradition as performed, a tradition in which the dissemination of songs and their variability in performance is one of the most interesting elements.

In all, more than six hundred renditions ("song performances") were recorded, each including at least three repetitions of the same song by the same informant. The repetitions were meant to permit us to examine the individual informant's consistency in performance and to assess the extent of uniformity among all the informants in performing the same song. The number of songs per informant varied from five to twenty. The informants were asked to provide information about each song-their opinions about the text, the music, the events at which the song is performed, and so on. At times, this information was our only source in matters such as "Who taught you the song?" Additional information was obtained by comparing the replies of different informants belonging to the same group to questions such as "When and how is this song performed?" A third kind of information was based on our own findings, independently of the informants, and answered questions concerning the maqam in which a given song is performed or the extent of the informant's role in composing the text or the music and like information. We found it of interest to compare the informants' replies with our own findings.

The songs were classified by musical factors (pitch, rhythm, etc.) and extramusical factors (text, events, etc.). Of the 600 song performances, we analyzed in detail more than half-approximately 350, with a total duration of more than twenty hours. The songs chosen for painstaking analysis (including melographic) were such as to represent all categories: maqam, MPG, types of informants, various kinds of events, and so on. The selection in all categories was random.

Method of Analysis

For the purpose of our analysis, we produced transcriptions of three kinds: the text as performed; the melody in standard notation with additional marks (taking account of the text in order to gauge the variability of melismatism); and melograph transcriptions.

Analysis of the Text

First the texts were written out by stanza and line. This presented no particular difficulty because of the presence of two clear guidelines: rhyming (on various levels) and the existence of a refrain.

An additional, more abstract, representation of the song was rendered by the presentation of short and long syllables. In a further stage the poetic meters observed were compared with several of the classical meters, taking note of deviations (added and missing syllables), of possible changes of meter in mid-performance, and of general adherence to or departure from quantitative, qualitative, or syllabic meters. The type of content of each song was also noted.

Analysis of the Melody

To facilitate comparison between the melodies, the names for the notes were assigned in accordance with maqam convention: C for rast, D for bayat, E for siga, and so on, with mention of the absolute pitch at which the song was performed. This notation was produced with no details of intonation beyond those in conventional theory. (The melograph provided these important details concerning intonation.) As for rhythm, we were as precise as possible. We indicated the tempo of each song, as well as changes-acceleration or deceleration-in numerical form. When the music was unmetered, we did not insert bar lines. In music with no defined beat, we made reference to various subunits, differentiating between the occurrence or non-occurrence of various kinds of upbeats and syncopations. The absolute duration of the song, or parts of it, was noted as well, so that we were able to determine the density tempo (the quantity of tones per unit of time) and the dynamics of tempo change. By computing the number of syllables and tones in different parts of the song, we were able to calculate the melismatic quantity (MQ) of each part of the song and the changes that occurred from the beginning of the song to its end. Thus melismatism became a characteristic parameter that lent itself to precise comparison, and not only a highly general attribute.


Excerpted from PALESTINIAN ARAB MUSIC by Dalia Cohen Ruth Katz Copyright © 2006 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. The Research Topic, Problems, Objectives, and the Tradition Studied
1.1. On Studying the Practice of an Oral Tradition
1.2. The Group and Its Tradition
2. The Performing Group
2.1. Theoretical Considerations
2.2. Variables That Affect Performance
2.3. A Brief Biographical Sketch of a Creative Performer
3. Pitch and the Maqamat
3.1. Intonation
3.2. Collections of Notes
3.3. The Functions of Important Notes
3.4. Melodic Intervals
3.5. Range
3.6. Motives
3.7. The Phrase Unit
3.8. Summary: A Comparison of the Maqamat by Pitch Factors
4. Rhythm and Structure
4.1. Duration
4.2. Density Tempo
4.3. Beat and Tempo
4.4. Meter
4.5. Form
4.6. Summary
5. Melisma and Style
5.1. On the Nature of Melismata
5.2. Studying Melismata: Methods, Examples, and Findings
5.3. Summary
6. The Text
6.1. General Characteristics of the Texts Examined
6.2. The Main Structural Components of the Text: Poetic Meter and Rhyme
6.3. Summary
7. Musicpoetic Frames
7.1. Theoretical Background
7.2. Findings
7.3. Summary
8. The Performer's Role in Shaping the Performance
8.1. The Effect of Types of Performers on Some Significant Musical Components
8.2. The Boundaries of Creativity in Folk Tradition: The Individual Performer
The Musical Components
The Framework of the Maqamat
The Connection with Extramusical Factors
The Methodological Model
Appendix 1. A Selection of Twenty-Eight Songs Representing the Repertoire
The Selection of Songs and Manner of Presentation
On the Transcription of the Music and Texts
Songs on the Compact Disc
Melographic Output for Songs 1, 4, and 10
Analysis of the Texts of Songs 2 and 13
Appendix 2. The Structure of the Traditional Village Wedding
Appendix 3. Research Questionnaires
Appendix 4. Poetic Structure as a Kind of Musical Regularity: A Comparison of Arabic Poetic Traditions, the Oral Palestinian, and the Written Medieval Spanish

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews