How is this possible?

Jane

New member
How is this possible? Am I not seeing something? I'm watching a lot of old concert videos Of Umm Kolsoum and I don't see anyone with sheet music. Did everyone seriously memorize the entire concert or am I not seeing something?
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Perhaps her music was so famous that the musicians played it often enough to learn it by heart? Thanks to endless rehearsals and multiple performances I still know most of the first soprano part from Carmina Burana by heart and might also manage a good bit of Verdi's Requiem though I haven't sung either in years.
 

Zumarrad

Member
I can see that some people might be able to memorise. Also, I wonder how many of those musicians played by ear anyway?

Hmm. I know who might know the answer to this. I will investigate on FB!
 

kina

New member
At a workshop with Yasmina of Arabesque and Sulieman Warwar, Suleiman spoke at length about Um K. He stated that she often improvised, depending on the mood, emotional response and her own sense of how to deliver the music to her audience. Because SHE was improvising, her orchestra (who were known to ALL be master musicians as a result) had to respond to her tempo and voice changes. She would not start to sing until SHE was ready, and she was only ready once she judged the mood of the audience to be ready.

If you're improvising, anything can go. So, the musicians had to know the structure of the music impeccably in order to be able to switch at a moment's notice. Of course, they would follow the song structure, but like a loosely choreographed piece, once you'd hit those recognizable chords (like the into to Alf Leyla) then you could play around.

And apparently she did :D
 

Zumarrad

Member
Yes. I read somewhere of a musician admitting their band didn't like to play these songs because they were entirely scored and very long, but obviously there had to be plenty of space for those orchestras to turn on a dime - there are instrumental sections that are always "the same" in theory but as to whether the band plays them twice, repeats the bridge several times, etc, that's down to the circumstances of the performance.
 

indrayu

New member
Don't have the informed answer to that one, but as a general principle, we from cultures that rely on literacy (or by implication, sheet music) seriously underestimate the power of human memory and communication.

Someone I met who worked in a section of a town library in Central Australia which held old transcripts of Aboriginal stories told to anthropologists, said that people would come in wanting to check on records for specific stories and were able to recite them word-for-word as told by a distant, long-deceased forbear.

Indigenous Australians who have learned traditional songs are able to walk for days through the bush to specific sites that have not been visited in generations, navigating by refences to landforms and events in those songs.

A boy of about seven years old in a traditionally-oriented Aboriginal community I used to work in, looked at me as if I was mentally deficient when I said I wasn't sure when a particular event was on and had to check my diary :lol:

Traditional boat-builders would make their craft without plans, and with much group awareness and coopreation. Arab sailors regularly made sea-worthy vessels and travelled as far as Indonesia and back without much written help...etc...etc...

In some ways, literacy has actually dumbed us down!
 
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Safran

New member
Virginia Danielson writes in "The Voice of Egypt" that OK insisted that her musicians learned new songs by ear, so that they would "internalise" the music. Apparently they had rehearsals that lasted up to 5 hours, and they would actually work up to a year or sometimes even longer before the song got on stage. I guess that explains a lot.
 

shiradotnet

New member
I find it very plausible that the musicians could play without scores.

I play piano - Western classical music such as Bach, Beethoven, etc. I discovered that I couldn't really PLAY a song (ie, imbue it with artistry) until after I had memorized it. I didn't consciously say, "I am going to memorize this," but through regular practice of a piece the memorization just came naturally. Before I memorized a given song, I had to depend on reading and playing the notes. But once it was memorized, I could let go of the analytical aspect of reading the sheet music and let myself be carried away by the emotion of the song. The two experiences (relying on the music versus playing from memory) felt very, very different in my brain. The act of using the sheet music to play was an intellectual exercise and rather limiting, whereas playing from memory freed up my spirit to soar, lifted by the notes.

In other words, you're not going to find tarab if you're relying on reading the sheet music to tell you what comes next.

I also play trumpet, and had a similar experience with that. But with trumpet, I was part of an ensemble, and there's something very magical when the other musicians have also memorized their scores, and you're all free to jam together. I totally "get" why improvisation is such an important part of Middle Eastern music and dance, and why the concept of tarab is so important to Middle Eastern music.
 
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Jane

New member
Thanks for all the insightful replies everyone. I'm very impressed with these musicians and have found a whole new reason to love and respect the artistry of Middle Eastern music.
 

Zumarrad

Member
Yes, in my piano lessons I used to get into trouble for waiting to turn the page of my sheet music till, you know, a spot in the music when my left hand was free, because that was clear evidence that I was playing from memory OH NO.

I am a very poor sight reader, in part because I used to look at my hands, but I used to memorise pieces very very quickly. I had a great uncle who apparently played piano entirely by ear - and that was very common in the days before everyone had a radio, many people played some kind of instrument - and couldn't play at ALL when he tried to learn to read music so he gave up fast. (I didn't play piano very long and have not for a very very long time, so I'd say I'd have forgotten most of what I used to play, but I reckon one go with the sheet music and I'd have it back.)

Writing music down is really a method of transmitting one's composition, and being able to sight-read is a really good skill for a jobbing muso, but once you learn the song you learn the song.

It's not just a non-western music thing either. How many times have you seen a rock band playing from tab? I didn't think so.
 

BeatriceC

New member
In other words, you're not going to find tarab if you're relying on reading the sheet music to tell you what comes next.
In much the same way, you're not going to be able to find tarab in your dancing if you are still in the Learning stage of a choreography. Your mind is intent on remembering what comes next. Once your body knows what comes next without having to rely on your active brain, that's when you can relax into the mood and feel of the piece.
 

Aniseteph

New member
Yes, in my piano lessons I used to get into trouble for waiting to turn the page of my sheet music till, you know, a spot in the music when my left hand was free, because that was clear evidence that I was playing from memory OH NO.
I wonder how many people are put off learning musical instruments by that sort of attitude. It could be that you (generic of course! I actually mean me...:() don't actually have zero talent/ aptitude, they are just teaching the the wrong way for your brain. I played violin as a child and pretty much hated it, and a lot of that was down to being terrible at sight reading and terrified of Doing It Wrong. A bit of folky style flinging myself into it would have made a world of difference.

Daughter has been doing keyboard for several years now and is clearly happier working things out by ear and playing from memory. It's useful to be able to read the music to know where to start (as it's usually tweaked into a key that isn't a mass of sharps and flats, and so it works as a reminder or help for working out tricky bits), but getting over angsty about sight reading is counterproductive IMO, unless you are going to need it later in life.

I agree, it is all about going beyond the sheet music/ choreography. :cool:
 

Zumarrad

Member
It could be that you (generic of course! I actually mean me...) don't actually have zero talent/ aptitude, they are just teaching the the wrong way for your brain.
Anybody who can memorise a piece of music can't be *completely* devoid of musical ability, surely.

But I agree - I think a lot of musical things can be learned if you're just taught the right way FOR YOU. I am convinced everyone can sing in tune if they just learn how to do it (though apparently there really are people who are tone deaf - I have no concept of what this would be like). It doesn't help that these days, it's so common for people to believe they/others can't sing unless they sound like Christina Aguilera, and in a more secular world there tends to be a lot less regular singing.
 

kina

New member
Anybody who can memorise a piece of music can't be *completely* devoid of musical ability, surely.

But I agree - I think a lot of musical things can be learned if you're just taught the right way FOR YOU. I am convinced everyone can sing in tune if they just learn how to do it (though apparently there really are people who are tone deaf - I have no concept of what this would be like). It doesn't help that these days, it's so common for people to believe they/others can't sing unless they sound like Christina Aguilera, and in a more secular world there tends to be a lot less regular singing.
as someone who is tone deaf, I have no idea of what sounding in tune is like. Imagine the pain I inflicted on my clarinet teacher(s).
 

Darshiva

Moderator
For those who are tone deaf* to get an idea of what in tune is like, start mixing a cake. Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl then pop the egg in and give it one stir. That's what out of tune is. Now beat the mixture gently until the whole thing is homogenised. That's what tune is. Now throw in a handful of chocolate chips and mix them gently so that there are some lumps exposed as well as a little bit of ribboning. That's what harmonising is.

An out of tune cake doesn't taste very good. An in tune cake is pretty tasty. A harmonised cake is pretty awesome. You don't need harmony to have a good cake, but you do need to be in tune.


*Because I like exercising my brain by explaining experiences for the understanding of those who can't experience them - blame my art training!
 

Zumarrad

Member
But - how does a tone deaf person experience music then?

I am floored because I know how important music is in Kina's world!

ETA: I was thinking that tone deaf people could not distinguish between notes. Like, you play a note and they cannot sing it back, nor can they tell that they cannot sing it back. Am I wrong?
 

kina

New member
But - how does a tone deaf person experience music then?

I am floored because I know how important music is in Kina's world!

ETA: I was thinking that tone deaf people could not distinguish between notes. Like, you play a note and they cannot sing it back, nor can they tell that they cannot sing it back. Am I wrong?
No, you have it right, I can't play it back.

I received an ipod for mother's day one year. I put it on, loaded music into it, clipped it to my waistband and started cleaning my room, completely delighted that I could listen to music at any volume without bothering anyone else.

M and his daughter came running in about 20 minutes later prepared to administer first aid and call emergency medical services for help when I lost all control of myself and was singing at top volume. I think it was to Um Kalthum.

True story.

But percussion is felt, and I can hear the rise and fall of the melody, recognize the different instruments as they come in. Pressure in the voice to denote emotion, volume, cadence all are felt, for lack of a better word.

It's probably why I gravitated more to drum solos and heavily rhythmic pieces first, but I *do* love the richly orchestrated music as well. I think I just hear it differently than you do.

I think I relate to your surprise much as I do when I realize someone can't "feel" the beat of the rhythm.
 

Zumarrad

Member
Choir in school is better than nothing.

I began piano lessons at age seven or eight, when my parents swapped a case of tomatoes for a piano (true story). But I didn't like them, and longed to return to ballet, so I did. There wasn't the option to do both.

The piano stuck round though and when I was in fourth form (14) I opted for a music elective rather than an art one, because the year before, when we tried out the various electives at school, there was an older girl who did art who bullied me, and I feared having to deal with her in the art room. (Amusingly, she left school that year. So it was never going to happen.) I started learning a "modern" piano style that involved big chords in the left hand and playing properly with the right - I still had my copy of The Story of Mrs Middle C so I could read music a bit - and then decided to switch to a more traditional style so I got more au fait with the bass clef, and theory in general. I studied music at school till I was 17, but not "practically" - we didn't learn instruments, we just listened to things and analysed them, did ear tests, learned a fair bit of theory, did composition exercises etc.

To this day I remember doing the exam, which required us to listen to a record that had been released to schools the day before for our ear test, and hearing the entire room gently humming "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" as we all took apart and identified that perfect fifth. LOL.
 
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