On Monday October 26th and Monday November 2nd 2015, we participated in a workshop as part of the Music Traditions of the Middle East module. The workshop was led by Professor Rachel Beckles Willson from Royal Holloway College and introduced us to the modal structures of Middle Eastern art music, focusing on Arabic maqam and Turkish makam. Rachel played the ‘ud lute and students brought their own instruments including lute, violins and guitar.
We found the workshop very enjoyable; it was a fun, new experience! It was good to be able to take part in the music rather than just read about it. Rachel was very patient and she played very nicely. It was useful to hear the quartertones first-hand on an authentic instrument, as we have no experience of this in our Western training. She taught us how to improvise around different maqams and their relative structures. It was fun to engage with the rest of the class with call and response exercises and melodic development activities. We enjoyed improvising away from sheet music, which was a more authentic experience than reading from the music as we are used to. Also, it was interesting to explore our own instruments in a different way, especially if these are stringed and non-fretted. The practice of singing before playing also deepened our understanding of the melodic and rhythmic modes. Overall, we think this has given us a good understanding of the musical culture and enriched our listening ability when researching this topic further.
The following week (November 9th), the focus moved to Iranian classical music and we were fortunate to be able to experience live music again, this time from santur (hammered dulcimer) player Saeid Kord Mafi who has recently moved to the UK from Iran to study for a PhD. He played examples from the classical repertoire and answered questions about life as a musician in Iran.
Charlotte Algar, Sarah Hashim and Marisa Oikawa
Rachel Beckles WIllson playing the ‘ud
Saeid Kord Mafi Playing the Santur
On Thursday November 12th, Laudan Nooshin visited Bath Spa University to present a research seminar on the music of Iranian pop diva Googoosh (b.1950). The seminar explored Googoosh’s immense popularity, despite not being able to perform between 1979 (after the Iranian Revolution) and 2000 when she left Iran after 21 years of silence, and following which she toured North America, Europe and elsewhere to ecstatic audiences. The seminar sought to understand the power of Googoosh’s music to evoke a level of emotional engagement in her audience quite unlike any other Iranian musician. A recording of the seminar can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/145631933 (password: mparf123)
This seminar followed a series of conference presentations since the summer, some on joint panels with City Music PhD students. In late June, Laudan presented a paper at the London School of Economics at the Annual Conference of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES), together with City PhD students Steve Wilford and Sam MacKay. The conference theme was ‘Liberation?’ and the panel was entitled: ‘Perspectives on Music and Liberation in the Middle East and North Africa’. Steve and Sam both talked about aspects of their current PhD research and their papers were entitled ‘Libération? Music, Independence and Postcolonialism in Algeria’ and ‘Freedom and Exile: North African Musical Migration in Marseille’ respectively. The panel also included a paper by Cristina Moreno Almeida (SOAS PhD student) – ‘Echoing the Moroccan ‘(R)Evolution’: Rap and the 2011 MENA Popular Uprisings’. The panel generated a great deal of interesting discussion.
Laudan also presented papers at the Joint Conference of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology/Société Française d’Ethnomusicologie in Paris in July 2015 and at the Royal Musical Association Annual Conference at the University of Birmingham in September 2015.
Laudan speaking at Bath Spa University, November 2015
Sam MacKay speaking at BRISMES, June 2015
Steve Wilford speaking at BRISMES, June 2015
Having just completed my PhD at the University of Manchester (quite literally – my viva was only a few days ago!) and finding myself back in London, I thought I’d get back in contact with my previous supervisor Laudan Nooshin of the Music Department at City University. Revisiting the department in which I had spent my undergraduate and MA years reminded me how much my time at City had shaped what I’ve been doing since. Not only did I find the BMus degree itself stimulating with its broad range of elective modules, but the teaching staff had always encouraged me to ‘do my own thing’ and follow lines of research that interested me.
For example, whilst studying for my MA I began to volunteer at the British Library – just a few stops away on the bus – after Laudan had introduced me to the World and Traditional Music section there. I ended up working on a project with them over the next three years arranging and cataloguing a large collection of British and Irish folk music, a portion of which has subsequently been published on Topic Records’ rebooted ‘The Voice of the People’ CD series. I’m still not sure quite how this project related to an MA in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern music studies, but the experience proved extremely valuable to my career path!
After graduating from City with an MA in 2011 I went to the University of Manchester to study for a PhD in Maltese traditional music, a topic I’d been working on since my undergraduate dissertation. Over the following four years I spent time in Malta and Australia researching the traditional guitar music known as prejjem. My thesis examined many aspects of how prejjem is transmitted: how the tradition is learned, how melodic improvisations are considered as a canon, how performances spaces affect what is performed, how guitars are encoded with histories and biographies, what role audiovisual recordings have played in transmitting stylistic schools and in facilitating communication between home and diaspora. A great thing about ethnomusicology is how it encourages an interdisciplinary approach to a topic – archaeology, anthropology, education, art and aesthetics, science and technology studies, and education studies are all fair game to draw upon as much as musicology.
Now that I’ve completed my PhD, I’m currently in the process of arranging a postdoctoral position in which I will be developing an audiovisual archive of traditional music in Malta, drawing upon private collections that are held in Malta, Australia, Canada and the USA. I’ll be exploring the ways in which such an archive can disseminate its holdings on a variety of online and offline platforms in order to reach as wide an audience as possible. At the moment I’m working on a number of small projects related to this, including one for the M3P foundation (Malta Music Memory Project) based at the University of Hull, and preparing papers for a number of conferences coming up in the new year in the UK and Europe.
Andy with Crispin Attard (luthier, left) and Kalċidon Vella (prim kitarrist, right) in Crispin’s workshop