Middle Eastern Music Workshops with Rachel Beckles Willson

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



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Saeid Kord Mafi Playing the Santur

Saeid Kord Mafi Playing the Santur