The Arab Music Archiving and Research foundation (AMAR), in collaboration with the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF), presents “Niẓāmunā al-Mūsīqī”.
Welcome to a new episode of “Niẓāmunā al-Mūsīqī” presented with Mr. Mustafa Said who will be telling us about Practice.
Where does one draw the exercises from?
From the music we hear: we get inspiration from what someone does and draw our own series with the content and technique we want to gain. We go on drawing these series until we decide to develop them and to add something new. We set a certain exercise that leads to produce a phrase in a specific way, then someone comes after us and does the same… and so on.
Let us take the example of the chariot and the horse:
There are practice books and methods, including exercises, whose usefulness remains questionable even for learned instrumentalists…
So it is like putting the chariot in front of the horse.
Methods are set for those who want to complete their diploma in 8 years, or 4 years… And thus who need a program divided onto this number of years… Life is hard…
So, exercises are written –while the reason for writing them is not explained:
Knowing that an exercise is a problem and its solution –one may have a problem with his fourth finger, and the solution would be a specific exercise according to a certain person…
I still can’t understand why, for example, there are so many methods relative to one specific technique. I can’t even understand why there are methods specific to an instrument, including in the western system: the hand of a person is different from another’s. Each case is different.
I once gave up trying to have someone hold the ‘ūd in a certain way, not taking into consideration that his body was not built the same. He ended up producing the sound I wanted, with a different hold on the instrument, yet with the correct position. So, one can’t force another: each must play as he feels comfortable.
So, the important thing is the end result… The chariot and the horse must each keep its rightful place.
Now, is there a way to document these exercises to benefit others, or must one follow the master/disciple system?
The master/disciple system is the best. Moreover, today, masters can record or film everything… Things are getting better and better in this regard.
Must an instrumentalist consider the instrument as part of himself to achieve a good practice?
I am not the right person to discuss this issue with. To me, an instrument must execute what is in the instrumentalist’s mind. Saying that an instrument is part of oneself is nonsense.
It is a question of faculty: one has capabilities but needs to exercise them through gradual learning, training, and playing his instrument that is necessary to produce the artistic work.
Right. I do not deny the importance of the instrument. All I am saying is that our mind leads it. Another can play it and come out with something completely different.
Within this productive practice perspective, let us consider a ‘ūd (lute), a violin, and a nāy (flute) with the same instrumentalist. How do these instruments affect each other? Through a good mastery of / practice on each instrument? Does someone who plays different instruments gain experience from this?
I never tried. I do not know.
Not even from the experiences of others?
I do not know. I can’t remember having ever trained on another instrument than the ‘ūd. I do not know why. I know that I never practised on any other instrument I ever held or played. I can’t answer your question. Another might though.
On the other hand, I do try to benefit from listening to Sāmī al-Shawwā playing the violin, and Muḥammad al-‘Aqqād, Yūsuf Za‘rūr, or ‘Abduh Ṣāliḥ playing the qānūn (zither)… or to the zither, the lute, the tuba, the kutu, the samisen, the ṭār, the kamancheh, or the ṭanbūr. I do not necessarily train on them, but I can benefit from listening to them.
What do we have concerning practice in our heritage and our writings, or in what has reached us?
Those who wrote exercises for ‘ūd include:
Al-Kindī, Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ṭaḥḥān, and Ṣafyiddīn al-Urmāwī;
others followed during the Ottoman period;
at the end of the 19th century, the book “Tuḥfat al-maw‘ūd fī ta‘līm al-‘ūd” gave a detailed description of practice including how to hold the pick and how to play, the fingers of the left hand…etc. –Al-Urmawī had discussed theses points, but “Tuḥfat al-maw‘ūd fī ta‘līm al-‘ūd” is more detailed;
in the 20th century, Sāmī al-Shawwā set a complete method for violin playing called “Ta‘līm al-kamān” (Teaching the Violin). Others like ‘Abd al-Mun‘im ‘Arafa and Safar ‘Alī set ‘ūd methods.
Methods for playing instruments are still set until today.
These are books… But did anyone talk about his practice? There is a BBC recording of Sāmī al-Shawwā…
…discussing the subject.
But are there more detailed talks, or did others besides Sāmī discuss practice?
He wrote, in an article, that he practised a lot.
Muḥammad al-Qaṣṣabgī said something similar in a 1920s interview;
Riyāḍ al-Sunbāṭī also talked about practice
… among many others.
Do we have something about an instrumentalist describing his practice?
Unfortunately, no one questioned them in detail. I wish someone had, so we would have learned about it. But interviews focused on the personal appearance and missed information about their practice that could have benefited us.
The famous violinist Jascha Heifetz said: “The discipline of practice every day is essential. When I skip a day, I notice a difference in my playing. After two days, the critics notice. And after three days, so does the audience.”
What is your comment on practice, and about those who practise and those who do not?
Besides the issue of duration… The first factor that determines whether a person needs to train or not is the person himself –and the one who denies it is denying his own person… but that is another issue. The second factor is the environment, followed by the audience who knows that he was not at his best during a certain event. While the reason behind a lesser performance is not necessarily the lack of practice as it could be a mood issue. I do not know if this concerns the display level or the musical aspect: it will be obvious on the display level whereas, on the musical level, the lack of practice is not a sufficient explanation as the mood’s role is important. A performer’s experience is obvious: one plays with his experience, the mood had nothing to do with it.
How can one deal with mood? Can one train his mood?
I have no idea… If you know any mood training exercises, I’d love to hear about them.
Can we listen to the recording of an instrumentalist who practised?
Let us listen to Sāmī al-Shawwā’s taqsīm (instrumental improvisation) tajawwulāt that shows clearly that he practised and did not only rely on divine inspiration …
Do you know about any recordings, in our heritage, that show signs of practice or of instructions relative to an exercise or the setting of an exercise?
Record companies are commercial. They are not educational. Yet, the recordings of the 1932 Congress of Arab Music can be used as teaching model recordings to memorise tawshīḥ (improvised responsorial parareligious vocal form to a binary rhythm) for example, such as those of Darwīsh al-Ḥarīrī who plays a mawashshaḥ (plurimetric and plurirhyme Arabic poem) with its ṭab‘-s, rhythm, and measure, i.e. the aṣl-s (plur. uṣūl. principles), sings a khāna (section) or two, and then lets the listener continue …
This teaching model indicates how to play a certain muwashshaḥ, whereas most other recordings are only meant to be listened to. We have no recordings made by record companies whose purpose is to teach/practise/train.
You mentioned earlier that there are somewhat educational recordings of Riyāḍ al-Sunbāṭī.
The purpose of Riyāḍ al-Sunbāṭī’s six taqsīm-s recorded by Ṣawt al-Qāhira (Radio Cairo) is clearly educational. He says: If you want to perform taqsīm to the rāst then this is the rāst pattern –in long phrases that include modulations, not only in short phrases that display a maqām (modal key)– and so on for the bayyātī, the ḥijāz…etc. So the purpose of his taqsīm-s is certainly the performance, but also teaching.
Can we listen to some of those?
We have reached the end of today’s episode of “NIẓāmunā al-Mūsīqī” with Mr. Mustafa Said whom we thank.
We will meet again soon.