Because of recent events we are seeing a rising interest in Arab culture. With this interest we are also seeing Arabic music making its way to an even larger audience which is causing Arabic orchestras to pop up here and there. One might naturally think that these ensembles are in America are a pretty accurate representation of what Arabic music is like in the Middle East. I happen to disagree with this. I believe that there is one important component missing from most of these ensembles that can be summed up in one word, TARAB. What is tarab? It is a term used in Arabic music to denote a state of musical ecstasy by the listener and/or the performer. In Arabic music the audience as well as the performer play an important role in performances of "tarab music". The musician would basically start performing and eventually the audience would respond to something they liked in the musicians performance, and in turn this would make the musician put more of himself in to the performance which ultimately will get the audience to respond even more to his or her performance. This cycle would continue until either everyone has reached a state of tarab, or until the musicians got tired! Tarab is one of the many aspects that makes Arabic music so different and unique to western music. But what does all this talk about tarab have to do with Arabic orchestras here in the states? Its the simple fact, that most of these orchestras and ensembles hold performances that are devoid of any tarab experience. If you were to listen to authentic recordings of "Arabic tarab music" both old and new, you will hear some improvisatory and ornamental differences between them and groups here in the States. Most of the groups in America play with what I can best describe as a clean and sterile sound were intonation is good and everyone is together all the time, but the performance would lack a certain spirit or "feeling" that goes with the music. Going back to those recordings from the Middle East, you will find that not only do those ensembles play in tune and together (most of the time), but theirs also a certain "feeling" to the way the music is approached. This "feeling" goes beyond just a musical vocabulary of ornaments and were to insert them, but it is also something that as musicians who perform Arabic music are supposed to "feel". Almost like a dialect with with a specific accent were the dialect represents Arabic music as a whole, and the accent represents the type or genre of Arabic music one is performing. I believe that this is the hardest thing to teach to anyone who wants to learn how to perform Arabic music because you don't want to inhibit the individuals creative ability but at the same time you want to the student to adhere to a set of principles that will make he or she sound like they understand the "dialect" and "accent"of the music. In my previous blog, I stated that I approach teaching Arabic music the same way one would teach a college undergrad how to play baroque music, teaching them a style and vocabulary of music versus teaching from "scratch". The most effective way I found to teach style to my ensemble was to use lots of listening examples along with performance imitation (similar if not the same as the Suzuki method). With the listening, I not only give my students good examples or Arabic music, but I have them listen to a lot of Orthodox Byzantine music as well. Not many people realize that Arabic music mirrors the west in that our musical roots are based within the Byzantine church. If you listen to some Byzantine done correctly (and that's hard to find), you will notice many similarities to Arabic music. In these recordings of Byzantine and Arabic music my students are able to get idea of how to shape melodic lines or phrases in the written out music without writing in all the details on the music. You can see my results on beginners who have never performed Arabic music before on youtube under the name "Michigan Arabic Orchestra".....I will be posting the official recordings soon! I also use performance imitation with my ensemble, were I play a phrase and have them play it back exactly the way I played it. What this does is translate the listening examples to their fingers and in turn gives them ideas on how to perform this music with more authentic sound which all goes towards experiencing tarab in a performance. On personal note regarding ensemble cleanliness and Arabic music. I hear too many ensembles who perform Arabic music very clean and together. I prefer to hear a hint individuality in an ensembles playing. In recordings of the Egyptian diva Um Kalthoum, you will notice times were the orchestra is playing together and cleanly, but there are other times in the music were almost everyone is improvising a little bit after the singer sings a phrase. I call this the concept of organized chaos, in were the ensemble is together but not at the same time. This can be seen during a performance if you look at the violins. In an Arabic orchestra the violins do not coordinate bowing's like a Western orchestra. In Arabic music, and this is my opinion, being clean and precise all the time does not necessarily mean that the performance will be good or have tarab in it. That is all dependent on what the musicians put of themselves in the music and how much they actually believe in what they are playing.