There are many skills that you develop as a musician here at the Concord Conservatory of Music, and it’s our objective to make sure that we provide you with the tools you will need to be successful. As part of your Musician’s Toolbox, it is important to include the ability to listen and to expose you to a wide variety of music.
Listening is an integral part of all musical activity and learning. As an active listener, you develop the ability to sing or play in tune; stay in time; blend sounds; cultivate your own ideas about music, and deepen your appreciation of songs. Being an active listener means all you are doing is listening, not doing another activity with the music playing. The latter is called passive listening. It’s all about exposing yourself to a wide variety of music and learning to be an active listener.
How do you actively listen? First, listen to the song. Then go back and listen for the rhythm, the melody, what’s going on in the background, the harmony. What are the different instruments that are playing? Can you isolate what they are playing? What is the mood of the song? What key is the song written in? We’ll provide you with some questions to think about when you listen to our monthly playlist.
Each month, we’ll be sending out an email alerting you to the new YouTube and Spotify playlist selected by CCM faculty member Stephen Marotto. He will provide you with some background information on the song and a question to think about while you’re listening. The playlist may include songs from a selected topic or genre and have pieces better-suited for adults and our younger learners.
We encourage you to keep a Listening Journal and explore a variety of music outside of your regular selections. One idea is to listen to variations of the song you are working on in your lesson. How is it different than the version you are learning? Your CCM instructor will also ask you about the Listening Project playlist and your selections.
Video #1 Hüzzam Saz Semaisi
The video version of this song was not available on Spotify. Our Spanish Love Song was substituted on the Spotify list. The notes below are for the video, but on both versions, you will listen to the microtones.
Listen very carefully to the melodic components of the tune.
How do the notes you hear differ from the scales you play on your instrument or the piano?
They are using what we refer to as “microtones” or, in other words, the “notes between the note” In the Western world, we use a tuning system called 12-Tone Equal Temperament. This divides the octave into 12 equal pitches that are the foundation of Western harmony (although the pitches and subsequent intervals that are created are not quite equal, that is a topic for another day). A famous example demonstrating this system’s possibilities is The Well-Tempered Clavier by J.S. Bach. He extrapolates on this new tuning system in his day to write a prelude in fugue in all 24 keys. From our point of view, the notes used in Hüzzam Saz Semaisi may sound foreign or unusual, but for someone who is inside the tradition, these notes sound just like a D major scale would to our ears.
What do you notice that is different about his guitar?
To accommodate the microtonal pitches used in this melody, the guitarist has a custom-designed fretboard that enables him to play intervals that are smaller than a semitone.
Video # 2 Keesher Bar
The performer plays a beautiful and unique instrument called the Baglama or Saz. This particular instrument has two necks that use different tunings and different styles of playing. On the bottom neck, he is fingerpicking, but not the top neck; he uses his right hand to tap on the fretboard to create pitches. This may remind you of the Chapman Stick (an electroacoustic bass/guitar hybrid)
What instrument does this remind you of?
In terms of musical form, this is quite similar to folk traditions in the western world you might already be familiar with. The melody is introduced and repeated, then followed by extensive ornamentation and improvisation on the melody.
Video # 3 Bucimis
Listen carefully to the cornucopia of sounds created by the percussionist using only one hand on the drum. The various techniques make his drum sound like an entire percussion section. At the 2:50 mark of the video, virtuoso mandolinist Avi Avital introduces the melody.
How is this tune different from other traditional folk dances you are familiar with? What do you notice about the rhythm?
This song features an asymmetrical time signature of 15/16. The subdivisions of the meter can be divided into the following groups of 16th notes: 2+2+2+2+3+2+2. Each bar has 7 beats, with the 5th beat containing one extra 16th note. Another way to conceptualize the time signature is to think: short-short-short-short-long-short-short. Each bar follows this pattern. Now with this in mind, listen to the tune again and see if you can follow the meter.
Video #4 Eastern Love
Featured in this video is another beautiful instrument from the Arabic diaspora, the Oud. This instrument has many similarities to instruments from the previous videos, but the Oud has its own unique voice. It is shaped like a guitar or a lute but with double course strings like a mandolin. However, this instrument is fretless, which leads to a different range of possible notes and a more lyrical and expressive performance practice. For more on this instrument and Arabic music in general, please join our online lecture on Arabic Music on January 27th at 7:00 pm.
According to the artist, this recording is meant to “…expresses the love and pain of lives lived by the people of war-torn Iraq.”
What emotions does this piece evoke when you listen to it?
Video #5 Black as Crow
As we pivot away from Arabic music, here is a performance of Black as Crow by Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi. This is an arrangement of an old-time American fiddle tune.
For our younger students, does this melody resemble a tune you may have played on your instrument?
Many of the songs in the Suzuki books come from fiddle tunes or other traditional folk songs. You are likely to work on a piece like this with your teacher in the early stages or your musical journey.
The song also features accompaniment by another unusual instrument; the cello banjo. The cello banjo is a bass/baritone banjo with the same tuning as a cello (C-G-D-A from low to high). The arrangement also features the flute and accordion, giving the tune an Irish feel. This is yet another example of fusing different folk traditions to make something fresh and unique while staying rooted in the past.
Video #6 Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright
Here is a bittersweet tune from the Bob Dylan songbook performed by world-class musicians Brad Mehldau on Piano and Chris Thile on Mandolin. Listen to the interplay between the two players as they seamlessly blur the lines between folk, bluegrass, swing, and jazz. I wanted to end our monthly list on a hopeful note, and listening to this song always lifts my spirits.
Bonus Track: Hand of Fatima
The version of this song was not available on Spotify. A version by a different group was substituted. The notes are for the video version.
For our more adventurous listeners, here is a song from a tribute album to the Master Musicians of Jajouka. It is performed by the trio of Medeski Martin & Wood with Marc Ribot on guitar and Bachir Attar playing the Gimbri, a bowl back styled rustic lute with a goatskin top. The group is a collective of musicians who play traditional music from Morocco. Listen to the blend of western jazz and funk interspersed with sounds from the Arabic world. Throughout our listening project this month, a theme has been the combination of different traditions around the world to create exciting new sounds and textures, which are taken to a new level here.
February 2022 Listening Project Playlist coming soon!