Saz, Middle Eastern Percussion
by Gregg Miner, as part of www.minermusic.com)
We Three Kings of
Disclaimer to Internet readers: The following text is a humorous essay written for the layperson. It originally appeared in a companion booklet to my 1995 Christmas Collection CDs. The information, while factual, is presented in a personal, unorthodox manner. No offense is intended toward my fellow musicians or fellow musicologists.
Well, here we are at the last song, and if you’re still with me, I salute you. You probably now know that I’m hopelessly infatuated with all fretted and stringed instruments, but I should add to that. If it’s an unusual instrument with a silly-sounding name, I’m really interested. Which brings us finally to the oud and the saz.
The oud (rhymes with “food”), found throughout the Middle East from Iran to Egypt, is more properly spelled ‘ud, from the original “al ‘ud,” meaning “the wood” – a pretty unoriginal name for a musical instrument, if you ask me. This Egyptian oud is actually a rather crude, inexpensive model, despite being entirely covered with incredibly ornate inlay. It’s no coincidence that the oud bears a striking resemblance to the modern European lute – for it is the direct ancestor, originating in Persia over two thousand years ago, and remaining essentially unchanged there for the last dozen centuries. Tuned in fourths, it’s double-strung like the lute with five or six courses, depending on the locale – the lowest bass course usually being single. It remains the same engagingly archaic instrument it has always been, played with the quill of an eagle feather and fingered on a totally fretless neck. This makes for a different playing technique of unusual slurs and vibrato, but makes it extremely difficult for some of us to play a simple chord!
We now turn our attention from the oud, which could certainly use a few frets, to the saz (rhymes with “OZ”), which has too many. In our Western, equal-temperament scale we have twelve half-steps in an octave, and twelve corresponding frets on our instruments. The saz has seventeen – and they’re tied on, so you can move them around if you still can’t find that special interval you’re looking for. In the Turkish music particular to the saz, some of these microtones eventually start sounding “correct” to our untrained ears – in fact, I was tempted to use one of these modes which actually sounded more authentic. In the end I played it safe, thought I went in and out of assorted twelve-tone modes at will to accommodate the original melody within this style. This saz has seven strings, arranged in the standard three courses – an octave pair, unison pair, and three for the melody string course. There are a dozen or so possible traditional tunings, but I just used the “Americanized” d,a,d’.
On to some Middle East percussion.
The dumbek is a tall, “goblet drum,” aptly named for the sound it makes – the low “dum” when struck in the center and the crisp “bek” from the rim (I get more of a “tak” out of it).
Originally from Nigeria, the increasingly popular udu drum is a clay “percussion pot” with an opening in the side in addition to the narrow mouth. Providing two basic “notes,” both holes are slapped with the hands to create endless effects from air movement within the jar. It’s a blast!
The riq is a Middle Eastern mosaic tambourine, intricately inlaid just like the Egyptian oud. It has really crude brass jingles that make a great, noisy splash.
Lastly, I used assorted animal bells from around the world, made of wood, copper, and animal horn, to create the opening “caravan.”
While I had already decided on the oboe part, I was thrilled to discover that my chosen oboist was currently studying the duduk, a relatively unknown Armenian instrument recently coming into the limelight through film soundtracks and the work of pop artist Peter Gabriel. The duduk is a small wooden instrument with eight fingerholes and a huge double reed. The cylindrical bore gives it a surprisingly low range, while the unusual reed gives it a rich expressiveness. Chris is one of a very few American duduk players, and I’m honored to include the instrument on the intro and chorus harmony in this piece.
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