Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mini Review: Egyptian Music Appreciation and Practice for Bellydancers- Dr George Sawa

I'm a huge believer in dancers educating themselves about middle eastern dance, music and culture. When I started dancing 15 years ago there was very little media available aimed at dancer education. In particular, there was very little available on middle eastern music. I was fortunate enough to have a teacher who believed in working with musicians, and was able to attend a Hossam Ramzy music workshop and then later pick up a copy of the rhythm teaching CD he produced. Since then I've sought out every music resource I can find.

It was with great pleasure this week that I received the copy of Egyptian Music Appreciation and Practice for Bellydancers by Dr George Sawa that I had ordered from Canada. Dr Sawa has produced a 30 page 2 CD primer aimed at developing a dancers musicality. The manual has four chapters and is accompanied by 2 CDs with 65 tracks: 21 dance rhythms, cymbal patterns, drum and riqq solos; 8 maqams; photographs and descriptions of 32 instruments; and explanation of 6 musical dance forms.

The first chapter covers 21 rhythms used in Egyptian dance music. On the accompanying CD the basic unadorned rhythm is followed by an example of the rhythm used in a danceable track. This allows you to learn, sing and tap the rhythms, and then allows you to dance to recorded examples of each rhythm. Chapter 2 familiarizes you with the modes in two ways: musical scales and short melodies. Chapter 3 describes the musical instruments, and includes a photograph and a sound example of each one. Chapter 4 explains the main musical forms - essential for understanding the structure of the music for choreographing.

This is a great introduction to Egyptian music. It is great to have a concise and digestible scholarly resource that addresses not only the basics such as instruments, rhythms and maqams, but starts to delve into the structure of the music. The tracks on the accompanying CD are of sufficient length to be useful - a common failing in instructional resources. I highly recommend this to students and teachers alike - this is a key resource for understanding Egyptian music. It forms a nice complement to some of the other music instructional resources available on the market, most of which focus on percussion.

I particularly enjoyed the in depth breakdown of several dance pieces. These are of particular interest to choreographers and advanced dancers and are great for really 'getting your ear in'.

I'd really like to see a Volume 2 which focuses more on this approach to musical forms. I'd also like to see more in depth discussion of the melodic modes included in that volume. Ideally the second volume would discuss both classical and baladi music (my paricular passion). Also on my dream wish list is companion DVD which shows musicians playing the various instruments, rhythms and maqams, and then a dancer demonstrating appropriate stylization and steps. A big project, I know - but what a fabulous learning tool this would be for dancers who don't have easy access to musicians! (There are a few projects along these lines on the market. Dancers such as Keti Sharif and Ranya Renee have produced dance resources with a similar focus. They are really useful.)

In summary: This is an essential reference for any serious Egyptian style dancer or teacher. You certainly won't regret the investment. I only wish it had been around when I was a baby dancer.

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