Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Food of love

Ronnie Malley and George Lawler
I had a rare opportunity last week to attend a seminar on Music in the Middle East at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

The seminar was sponsored by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) at Georgetown and featured the Chicago-based band Lamajamal.

The band is made up of five players including Ronnie Malley on Oud, George Lawlor on percussion, Gary Kalar on guitar and chumbus (a Turkish instrument that looked a little like a canteen with a neck) Eve Monzingo on wind instruments (clarinet and sax) and Joey Spilberg on bass.

The seminar focused on three different styles of music - Middle Eastern and North African, primarily Arabic, Jewish music (Klezmer mostly) and Turkish music.  Ronnie and the other members explained some of the differences - and many of the similarities - of the three types of music.  Afterward, we had a chance to chat, and Ronnie Malley told me that music has often been used for political means in the Middle East - to the point that authorities hired musicians and songwriters to write songs so that people would follow them.

But the most poignant thing he said was "If I am holding the arm of an instrument, as an arm, I can play a chord to someone standing across from me, and expect a response from them, there's a communication. If I am holding a gun, the only way to properly operate that gun is to shoot the other person."

I thought that was pretty cool. 

Gary Kalar and I talked about the need for arts education in schools, particularly music.  He made the point that in the world of standardized tests, art is not something you can measure - like math scores - so there's no way for politicians and school officials to know if a class is a success or if a teacher is a success.

It reminded me of something I head Victor Wooten say one time in a bass clinic when asked about music in schools and budget cuts eliminating arts programs.  He said school boards are elected by the people of the country "and they will only do what you allow them to.  If you allow them to cut arts and music out of schools, they will.  But you have the power to change that."

I hope to interview Daniel Levitin of McGill University and the author of This is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs next week.  He has had a lot to say about the role music plays in society and in our lives.  I'm looking forward to it.

No comments: