Iraqi Maqam: repertoire and variation with Amir ElSaffar

Mar 04, 2012-May 20, 2012

Teachers: Amir ElSaffar

Sunday Afternoons 1:30pm-2:50pm
March 4-May 20, 2012
10 sessions: No class Easter Sunday (4/8) or Mother's Day (5/13)
**Class will be held from 11:30-12:50pm on April 15, not 1:30-2:50pm

The Iraqi Maqam is one of the oldest models of maqam practice and one of the most refined of the many maqam traditions found throughout the Arab and Muslim world. In this class, students will learn to sing and play melodic phrases of the Iraqi Maqam, which are mostly rhythmically free and meditative, in addition to learning the rhythmic formulae and popular songs, known as pestaat, that are performed alongside the maqam. This class serves as a great introduction to the maqam system, its vocabulary, and intonation for students wishing to familiarize themselves with Arab and Middle Eastern music. It is also an opportunity for students of the Arabic language to learn poems from the incredibly rich poetic tradition of the Arab world.

The age of the maqam tradition is unkown, but it in its highly complex system of melodies, rhythms, and poetry can be found aspects of Iraq's history, the sentiments of its people, and the richness of its culture. Additionally, within the melodic structure and the specificity of the intervals can be found

Until recently, singers, musicians, connoisseurs, and enthusiasts congregated nightly in coffeehouses and salons throughout Baghdad, Mousil, and Kirkuk for maqam performances that often lasted up to nine hours. Knowledge of the maqam was commonplace among Iraqis of all socioeconomic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds.

Class Structure: In each session, Amir ElSaffar teaches singers and instrumentalists to sing/play melodies of the Iraqi maqam in a call and response fashion, focusing on intonation and the subtle melodic details that comprise this tradition. ElSaffar also outlines the structure of each maqam composition, which are often episodic and contain pathways and modulations to other maqams of this interrelated repertoire. Vocal students will learn to sing the lyrics, which are drawn from the vast body of Arabic poetry, although knowledge of the Arabic language is not required. Each session ends with the students learning a pesteh, or lighthearted rhythmic piece, which students will learn to sing and tap the rhythms to.

Group Instruction Pricing:

Single/Trial $20
4 classes $75 ($18.75/class)
8 classes $140 ($17.50/class)
10 classes $170 ($17/class)

*Alwan members receive 10-15% discounts on lessons! Click here to learn more about membership options and view discount levels.

Group Instruction Policies

  • *One trial class may be taken per student. If a student decides to enroll in a package of classes, the trial session will count as the first lesson of the package and its price will be deducted from the overall cost.
  • Students enrolling in a single class or package of 4 or 8 may choose to attend any session throughout the semester.
  • If a student decides to enroll in a package after taking one single trial class, the trial session will count as the first class of the package and its price will be deducted from the overall cost.
  • Combination packages available and customizable to student’s preferences
    (e.g. 4 classes Iraqi Maqam + 4 classes Arabic Percussion=$150)
  • Class will be held so long as a minimum number of students is met by the end of the registration period.

To register for classes or private lessons (click here to learn more about private instruction) for the March 3-May 25 semester, email with:

  • Class(es) you're interested in taking
  • Number of sessions in which you'd like to enroll
  • Level and/or experience (so we can get an idea of the class composition, all levels encouraged to attend!)

Make sure to mention if you are a member of Alwan - many of our membership levels receive 10-15% discounts on lessons! Click here to learn more about membership options and view discount.

Ongoing registration throughout the semester -email for details 

**Students may attend classes without registering by paying the "single" class price of $20 cash or check made payable to the Alwan Foundation, but please check the website to confirm that class is meeting on the day you decide to attend, and, if possible, email to let us know when you plan to attend.

Please feel free to email with any questions related to music instruction at Alwan.

Amir ElSaffar (trumpet, santur, vocal instruction, Iraqi Maqam) is an Iraqi-American trumpeter, santur player, vocalist, and composer who has distinguished himself with a mastery of disparate musical styles and a singular approach to combining aspects of Middle Eastern music with American jazz, extending the boundaries of each tradition. A skilled jazz trumpeter with a classical background, ElSaffar has created new techniques to play microtones and ornaments that are idiomatic to Arabic music but are not typically heard on the trumpet. Additionally, he is an acknowledged performer of the classical Iraqi maqam tradition, and performs actively in the US, Europe and the Middle East as a vocalist and santur player. As a composer, ElSaffar has used the microtones found in maqam music to create a unique approach to harmony and melody, establishing himself as an important voice in an age of cross-cultural music making. ElSaffar has received grants to compose music from Chamber Music America, the Jazz Institute of Chicago, the Jerome Foundation, Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT), and the Painted Bride Arts Center in Philadelphia. Please visit Amir's website for more information.

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