Iraqi Maqam: Repertoire and Variation with Amir ElSaffar (Spring 2014)

Mar 16, 2014-May 11, 2014

Sundays, 2:00 pm

Teachers: Amir ElSaffar

Sundays: 2:00pm-3:30pm
Semester: March 16-May 11, 2014 (No Class on March 23)

4 & 8 Session Packages Available for Group Instruction
Private Instruction Available



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 unknown, 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. 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.

Private instruction with Amir ElSaffar is also available.

About the Instructor: 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. 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.

Private Instruction: $75/hour

Group Instruction Pricing*

Single/Trial $20
4 classes $80 ($20/class)
8 classes $140 (7 classes + 1 class for free)

Registration for group packages open until 1st day of classes

- 5% Discount with early enrollment/payment (March 10)
- 5% Discount for students who sign up to volunteer at Alwan
- Discounts do not apply to private lessons

Group Instruction Policies

  • *Only 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 of Arab Rhythms & Percussion + 4 classes Arab Vocal Traditions=$140)
  • Class will be held so long as a minimum number of students is met by the end of the registration period.

To register and pay for classes or private lessons for the spring semester, use this REGISTRATION FORM or contact:

Kirsten Beck
Program Coordinator, Arabic Language Instructor

Alwan for the Arts - 16 Beaver St, 4th Floor

New York, NY 10004 | Tel: 917-396-8052


Early Registration Deadline: March 10, 2014*
Final Registration Deadline: March 16, 2014

Students may attend classes without registering by paying the  "single" class price of $20 by PayPal (link), 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.

Payment Methods
Payment can be made through the registration form (PayPal), or by check or money order made payable to Alwan Foundation.


Please feel free to email Kirsten Beck at anytime at the following email: with any questions related to language classes and music instruction at Alwan.


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(646) 732-3261

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