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Between the Notes

November 9, 2010

by Wendy Vardaman

They’re not trying to be rude, or cruel, the kids, laughing and chattering while he plays the oud on stage. To be fair, the music is difficult for Westerners to hear, even though he carefully explains its differentiating features: the maqam, so much more complex than 12 tones, zakhrafat more intricate than the Baroque, and an awzan unintelligible to our unsophisticated ears, with 10 and 7 beats stressed in unexpected places. And though he tries to involve the audience, teaching them to clap 1-6-7 out of 10, they don’t seem to get it. By the end he’s more then a little irritated and begins to sound like a middle-school teacher rather than a Grammy-nominated world musician. You can waste time. Or you can learn something. He plays a song composed while touring Southern France, another for a festival in Madrid, speaks lovingly of the warmth, blue skies, dazzling beaches. Wonder what he’ll write after his blizzard-bound weekend in Wisconsin, separated from the takht trapped in Detroit?

Meanwhile, at least thirteen teenaged girls keep getting up and down in their seats, leaving the theater and coming back in while his fingers fly up and down the fingerboard finding pitches not allowed in our music — casting them out, calling them flat or sharp. And the teachers also mill about, on the pretense of settling their classes, who, apparently, have not been told that the music is for them, that the performer in the spotlight can hear and even see them when he shades his eyes, that this is not a television show.


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Wendy Vardaman (website) is the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press) and the co-editor of Verse Wisconsin.

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  1. Tony Press
    November 9, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    I appreciate this. The telling is spare, clean, and I empathize with everyone in the auditorium, onstage and off.

  2. Durkwood
    November 11, 2010 at 2:08 am

    Is there a then/than error in line three? Feel free to delete this comment once you check it out.

    • November 11, 2010 at 7:39 am

      Indeed there was. Thanks for the catch!

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