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    Maqam

Maqam (plural: maqamat), is a series of pitches (scale) that can be represented by a seven or more tones based on near-eastern-modal systems. The repertoire emerged from these maqamat is called maqam music. Historically, maqam music gained sophistication and momentum during the height of the Islamic Empire between the eighth and the thirteenth centuries.

The mood of the maqam is maintained by time-tested monophonic melodic figures that bear rhythmic and/or modulatory qualities and formulas. A musical composition is governed by the accumulation of these figures and formulas while other variations on pitch and melodic relationships are constantly being explored. A melodic entity is based within a group of notes (tetrachords and pentachords) that interlock with a different group within the maqam for the sake of development and exploration of other areas of the maqam, including its higher register. The musical entry (madkhal) differs from one maqam to another. Occasionally, a player emphasizes certain areas of a single maqam that do not necessarily indicate directly to its tonal centre. The concept of resolution and melodic development depends on the pitch make-up of the maqam as well as its register, repertoire, and genre. These elements and roles also govern the ascending or descending procedures of a composition. Eventually, they become the basis upon which performers depend while composing and/or performing a monophonic piece.

The maqam is established to introduce an instrumental or vocal performance or as an independent solo piece with a decisive musical beginning and ending. In all cases, modulating to different maqamat is possible, but there must be a final return to the original scale. The number of maqamat in use has varied throughout history. Of these, about one hundred have been developed into musical settings.

The intonation system of maqam music is not equally tempered. It is, rather, based on microtonal octave divisions, which have varied throughout history. Depending on genre, musical heritage and region (from the Atlas Mountains and parts of the Sahara in Africa to the Arabian Gulf region and the banks of the Euphrates), a single maqam octave may contain between 17 and 72 microtonal octave divisions. There are many theoretical intonation systems that were developed and are currently in use, each with its own different set of roles and pitch necessities. Since this tradition continues to rely to a great extent on oral tradition ad auditory memory of the maqam tone series and the number of scale notes and pitches within the octave, it's nearly impossible to accommodate all the existing regional variations of a single maqam by applying one intonation system to the whole repertoire. The tonal structure of vocal and instrumental music in Greater Syria, for instance, shows relative coherence and unity of their existing intonation system. Although this system is not theoretically articulate, the existence of unified and coherent musical performances indicates that regional theoretical systems are only dealt with as mere musical tools to aid the coexisting orally transmitted tradition. Accordingly, musicians and theorists in various regions apply different systems that fit their own regional and traditional musical criteria which lead to differences in musical practice and its transcription.

Issa Boulos

 
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
 
                   
                 
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