The Amazing Mirvana

Travels, and makes stuff.

Notes from Music class at Gulf Wars

Middle Eastern Influence on Medieval Western European Music
by Master Avatar of Catsprey, Ansteorra

Mr. Avatar provided a handout with lots of interesting tidbits of information and references, and I would recommend visiting his Web site and getting his book, Medieval Songs and Dances.
He seems a very knowledgable person on the subject, and if his class at Gulf Wars was any indication, the book should prove useful to any aspiring melody musician in the SCA.

These are just my personal notes (not in the handout) and what I can remember from the class.

Mr. Avatar’s research is based on the Cantigas de Santa Maria, a collection of roughly 410 songs from the period. However, the accuracy of the musical notation is a bit sketchy and subject to interpretation.

-Nahawand was used
-The Arabs commonly used dorian modes
-Quarter tones??? not known for sure if they were used or how they were used
-Hexachord tuning was used: 1 2 3 4 5, 1 2 3 4 5
-Mixolydian was used heavily by the Spanish

We played a musical game called estampie(sp?)–the stomping game, so named because there was supposedly an accompanying dance that may have involved stomping.

We borrowed a melody from the Cantigas–#42–and agreed on the following tuning: dorian starting on G. We applied a syrto rhythm to the melody. I imagined that this is how musicians would work in period because sheet music was not used; players would just negotiate the rhythm and mode and learn the melody by ear. So we played this melody a few times until everyone got it. The melody has a first and second ending–first ending is open, second ending is resolution.

Play the melody through as an ensemble once, then first person plays about an 8-beat solo (variation on the melody), and follows it with the main melody and first ending. Everyone joins in to play the main melody, then first person repeats the solo and follows it with the main melody and second ending. Each musician takes a turn being the soloist. You try to repeat the same solo each time, and as it goes around, if you remember the solo that someone else is playing, you are free to join in. It’s a memory game.

The other exercise we worked on in class was simply how to construct a new main melody line, and then each musician takes a turn playing a solo (variation on the melody) after some number of repeats of the main melody. Once again, we made up a melody based on the syrto rhythm, dorian mode starting on G. I was surprised by how quickly we were all able to learn the new melody, by ear, without any sheet music or anything written down. I also got more comfortable with improvising the solo bits.

I really liked the whole idea of improvising and creating a new melody in the period style, as period musicians might have done. The melodies had to be simple, so that everyone could learn quickly and play along. This style also gives you the flexibility to negotiate tuning, mode, rhythm and such. I think I prefer this over trying to get all the musicians you know to learn the same songs, which are more modern and complex.

One thing that helped me was my pocket guide to music theory. I don’t know what all the modes are, so I had to look up dorian. But once I had that figured out, it was no problem picking up the melodies we were using.


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