An Omani Dance Suite

What is it?

An Omani Dance Suite is a sequence of six dances, scored for the following hybrid ensemble:

  • flute (standard concert flute)
  • solo Arabian oud (the part requires quarter-tones so cannot easily be played on an acoustic guitar);
  • optional second Arabian oud (Allemande only, same applies);
  • harp (either a double action pedal harp or a lever harp can be used);
  • cimbalom (dampers not necessary);
  • a percussion section consisting of doumbek, djembe, wind chime, amplified finger cymbals and tam-tam (gong);
  • a mixed group of singers (wordless chanting rather than western-style humming);
  • strings (mostly even-temperament, quarter-tones in the Basse Danse).

Lyrics

As noted above, the choir performs without words, which seemed to me to be appropriate, given certain musical traditions in the Arabic-speaking world. The melody of the Allemande, which is subtitled "Missing", can be sung to words that reflect how I was feeling at the time I wrote the music. The reference to tears is a gesture of respect to a lady in Vietnam who lost her father while I was working there.

Come, free me to fly
On the wings of my soul with the sun high above;
Or leave me to lie
In an exile, far from the love
Of every friend from afar whose night,
Sharing in hope, we turned into light:
One people, one vision, for a world that's just and true,
Made forever new.

Come, free me to sing
Of the love I’ve been shown by these people unknown:
Inspire me to bring
From this exile thoughts of my own
Of every friend from afar whose eye,
Brimming with tears, grace helped me to dry:
One people, one vision, for a world that's just and true,
Made forever new.

Listen

The complete suite. Listening to this, I can truly believe that life is still worth living.

Learn

In the spring of 2020 I wrote a set of short music tracks for a charity of which I'm a trustee. In order to protect my intellectual property rights in the music, I decided to bring it together into an attractive if not intellectually challenging little suite, hence An Omani Dance Suite. Originally the dances were all in Arabic quarter-tone temperament, but obviously quarter-tones cannot be played easily (if at all) on the flute, harp and cimbalom. So I have made some adjustments but retained the Arabic temperament wherever reasonably possible. I had thought initially of using a santur instead of a cimbalom, but the santur lacks the range and the dynamic capability to be used with a string chamber orchestra. The cimbalom doesn't need to be a concert grand model; in fact it doesn't even need to have dampers.

The "Omani" was something of an afterthought: a musician friend of mine had worked in Oman and commented on how authentically Omani the Basse Danse sounded. The period of composition coincided with a time when I was really missing friends in Vietnam and Romania, so somehow influences from those countries found their way into the music. The dances vary widely in character.

Byblos, Lebanon

Byblos, Lebanon, October 2019
Photo: Stuart Brown

Byblos, Lebanon

Byblos, Lebanon, October 2019
Photo: Stuart Brown

The Pavane opens with gong and doumbek alone; it has an almost exotically regal feel to it. By contrast, the Bourée (consisting of a theme and variations) has an air of cheeky fun! The Sarabande superimposes an Arabic-temperament melody played by the oud onto an even-temperament accompaniment; the effect is almost hypnotically beautiful. The Allemande is wholly even-temperament and takes the form of a very slow and dignified lament. It is followed by the most Arabic-sounding of the six dances, the Basse Danse. The doumbek and djembe play an important part in the harmonic and melodic texture of the music. The Galliard is almost Elizabethan-sounding but harmonised in a delightfully off-beat way just to keep the listener slightly off balance! All in all, a fascinating little set of dances.

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