An OmanI Dance Suite

Lotte Hanoi

12th May 2020 | For Marie-Jo and family
Photograph: Lotte Tower observation deck, Hanoi, Vietnam

What is it?

An OmanI Dance Suite is an attractively exotic and relatively straightforward set of six dances, which I wrote for friends in Lebanon. It is scored for:
- flute (standard flute in C)
- oud (second oud optional in the Allemande)
- harp (lever or double action)
- cimbalom (standard model)
- doumbek, djembe, wind chime, finger cymbals and tam-tam
- mixed choir (wordless chanting)
- strings (quarter-tones used in the Basse Danse)


For the most part, the choir performs without words, honouring certain musical traditions in the Arabic-speaking world. The Allemande, which I wrote as a gesture of respect to a friend in Vietnam who lost her father while I was working there, features the following lyrics:

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.


The complete suite. The real star of this is the djembe player, who needs a thorough understanding of how to get a wide range of sounds from such a simple instrument. (I tested the playability of the part myself, on an instrument that we have at our local church.) Thanks to Weina for the Allemande vocal line.



Byblos, Lebanon, October 2019
Photo: Stuart Brown

An OmanI Dance Suite is so named mainly because a friend of mine, who is a professional musician with experience of working in Oman told me that the Basse Danse sounds authentically Omani. The Suite as a whole has influences from Lebanon, Romania and Vietnam. My first drafts of the dances were all in Arabic quarter-tone temperament; but I'm enough of a realist to appreciate that quarter-tones cannot be played easily (if at all) on the flute, harp and cimbalom. So I made some adjustments in order to make the Arabic temperament of the oud part fit with with the western even temperament of most of the other parts. 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 can be a standard model, the part is playable on any cimbalom of the type found in restaurants in many parts of Hungary, Romania and Moldova.)

The Pavane opens with percussion 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.


Byblos, Lebanon, October 2019
Photo: Stuart Brown

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