Mike's Oud Forums

What would revitalize the Oud world?

majnuunNavid - 10-29-2018 at 03:18 AM

I've always been interested in encouraging the development of the Oud in education, in musical performance, and in the instrument itself.

Recently, I think a lot of places where the Oud is discussed online has died down a bit.

I wonder, why isn't the Oud catching on more?

When you look at stuff like Yoga, Kung Fu, Karate, Indian music, and djembe, you can see that these are household names.

I think the Oud is entering a period something like that, but it's really far from that at this point.

Part of me is thankful that no one has taken the Oud and corrupted it, and watered it down yet. But another part of me is wondering why something so profound hasn't found a place in the hearts of more people in an authentic way.

So I ask you the question:

What would add new life into the Oud regardless of genre?
What would solidify the Oud's place in the modern world?
What do you want to see created or invented in relation to the oud?

What Oud learning opportunities would you want to see made available?
What other developments would you like to see?

What innovations are left for the Oud?

What would revolutionize the Oud?

Please be as creative or as stupid as you want. There are no stupid answers, and no stupid ideas.

Jody Stecher - 10-29-2018 at 08:28 AM

You've asked some good questions, especially in the second part of your post. I will reply to some of your points in the order they were presented in your post. First some questions of my own about your points early in the post.

What is lacking in performance or in the instrument, that it needs development?

Why would an increase in oud interest be a good thing? Who would it be good for? More gigs for oudists perhaps? Who would benefit from "oud" being a household word? I'm not saying it would be bad, but I don't see why it would be better than how it is now.

You have answered your own question about why something so profound as oud hasn't interested more people. Surely the answer is because most people have no interest in depth in music or in anything else.

Now some answers to your questions:

What would add new life to oud? It's featured presence in a blockbuster movie.

What would solidify the oud's place in the modern world? Universal appreciation and understanding of maqam music would, but that's not going to happen any time soon. But why is a solid position desirable? The best music is often found in the margins outside the mainstream. Why is mainstream desirable? Cheapening would be inevitable.

What do I want to see created or invented in relation to the oud? Well, I suppose a soundboard that never needs replacing would be nice. Bowl wood that self-heals after an oaf sits on it would be great. Universal fitting of tuning pegs that work perfectly would be good. How about universal and generous subsidy of oud makers by a billionaire or two so that the price of the best ouds is two hundred dollars.

What Oud learning opportunities would I want to see made available? A great player/teacher of each type of oud music living in my neighborhood. Make that six of each!

What do I want to see created or invented in relation to the oud? Better cases at lower prices.

What would revolutionize the Oud? I love the oud as it is. Why would I want to see it revolutionized?

DavidJE - 10-29-2018 at 11:59 AM

These are interesting questions and ideas Navid, and something I've been thinking about recently. I generally agree with Jody's answers, but I'll add a little of my recent thinking on this.

First, just about anyone I've played my ouds for, in Austria and the US, seems to love them and what I play on them. No one I've met who isn't from the parts of the world where the oud is common has ever heard of an oud before though, or makam music for that matter. But everyone I can remember showing them to has really admired the craftsmanship and beauty of the ouds (Trnz), the sound, and the makam music I've played. I'm getting better and better, but I'm still no pro, so I'm sure these people would be even more impressed if someone who was really good played for them. In addition to that, I often tell people a bit about makam music theory when I play for them (I'm probably going overboard with that!), and people at least seem to be interested.

With that said, why isn't it more popular? I think the instrumental music is too "brainy" or difficult to grab on to for the average person, so it doesn't catch on like "pop music". Pop music is so easy and predictable that people can grab on to it. It sticks with them quickly. I don't think the instrumental music people play on the oud is really like that. If you think about it, there isn't much instrumental music of any sort that is *really* popular...on the level of pop music.

What's curious to me though is that there has been some modal instrumental music that at least was relatively popular. If you look up the history of one of the most popular jazz albums ever, "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis, most of the tracks on that album are "modal jazz". And Coltrane ran with modal jazz too. From what I have read it sounds like the inspiration for Davis and Coltrane's modal jazz had Indian/raga roots, but that modal style is theoretically the same as makam music as far as I can tell...in the sense that it's based more on melody and scale rather than sticking with chord progressions. So there were some really, really popular western musicians doing "new" and amazing stuff that was really admired all over the west and even all over the rest of the world...but in fact, to me at least, what they were doing isn't THAT much different than what was already being done in other parts of the world with instruments like the oud, and with makam music. I guess back then things were less global, and even less people knew about the oud or makam music. And today, I think way less people (it seems) are interested in this more cerebral music than they are in pop music. Part of that could also be related to all the personal devices...where people don't really enjoy music together as much.

When I was younger my friends and I used to go to go music stores, browse all the music, talk about it, buy stuff, and listen to it together. I'm not sure many people are doing that anymore. So I guess even though jazz might still be somewhat popular it's maybe less popular (not sure), and then the "ethnic" or "foreign" equivalents have almost no chance. It seems like pop music these days is as much about the look and behavior of the "artist" as it is about the music itself, and I don't think the oud is really "sexy" in the way that much pop music is today, at least for most people.

What would it take to add new life into the oud in the west? As Jody said it would have to be made popular by some popular person, I think. I really don't see that happening, any more than you're going to see the biwa or shamisen going mainstream in the west. And if it did happen...well...I just don't see it.

I don't know that any innovations really need to occur either. I love the oud as it is. I do think it fits very well in other genres, like what both Mavrothi Kontanis has done with his "Ear to the Sky" album or what Brian Prunka has done with his "Nashaz" album, and I'd be happy to see it used more in those kinds of contexts, but I'm not sure I really want to see any other innovations or developments.

Jody Stecher - 10-29-2018 at 05:54 PM

DavidJE has touched on a vital point: group listening by a small group of friends used to be universal, in every country that had phonographs or even radio. With earbuds and downloads this social listening hardly exists any more. When I was a teenager if someone got a new record we all knew about it and we'd gather at the home of whoever had the best playback equipment when possible, otherwise, any equipment would do. And we'd comment and speculate oh how various things were done. We'd yell at each other. We'd yell at the record too, like the concert crowd during a Farid al Atrash taqsim. This was for all sorts of music, not just oud solos, although these played a part.

This is one way that music gets to be known. Isolated listening is great for learning but listening together is another thing. And listening together to live music is vital for the performer. There's a circle of energy, an exchange between musician and listener. They aren't two things. It's one thing. One event, and the energy cycles.

SamirCanada - 10-30-2018 at 06:49 AM

just judging from my social media profiles, I would say the oud is gaining even more popularity in the Gulf, Turkey and in Iran. I definitely don't see it going down in popularity but you are right that perhaps in the west it is going down in popularity. The whole world has changed man, perhaps it's not as "cool" to play an Arabic instrument from the point of view of a westerner. Also, forget just the oud, people seem to play less instruments in general.

This is only my point of view, though perhaps it is shared by some others, I don't want to see any innovation or evolution of the oud. And perhaps we can save some poor nahats to end up being played by the likes of Rabih Abou-Khalil and the "Jazz" types. Nothing against him personally, though slightly jealous of his collection... his music is horrendous to me. certainly, in the Gulf and other areas where the oud is still going strong, if not becoming more popular, I don't see musicians playing to be famous in the west or anything... I see more players sticking to the music of their region and reviving old pieces etc...

DavidJE - 10-30-2018 at 07:25 AM

Samir, I agree with you that people seem to play less instruments in general. Things have gotten so fast-paced for most people these days, and they are distracted 24/7 by their stupid "smart phones". In the past people had a lot more down time where they could put in the time it takes to really lean to play an instrument. But these days so many people are so addicted to their phones that the moment they have any time free they instantly go to their screens. I listened to a podcast the other day by a teacher at Julliard who said that even among younger musicians trying to get to the top of the top, they are continuously distracted by their phones. She said the thought of going even 15 or 20 minutes with their phone off is unthinkable. I really think that is having a negative impact on just about everything of quality these days.

Of course, there is no "need" for the oud to become popular in the west. But on the other hand the music is so beautiful that I do feel it would be a great thing for more people to get to enjoy it. I disappoints me when I travel outside of the west only to hear mostly western music playing everywhere. This year though I noticed two exceptions, in Oman and Japan. I tended to hear a lot more local music in those countries, which was great. :)

majnuunNavid - 10-31-2018 at 05:36 AM

Thanks for the thoughtful responses. I really appreciate this.

I guess I meant what would get someone who was interested in the Oud or already learning the Oud get inspired and excited about playing more rather than put the instrument away.

I found it interesting that there is a sentiment that the Oud is fine the way it is (I agree). But I can't help but think about the innovators in the past who had crazy ideas for an existing technology/idea/etc who ended up trailblazing new and setting new standards of achievement. Often, these people are initially opposed, which gets them to dig their heels in deeper and make their breakthroughs.

I guess I'm wondering, is this possible for the Oud? In the instrument itself? In the music? Is there any unturned stone in the music of the Oud or the instrument?

On another note musically, was it something in the Western classical music that captured the world so that you can now see almost every country emulating the European orchestra? Or is it the combination of politics, global economic influence and just the desire to emulate the West like most countries do with all fads.

I personally look for and aspire to something timeless rather than something that's completely new. An example of that for me and my limited knowledge are the recordings of Hamza Al-din. This will be different for different people of course.

Ultimately, I guess it doesn't matter, whether the art survives or not or what it evolves into. It is what it is and what it was. We've been fortunate enough that the Oud touched our lives at least.

tkmasuda - 10-31-2018 at 09:17 AM

How about frets?

DavidJE - 10-31-2018 at 11:03 AM

I mentioned Mavrothi's "Ear to the Sky" album and Brian's "Nashaz" album. Both of those take the oud in directions I hadn't heard it used in before, and I find both of those albums excellent. In addition to those, and in a totally different direction, look at Joe Tawadros' music. Check out the BBC Symphony Orchestra playing one of Joe's pieces with Joe and James: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96CV_iY6-9k

Going back to the past, some of Targan's pieces like Kapris (which I know you know) and Koşan ocuk...those were and still are pretty revolutionary. So I guess I think that people are taking the oud to new heights. They're just not really popular in the sense that everyone outside of the oud world knows about them.

You could add frets to an oud...but I think that would make it a different instrument. And on that line of thinking, I guess it has been modified a lot already, from the lute in the west to the pipa and biwa in China and Japan. I think it's an amazing instrument with amazing possibilities.

For getting inspired and excited outside of the traditional Arabic or Turkish repertoires I think anyone could listen to some CDs like those I mentioned above, or just try to explore new ideas on their own with it!

tkmasuda - 10-31-2018 at 01:24 PM

On the jazzier side, Yoshie Fructer's Sandcatchers and Gord Grdina's groups are interesting and beautiful crossgenre bands, in line with Prunka's music. I also loved Mavrothi's involvement in Amir El-Saffar's ensemble. The Tawadros stuff is killer; I wish he would tour the US.

I would love to hear new chamber compositions for oud, too. I bet there are composers who can work with subtle intonation or temperament themes that would be perfect for the oud. There's a cool youtube video with a theremin player improvising with an oudi, which I discovered through this forum.

In the US there may be a couple of factors inhibiting the popularization of the oud. First, they're just hard to come by IRL. Next, oudis may tend to be genre traditionalists offering a rigid view of musical options. Also, the sonic character of the oud is soft, complex, and intimate, not very susceptible to amplification -- so maybe it's not easy to find a place for its voice in today's highly commercial and synthetic music market.

Jody Stecher - 10-31-2018 at 05:22 PM

The oud amplifies easily and well with the right microphone and intelligent placement of house speakers and stage monitors and with diligent pre-sound check "ringing out the room".

What is lacking now is competent sound tech people at gigs. Just watch all those Farid El Attrash videos where he's in front of a large orchestra. Or in a smaller but still multi-instrumental setting, what about the oud in Saba Al Fakhri's groups. The oud is not lost and does not feed back. There is no problem with oud and no problem with microphones. The right mike and the right engineer will make everything good.

So maybe to answer the original question as to what would advance the Oud Cause these days, maybe the answer is better training for sound engineers at live gigs.

Quote: Originally posted by tkmasuda  

Also, the sonic character of the oud is soft, complex, and intimate, not very susceptible to amplification -- so maybe it's not easy to find a place for its voice in today's highly commercial and synthetic music market.

majnuunNavid - 11-1-2018 at 03:54 AM

I would love to see moveable frets such as that Tolgahan oğulu demonstrated on an Oud. That would change the instrument quite a bit. I'm curious to hear the clarity provided by frets. Frets do provide superior clarity. Said Chraibi designed a fretted alto Oud built by Belhaiba which sounds quite cool.

Jody, I think you have hit on something extremely important. I don't think Oud players ourselves are adequately knowledgeable on how to amplify our own instruments much less sound engineers. I sure as hell don't know what to tell sound engineers. But I know I've been disappointed with enough concert recordings of my own playing in ensembles that this is a huge problem. It tears me up to hear recordings of concerts I've performed in to see that I might not as well have been there at all.

I would love to get some education on this.

Jody Stecher - 11-1-2018 at 06:56 PM

Quote: Originally posted by majnuunNavid  
I would love to see moveable frets such as that Tolgahan oğulu demonstrated on an Oud. That would change the instrument quite a bit. I'm curious to hear the clarity provided by frets. Frets do provide superior clarity. Said Chraibi designed a fretted alto Oud built by Belhaiba which sounds quite cool.

Jody, I think you have hit on something extremely important. I don't think Oud players ourselves are adequately knowledgeable on how to amplify our own instruments much less sound engineers. I sure as hell don't know what to tell sound engineers. But I know I've been disappointed with enough concert recordings of my own playing in ensembles that this is a huge problem. It tears me up to hear recordings of concerts I've performed in to see that I might not as well have been there at all.

I would love to get some education on this.

Well here are a few basic points. This is very crude and general and a good engineer will say "yes but" .

First and foremost : beware the smiley face EQ. Most forms of pop music are usually "equalized" by boosting the treble and bass and minimizing/reducing the midrange. An oud is 100% midrange. So with the mids turned down the oud is defeated.
Loss of midrange is loss of music in the acoustic music world.
If you play at a rock club the first thing to do is have the midrange restored. That can often be all that is needed.

There are different kind of microphones. One set of variables between 2 mic-s is the pattern of receptivity (that's not the technical term). A mic with a narrow pattern will pick up what is in front of it but not much or any of other nearby instruments. A wide pattern can pick up the whole stage. If you've got 7 drummers and a baritone sax in your oud mic, when the oud mic gets turned up so do the other instruments so you are never loud enough. Then there are dynamic mics and condenser mics. A good condenser mic can be very accurate and detailed. Gosh it can make your instrument sound better than it is. But it's sensitive to everything and prone to feedback especially if the stage monitors are not carefully placed. It can get overloaded by picking up what is coming out the monitors. And then there is problem of "proximity effect" from a directional mic. The closer it is placed to the source the more the bass frequencies are amplified at the expense of higher sounds. So your oud can sound like it weighs 800 pounds and needs to stop eating so much hummus. This can be great fun on the low notes but you won't like it on the higher strings at all, at all, at all.

Unless the engineer knows the room and the mixing board and the mic-s being used very well it is best to not point a microphone at a sound hole. Begin by pointing it near where the neck and body meet. If that is not pleasing another good spot on some ouds (and other instruments) is on the treble side of the soundboard beyond the bridge. If you imagine the map of Canada as the soundboard, point the mic at a point between Montreal and New Brusnwick. Begin at about 6 inches away.

It's not enough for the engineer to know the room and the tools. He/she should be familiar with what the music is supposed to sound like.

bugaga - 11-4-2018 at 01:45 AM

About the popularity of oud I have the opposite feeling, but that's maybe because I'm living in Germany. Having had lots of migration especially from Syria recently also brang us lots of skilled musicians including oud players. There is now an Syrian exile orchestra for a few years already. Also for three years it's possible to study oud in the city of Mannheim. Beside there are several private teachers. In my home city of Bochum it is possible now to learn instruments like oud or bağlama at the public music school. And also from all the strange instruments I'm bringing to concerts oud is usually the one all the technicians know.

Quote: Originally posted by majnuunNavid  
I would love to see moveable frets such as that Tolgahan oğulu demonstrated on an Oud. That would change the instrument quite a bit. I'm curious to hear the clarity provided by frets. Frets do provide superior clarity. Said Chraibi designed a fretted alto Oud built by Belhaiba which sounds quite cool.

What is a fretted oud other than kind of a lavta? I have never heard a fretted oud, but to me the fretless soundboard is one of the main aspects of oud, which make it possible to play oud as an oud and to let it sound like an oud. I mean, I like lavta, but it's really a different thing.

Quote: Originally posted by majnuunNavid  
On another note musically, was it something in the Western classical music that captured the world so that you can now see almost every country emulating the European orchestra? Or is it the combination of politics, global economic influence and just the desire to emulate the West like most countries do with all fads.

I don't think it's the music that's superior. There are so many great classical and non classical musical traditions around the world that are fully developed, but in complete different ways which made Eurocentric ethnomusicologists recognize this music as primitive. It's just that Europeans/the west politically conquered the world and they were bringing their music, their instruments, their orchestras, and sadly for many cultures this became something to look up to and sometimes deny their own traditions.

MattOud - 11-4-2018 at 02:20 PM

This, and more like it is what can revitalizes the Oud world:


Beautiful :)

ChanningPDX - 11-4-2018 at 02:21 PM

I've been thinking about a response to this for a while. Not sure how helpful or enlightening it'll be, but here goes.

I would imagine that many of us on this forum likely did not start our musical journeys playing the oud--or any sort of Arabic/Turkish/"Eastern" instrument at all. Thus, many of us have other instruments and musical genres to refer to for comparison--not that these comparisons are always apt, but they can provide some interesting parallels.

My journey to the oud and maqam-based music is probably a bit different from most. I grew up on the West Coast of the U.S., and while I received training in Classical music and Jazz in my childhood and teenage years, my focus shifted to playing the Scottish Highland bagpipes as a teenager. I was active in pipe bands and as a solo competitor in my teens and twenties. (I still love to play, though I don't compete any more.) Then while spending a summer in Ireland, I got into playing uilleann pipes and started playing a lot of Irish traditional music as well. These two strongly related musical genres have been my main musical focus for the last 20+ years.

I started playing shortly before Scottish/Irish/"Celtic" music exploded into a pretty huge heyday in the mid-90s. With the appearance of movies like "Rob Roy", "Braveheart" and the whole "Riverdance" phenomenon, suddenly that style of music was everywhere. At first, it was pretty exciting, and a strong motivator for young musicians like me and my friends. In addition to the marches, strathspeys, reels, hornpipes, and jigs that I played in a strict, straight-laced way in competitions, I wanted to learn the tunes I was hearing Ashley MacIsaac play or learn the tin whistle so that I could pick up tunes from old albums by the Chieftains and the Bothy Band.

Eventually, musical obsession bred snobbery and radical fundamentalism. For a while, it got to the point where I would pretty much only listen to old archive recordings of long-dead old men. From there, pretty much the only place left to go was musical burn-out. I still pulled out my pipes for gigs, but I stopped listening to Irish and Scottish trad music almost completely for a time. It was around this point that I went on a life-changing trip to Israel, Palestine, and Turkey, and I ended up bringing back a bunch of CDs--everything ranging from classical Ottoman music to Hip-Hop. Suddenly, a whole new musical landscape opened up: looking back now, hearing the note sikah/segh, whether played on an oud or a synthesizer, was the first thing that knocked me out. As I listened to more maqam-based music, I was initially reminded of the tonal flexibility of some old Irish fiddle players, playing certain key notes higher on the way up and lower on the way down, but the tonal color palette of this music was far broader than pretty much anything I had encountered before.

After several years of obsessive listening, I finally decided that I had to play this music for myself. Given my background in woodwinds, perhaps the ney would have been a more logical choice, and I do love listening to it when it's played well, but the oud called out to me more than other instruments. Similar to hearing the uilleann pipes for the first time, I was overcome with a feeling of, "I _need_ to make that sound." I was fortunate for a used oud made by Ali Nişadır to come up for sale, I found a great teacher locally, and I've been (mostly) happily plucking away ever since. That was close to a year ago.

Now thinking about this topic, I would say there are some parallels between maqam-based musics (and the oud in particular) and, say, Irish traditional music:

1.) More people are playing it than ever before, and the overall playing standard has probably never been higher.

2.) Related to this point, the music has higher status and acceptance than it did in the past. If you read books like Dr. A.J. Racy's "The Culture of Tarab" or Dr. Benjamin Brinner's book "Crossing a Void", both of them reference a pattern of musical apprenticeship that used to be very common (and still perhaps is) in many parts of the Arab world:

1. Kid finds dusty old half-broken instrument in a closet and tries to make music come out of it.

2. An uncle or friend of the family who plays a little shows him the basics.

3.Kid perseveres with woodshedding despite family/community objections, eventually joins a hafla band, and slowly builds up technique and repertoire through active performing with more experienced mentor players.

Replace "hafla band" with "cil band", and you'd have virtually the same situation that was common in Ireland until about 40-50 years ago. By contrast, now both of these musical traditions have borrowed from the disciplines of Classical music and Jazz. Universities and music conservatories have serious departments devoted to this music, and you can study it up to the postgraduate level. Even if you don't take such a formal, academic route, this by its very nature has led to a much more disciplined and rigorous approach to learning. Wooly fingering and poor tuning are no longer tolerated the way they used to be. This is largely a good thing, though some aficionados might complain that the music now lacks "dirt" or that formally trained younger musicians try to replicate that "dirt" in a clichd and inauthentic way.

3.) People play this music around the world. While the traditional homes of this music will always be the sources learners turn to for serious study, some of the best exponents of this music today have no ancestral or cultural connections to the Middle East or Turkey.

4.) Good quality musical instruments are more widely available. Even if you start off with a $300 factory-made instrument from Turkey sold on eBay, it's probably a good deal better than much of what was available to the average person 50 years ago. If you can get into the $900--$1500 range, you can find high quality ouds that might last a lifetime.

Irish music is somewhat similar in this regard, but for my instrument, the uilleann pipes, it's a lot more complicated. These are not (currently) factory made, so you have to order from an individual pipemaker who will likely only be able to turn out 4-6 full sets of pipes a year. A basic practice set (bag, bellows, and chanter) costs around $2,000 these days, and you might wait a few months to a year for it. Good quality full sets of pipes generally start around $10,000, and you might easily wait five or more years on a waiting list before they're ready. From that perspective, oud players have it easy.

What would move the oud "forward"? Widespread exposure in mainstream pop culture probably wouldn't hurt... But then again, the oud has been used in hundreds of film soundtracks. Any time you watch anything on TV that has anything to do with the Middle East, you usually don't have to wait too long before the oud with heavy reverb kicks in to play something appropriately mysterious and exotic-sounding. This hasn't translated to droves of teenagers taking it up.

The whole "Riverdance" (we often call it "Livertrance") and Celtic music phenomenon of the mid-90s did bring Irish and Scottish music a huge amount of publicity, and it did lead many young people to take it up, but it still failed to register with most people. When I'm playing a gig on uilleann pipes, most people have never seen them before and don't realize they've heard them in tons of movie soundtracks. Even in Ireland, a lot of people have told me that they hadn't seen a set up close in person before.

The oud will never be the guitar. It will never have a weird mainstream moment in the sun like the ukulele. The oud is the oud, and it will always have limited appeal beyond people who already love maqam-based music. Sure, you COULD play all sorts of other kinds of music on it, but you could also eat your spaghetti with chopsticks. It might be a great idea, but few people are likely to try it out.

A master Scottish piper once said that there are only two types of people in the world: people who love drones and people who don't. I think part of what drew me to maqam music and the oud was that I was already a "drone person," so I was already attracted to that drone-y, modal, just-intonation musical aesthetic. There are tons of people who are; they just don't know it. Introducing people to the oud through performing at schools, local community events, and music festivals would probably have the most effective short-medium-term impact. But festivals require a lot of organization--something that musicians are not often famous for.

Here in Portland, I'd love to eventually put together some sort of oud workshop and/or concert. It's something we really need here, and the talent might be within reach with a few grants and a co-sponsor or two, but at this point, neither my teacher or I have the time or energy to put something like that together.

Badra - 11-4-2018 at 10:51 PM

Good discussion. Channing your journey to the oud is pretty fascinating.

As someone who is born and raised in America, but loves the arabic music my parents brought with them, I used to have a strong desire to see the music I love become more popular. Especially before the internet, there wasn't a ton of opportunity to share/enjoy the music with others. But of course, the average Westerner is not going get into maqam based music so easy. In fact, most will never get it, or feel it. That's fine, nothing wrong with that. It takes a special person, and every once in a while I'll meet special people, like many in this oud community that learned how to enjoy the music and love it. Nowadays I'm pretty content with things just playing out the way they are with the availability of content online for people to be exposed to or seek out.

So I guess my point is it's not so much the oud, it's the music. Take for example Ahmed Alshaiba, popular youtube oud player, got popular by playing Western pop covers. Not my favorite thing but I'm not dissing it. That takes time and effort and people enjoy it.
Read comments in his videos and it's mostly westerners telling him how much they love the oud, etc.

I also played badminton for years. Always bugged me that this olympic sport gets zero respect in my country, and I get chuckled at when I tell people I played. Maybe not the best analogy but some things people just don't get.

MajnuunNavid you said "I guess I meant what would get someone who was interested in the Oud or already learning the Oud get inspired and excited about playing more rather than put the instrument away. " To me it's obvious that first, it's hard to get a oud, not everyone likes ordering instruments online. And then, when you get your beginner oud, it's not going to sound good. Compare that to a guitar, that sounds nice even if it is cheap and you don't know how to play. The oud is fussier and must be played well to make a nice sound, in my opinion. This might cause beginners to quit quicker than you'd want them to.

Badra - 11-5-2018 at 11:11 AM

One more thing, that I don't think was mentioned, but seems kind of obvious. I don't keep up with middle-eastern pop too much, but I believe there isn't a mega-star singer that is also synonymous with the oud, like Farid was, someone to make the oud popular? There are some famous oud players that aren't huge pop stars, and there are some singers that are hugely famous like Kazem that happen to play oud sometimes. Right?

Eric Stern Music - 11-5-2018 at 11:32 AM

I appreciate the question and discussion and ChanningPDX you and I should really talk as we both live in Portland and have (at least on the surface) similar back rounds. I came to oud from playing professional accordion. I thought I was one of the few Westerners who hadn't migrated from guitar. Perhaps I was wrong! The whole journey really began in my twenties, when my Rabbi asked me to learn a Kurdish song on the accordion, and there was just this ONE note I could not figure out how they were playing. It was the oddest thing. Little did I know anything about Beyati at the time!

In any case my answer to your question Navid, is to do something that you, as is clear in the oud world, already do: Be an oud ambassador! With any instrument that is not mainstream you always get the same questions. With the accordion it's always, "What do those buttons on the left do?" It used to annoy me so much when people came up to me after shows and asked that. I mean, here I was playing Bulgarian ornamentation, odd meters, and later a modified accordion that played quarter tones, and invariably the button question was always asked, "or how much does that weigh?"

In short, I was, if not snobby, at least a little elitist and expected people to walk before they could crawl. After some gentle advice from my bass player (mainly that people had paid to see me, and the least I could do was be gracious), I realized that I could answer these questions kindly, and then teach people a little more.

Now I do the same with the oud. When the weather is nice here in Portland, I practice outside in a park and invariably people come up to me and ask about the instrument. It's a great opportunity to explicate it, and if you do it right it can be an entre into a larger conversation about learning from other cultures, non-equal temperament, and beyond. I keep it simple at first, tell people that it's a kind of a lute that's played in Arabic countries, the Middle-East, and Turkey and go from there.

I play accordion in a French restaurant and one night I brought the oud and played it half the time and no one said anything, so I've been bringing it ever since. Same thing happens. People ask, I tell them and no matter how they ask it (I have been asked if it's a mandolin, a balalaika, and even a French guitar) I respect that they are asking, tell them some basic facts and also inform them that I have only been playing for a few years, I'm the equivalent of some average dude with a guitar, and if they really want to hear how it's played just look up o-u-d or u-d on youtube.

I've even thought of making a little business card that contains all the info, but in the end I think people appreciate and remember a personal connection. So, play out, and be an ambassador. It's a small thing, and doesn't address all of your questions, but it's an easy thing to do and gets the info out, just a little more, about our beloved instrument.

ChanningPDX - 11-5-2018 at 05:59 PM

Yeah, sometimes when I'm gigging or busking with my uilleann pipes, I feel like I should hang a sign with basic info about the instrument around my neck. I've had people walk up to me while I'm playing and ask, "What is that thing?" (I can't really talk while playing. If I try, I get a couple of words out and then just sit there with my jaw hanging open like I'm having a brain aneurysm.)

I haven't really played much in public on the oud yet, but it sounds like I have more of that to look forward to. As Eric mentions, it really is important to try to be courteous, meet people where they're at, and thank them for whatever interest they show. If you're lucky, they might want to find out more.

Not coming from a serious guitar background (I play a bit, but not especially well), I was a bit scared of playing a stringed instrument, let alone a fretless one, before I started the oud. I've been pleasantly surprised that it's not as intimidating as I thought it would be.

I suppose that's one more similarity between Middle Eastern/Turkish music and Irish trad: a decent-sized chunk of the repertoire is at about a medium level of difficulty. It's more of a challenge than, say, 3-chord Rock (not that there's anything wrong with that), but it's also not Rachmaninoff. This is not to suggest that there aren't mindbendingly virtuosic players or virtuosic pieces written for them (e.g. Targan, etc.), but while I will never play as well as Simon Shaheen or Yurdal Tokcan, it is incredibly satisfying to know that with consistent practice and a good deal of patience, I can make approximations of some of the music that I love the most.

One of the pieces I wanted to play before I even got started on the oud was Nayi Osman Dede's Segh Saz Semai, and now I can play it. Okay, not very well---It will probably take years before my level of expression is close to where I want it to be, but the first time I played through it was such a thrill. There are plenty of other pieces that I want to play but am not ready to tackle yet, but that's part of the fun. Each day takes you a small step closer to tighter ornamentation, better intonation, and more musical expression. I often go to bed at night now excited about playing oud the next day. It's been a long while since I felt that way about music.

Now how to communicate that accessibility and that enthusiasm to other people, well, Navid, you're already probably doing better than most of us. I've learned some helpful things from your videos, and your enthusiasm for the oud shines through everything you do. But I think the fact that most people have never seen an oud up close, let alone had a chance to play one, makes people think it's a lot scarier than it actually is.

I was playing with a very talented singer and guitarist a few weeks ago, and after a while she asked, "Can I try it?" "Sure!" I said. Like most of us, she had no idea how to hold it at first, but after a few minutes, she was figuring out where to put her fingers. "You see? It's not so scary!" I said. I don't know if she'll ever take up the oud, but I could tell that it seemed a lot less intimidating to her.

(BTW--Hi, Eric! Nice to meet another Portland oud player! I'll send you a U2U.)

hans - 11-8-2018 at 12:10 AM

Few people in the netherlands have even heard of the oud. 5 years ago I had never heard of it. Now, this year, we have the second oud festival. This year it is not as big as the first one, because several famous players asked too much money (fees like 30.000 euros per concert can be a bit much for a starting festival), but the first one got a lot of attention, with Yurdal Tokcan, Kyriakos Kalaitizides, Omar Bashir and many others. I would say, at least in the west, the oud is getting a foothold.
I do think volume is a problem. Jody says it is a question of good sound technicians, and I agree that that's very important; I've seen a few contemporary ensembles here where the oud suffered greatly under the presence of instruments like the piano, drums, trumpets. But I also heard similar ensembles where the oud came out really well; I just didn't like the sound as much as I do the natural sound. Not sure if that can be fixed in a live performance.
As for innovations: wittner pegs make the tuning much less annoying, but still the jumping of the strings during tuning can be a bore. I don't know if that little brass thing the Mohammadi brothers put at the nut solves that.
Anyways, my dream is to play a mixture of Ottoman music and contemporary classical on the oud.

joseph - 11-9-2018 at 09:12 PM


Interesting post and comments.

I think one of the interesting ways in which the oud can be developed is as a chamber music instrument, not simply an individual instrument, and perhaps even outside the confines of Arabic culture. I am thinking for example o the Jadal Album by Marcel Khalife and Charbel Rouhana. As an amateur player also, having compositions for oud chamber music and playing the oud in a group setting where the oud is treated as an equal instrument would definitely open up new areas.

The fact that we have not done that much in Arabic music makes me think that the impediments to further developments might be more cultural and political than technical. It is very difficult for a culture that worships the past to innovate, and for a culture that rejects differences between individuals to develop anything other than playing in unison.

That may seem like a harsh judgement, as it is the same culture which we gives us this beautiful instrument and its sophisticated maqams and reflective sounds. Yet we reach the limits of what the culture can currently allow. So far we don't know how to do two things in music as in life in general. 1) how to respect the past without being chained by it. and 2) how to work cooperatively listening and making something together without everyone being and doing the same.

nassic_zhd - 11-10-2018 at 04:59 AM

I think Youtube helps create a cult following of the oud for younger people. Ahmed Alshaiba is a good example, he does mostly covers of pop music but also his own compositions and some traditional music. I'm sure a lot of people discover and fall in love with oud through his channel.

On that note I plan to make some "math" electronic music with my oud once I'm comfortable with the instrument - it'll catch on for sure, just keep your eyes on the charts! :xtreme:

Chococumba - 11-13-2018 at 06:51 AM

I would like to see someone bring the oud to a wider audience by setting up a factory to mass produce ouds and experimenting with different construction methods. Example, instead of using ribs of wood to make the bowel, a machine could be used to mould plastic into one bowel in many different colours. They can also produce solid body electric ouds like they did with electric guitars. I would also like to see more adjustable features on ouds like adjustable bridge heights, truss rods and maybe removable rosettes so that you can customise your oud. I know this is a dramatic idea, but the electric guitar caused players to invent new ways of playing.

tkmasuda - 11-13-2018 at 08:38 AM

hans & joseph, here's an example of Mahmoud Turkmani playing the oud in a contemporary chamber setting: https://youtu.be/Y24q-016hFs