What We Teach

The Retreat’s aim is to educate participants in all facets of the rich musical practices of the Eastern Arab world, particularly music from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan. The Retreat occasionally delves into music of neighboring countries such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia, but its primary focus is on the classical and neoclassical music of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan.

The Instruments:

Participants take private lessons in the following instruments:

  • Voice
  • Bowed Strings: Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass
  • Plucked Strings: `Ud, Qanun, Buzuq
  • Wind Instruments: Nay, Mizmar, Mijwiz
  • Percussion: Tablah, Riqq, Frame Drum

More information about these instruments along with music samples can be found at this website

Theory: Composed pieces and improvisation follow a rich aesthetic based on a set of maqamaat (plural of maqam), which can be loosely, but not exactly, translated as a mode or scale. Musicians and composers use these maqamaat, and shift among them based on traditional practice. Many of them include microtones, requiring western-trained musicians to fine-tune their listening and playing ability. Great performers demonstrate their mastery of the music by expressing themselves in improvisation by working within and through one or more maqam.  At the Retreat, three levels of theory classes are offered.

Performance: Traditionally, classical Arabic music is performed in a small chamber group, with one musician taking the role of leader. Performers improvise and ornament their playing to add complexity and uniqueness to each performance. At the Retreat every participant is assigned to a chamber group coached by a faculty member. Every group performs pieces they learn together at an informal recital.