I’m still in the middle of A.J. Racy’s Making music in the Arab world: the culture and artistry of ṭarab and it is rich and dense with information. I’m particularly enjoying the section on public performance, but especially this passage:
In turn, the singer needs to develop a general sense of who his listeners are and to establish good rapport with them. As he stands on the stage, he needs to look at the audience members and determine their overall level of musicality and general mood. In Fakhri’s words, “a mutrib must also be a psychologist.” One of Fakhri’s vocal accompanists maintains that Fakhri himself is well-known for his ability to “study” his audience. In order to create a comfortable jaww, or “atmosphere,” the mutrib may begin by saying a few words, usually familiar platitudes and prepare the listeners emotionally and arouse their enthusiasm.
Particularly in the large haflat, the mutrib also needs to locate the sammi’ah, or clusters of sammi’ah in the audience and to maintain direct visual and musical contact with them. In order to achieve that, he may make a few musical trials. As Sabah Fakhri explains, his haflah really does not begin until after about one hour of singing has passed, because until that time, he would have been trying pieces in different styles, muwashshahat, qudud, adwar and others to help him ascertain the existence and locations of the sammi’ah, as well as to sense the dominant tastes and inclinations in the audience as a whole. Fakhri adds that such musical scanning is accompanied by visual surveillance, which enables him to constantly monitor the audience’s reactions and to fashion or adjust the repertoire accordingly.