dhawq, or "courtesy" in music accompaniment

This section of Racy’s “Making Music in the Arab World” could be just as applicable to the non-Arab musician. In the chapter titled simply, Music, he begins the section titled “The art of accompanying” with

When called for, musical accompaniment plays a crucial role in the evocative process. Basically, an accompanying performer must be musically effective without being too prominent or obtrusive. Musicians usually describe good accompaniment as tawriq, a term that implies subtlety and evokes the image of filling spaces somewhat sparsely with ornamental leaf designs (as in the case of calligraphy), or covering something with a thin film of paper or plaster.

Most of the above is relatively straightforward and goes without saying. I cannot recall the number of times I’ve performed with accompaniment that is just too loud and “in-your-face” to even warrant being called accompaniment. If the accompanying music is more prominent than the main melodic line(s) then why bother with a melody, right?

Racy continues, giving one particular example of a qanun player

He must refrain from moving ahead of the singer by anticipating the higher tonal areas of the mode, or playing more loudly than the vocalist, or producing melodic lines that are technically more complex or more ornate tan those being accompanied. It is often stated that the accompanist must have dhawq, namely “taste” or “courtesy.”

“Courtesy”–I like that. I’ll have to look up the Arabic word, dhawq, to see if that is indeed a good translation of the term but it encompasses exactly what I would think is the sentiment of good accompaniment. Courtesy implies some acknowledgement of the other musician in this context–an acknowledgement that what is going on in the melody or melodic line is far more important than what is happening in the accompaniment.

Racy continues

Tarab musicians devote a great deal of attention to the dynamics of accompanying particularly by praising the discreet and supportive accompanists and finding fault with those whom they consider musically self-centered, aggressive, and intent on soliciting attention

“[I]ntent on soliciting attention”–we have a saying for that in the West–intent on “being a Rock Star.” Something that annoys me to no end! Racy then gives several examples of musicians that, while having great technical facility, nevertheless are being “disrespectful of the artist being featured” (i.e. the artist that has the actual solo line). Apparently the Arabs have a phrase for this with respects to a singer (the quintessential melodic solo instrumentalist):

biqul kathir ma’ al-mutrib

which literally means “he says too much with the singer.”

nothing can ruin a piece of music more than a musician that has too much to say.


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