A Little Omani Culture

Wednesday evening, we had the wonderful privilege of attending the Annual Oud concert at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel.  We, luckily, have a friend whose daughter is has been taking lessons with then, and was playing with the group.  Here is our invitation from Alia-

Amal has only been playing the oud for less than a year – so she is really doing well.

The oud is a pear-shaped is a stringed instrument commonly used in North African and Middle Eastern music.  The modern oud and the European lute both descend from a common ancestor . Unlike the guitar, the oud has no frets.  It has 11 strings, five pairs and one lone tone. It is played with a narrow wooden plectrum. Here is a photo –


We arrived for the concert just before 7:30 – but of course, it didn’t actually begin until 8.  I was a bit daunted when I sat down and looked at the program –

only to discover it was all in Arabic.  I found Amal’s name on it, however, (circled in red) and then Alice and I proceeded to find as many other names that we could recognize from our smattering of Arabic script knowledge.

Pretty soon, the dignitaries entered, and soon after, the musicians.  As well as the 16 oud players (oudists????), there were percussionists, a wooden flute, two violins which were tuned very differently to what I am used to, a guitar, a kind of zither, and a pianist.

Here is the group playing.  There were only two girls – Amal is the one in the pink and blue. I saw her after the oud part of the concert – that dress is totally encrusted with stones – and it is very heavy.  It is a typical Omani formal dress – the female members of the Royal Omani Symphony Orchestra wear something similar.

The music was great – and oh, so different from what we are used to.  The rhythms were vibrant and driving – the tonalities were very Eastern, but here and there Western ones merged with them. The audience was very enthusiastic – you could tell which tunes were traditional folk songs, as many in the audience were singing along.  Several young men in the row behind us were very involved, at times not only clapping along, but doing the associated dances while seated – or even once standing in to dance along.  It was great fun.

After the oud orchestra played (here they are taking a bow – see how interesting the backs of the instruments are!), there was a break and then the vocalists took over the stage.  apparently, there had been a singing competition in Muscat, and we got to hear some of the winners.

This lady is Omani – and she won second place in the contest.  She has a very deep voice.  In Eastern music, the timbre of the voice that is prized is very different to Western – the singing is much more in the throat.  Again, very different, but very, very interesting.

The last two soloists played the oud along with their singing, and played much more traditional sounding music.

After the concert, we went inside the hotel and got a bite to eat – not used to eating dinner at 10:30 pm.  Here is the Christmas tree in the atrium of the hotel.

Thank you, Alia, for inviting us to this concert, and giving us the chance to step behind the Omani musical culture curtain and experience a new world.  It was an evening to remember.

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