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Friday, February 24, 2012

Egyptian Percussion

It's the final week of the VMFA's exhibit: MUMMY- Secrets of the Tomb. Last night I attended a special event focusing on Egyptian Percussion which was held in the museum's Reynolds Lecture Hall. (see previous post on Egyptian Percussion)

Thanks to Layne Redmond, who spoke and performed alongside Yousif Sheronik, I learned some very interesting things about Egyptian Percussion styles and instruments.

Redmond said that while we know something about drums of other civilizations by way of drawings and writings, the only drums that have survived intact from ancient times are Egyptian drums found in the tombs of the pharoahs. Some of the Egyptian musical instruments mentioned during last night's discussion were the Tar (Frame) drum, the Square frame drum, the sistrum, and other instruments like the harp, clarinet, and the lute.

To paraphrase a few of Redmond's points ...
Drums symbolized happiness in its most basic form in Egyptian culture - this is depicted often as a heiroglyph showing a woman playing a frame drum. Drums were often played by women, but also by male soldiers in battle. Different drums were used for different purposes. Drums were also believed to have powers of cleansing and protection. They were used during work, during battle, during ceremonies, and even as protection during childbirth. Drums and cymbals and hand claps were said to have the power to purify and chase away bad energies. Often drums were used during incense rituals. Drums were played by Gods as well as humans. And the sound of the Sistrum is said to have been the sound which caused the creation of the universe - bringing form and life out of darkness.

Redmond and Sheronik demonstrated some of the instruments that were played in ancient Egypt, and they showed the audience typical patterns and sounds that could be made by each of these instruments. They also invited the audience to participate in the rhythm making by clapping our hands. (The beats were announced to us by using the words "DUM" for the low pitch clap and "TEK" for the high claps) It was a brilliant way to get the audience involved in this musical dialogue. After the event, they allowed audience members to play some of the instruments they had demonstrated earlier in the evening. I left the museum with a new appreciation for the importance of music in ancient Egypt. I also left feeling inspired to go make some music of my own!

photo below: Ivory Clappers -- shaped like hands -- (specially made for Layne Redmond)).... these were commonly used in Ancient Egypt... "clapping was said to dispel bad energy" (Here is a pair of original ones found in Akhetaten's tomb)

photo below: A reproduction of an ancient Egyptian Sistrum, used ceremonially, with the head of the god Hathor on the handle. Sistrums are found in countless heiroglyphs and also appear frequently in Egyptian architecture.

"The sistrum was used in Egyptian festivals and was often played by temple songstresses. Shaking the sistrum probably marked the division of the phrases in adulatory hymns. It was believed that the sound of rattling also drove off malign forces, preventing them from spoiling the festival." (from the british museum site)

also -- a really nice tambourine (not necessarily egyptian) played more like a tar (frame) drum than the modern tambourine


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