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The Mevlevi as shown in “The Mevlevi Sema Ceremony”, is a dance that is part of the mystical Sufi tradition of Islam. The role that music plays within the Sema ceremony, is that it symbolizes the soul’s journey to g-d. This is demonstrated with many formal sections. Since it is a slow dance of graceful and ecstatic turning, it has a calming effect on the listener’s body and mind. It is a time where one can forget about any stress they are experiencing and focus on their unity with g-d. It can also bring them to a place of positivity due to the instruments that are used. There are two parts of the Sema ceremony. The first one called Taksim, uses a flute to outline a scale used in the rest of the ceremony. The second one is called Pesrev, which uses string instruments, drum, and cymbal. These instruments can excite the listener, and they are able to celebrate their joy.
On the other hand, Kol Nidrei is a traditional prayer performed in the synagogue on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for Jews because that is when they get to ask for forgiveness for everything they have done in the past year, and to wish for a better year ahead. The melody was used as a theme by many composers since the nineteenth century. The role that this music plays is to bring everyone to a peace of mind, and to ask for forgiveness for all the promises one said they can keep but failed to do so. This music has an intense effect on the listener’s body and mind, because it reminds them that there is a higher power always watching, and it serves as a wake up call on their actions in the future. That can be with them and g-d, or them and other people. Sometimes there is also a solo chanter, choir, and organ to accompany the music.
These traditions share some similarities and differences. There were two similarities which I found. The first one is that each music helps unite the person to g-d or to each other. The Mevlevi is played with instruments, and has dancers depending on each other to make the overall performance look smooth and in unison. And in Kol Nidrei, the people are asking for forgiveness from g-d and everyone surrounding them while sometimes with instruments in the background. The second similarity based on the “Mevlevi Slides PDF Version”, is that they both have to do with the soul’s journey to g-d. Each religion wants to return to g-d with a clean slate so they can go straight to heaven without experiencing any punishments. Both of these songs help aid their thoughts and actions to get to that point. However, there were also two differences which I found. First, is that Mevlevi is obviously a dance. Kol Nidrei is not, and it is usually sung while standing in place. Second, Kol Nidrei is also considered a prayer. It is a prayer that at times is not sung, and instead said to one self silently. There is also a tradition that goes along with it which includes throwing pieces of bread into a river, symbolizing one’s sins being washed away. The Mevlevi does not have that message and tradition attached to it.
The Sema ceremony brings people together to connect with G-d. It is a worship ceremony with singing. In order to spiritually connect with G-d, people dance to the Mevlevi Sufi music. The first part to the ceremony included improvisation on the ney or flute (Mevlevi slides). This is called Taksim. The second part on the other hand is composed rather than being improvised. This part is named Peşrev. The slides mention that the ceremony allows for people to “Experience the direct spiritual union with God”.
A well known piece of music is Amazing Grace. The words and melody make it easy to learn, and it is usually sung in a church prayer setting. Usually there are multiple people singing as well as instruments used in the process. Both amazing grace and the sema ceremony are used to connect people to G-d and are played in religious settings. They are also very similar in their slow tempo. The differences they may have is the amount of instrumental and lyrics.
Within the Sema ceremony, music plays a significant role in expressing the ritual and performance. Like stated in the powerpoint, the music as well as the dance helps to experience spiritual union with God. The music’s slow and calm rhythm helps the listeners’ bodies move gracefully and smoothly according to it. Pitch is one of the many musical characteristics that help the musicians dance accordingly as stated by “…might be identified not only by the pitches being used, but also by the characteristic ways in which a musician moves between them.” The musicians make their dance steps which include the use of their arms and legs to how the music plays.
In Gospel music (Amazing Grace), music also plays a very significant role. Like the music playing within the Sema ceremony, Amazing Grace is also a song dedicated to the worshipping of God. Both music pieces are of a slower tempo and rhythm as well. Amazing Grace and the music playing in the Sema ceremony also have differences. In Amazing Grace, the song has no instruments and is an acapella meaning that it is composed of only people singing. The Sema ceremony on the other hand, is an instrumental piece with only instruments and no voice.
For this blog, I want you to consider the music and dance of the Mevlevi, part of the mystical Sufi tradition of Islam, in relation to any of the spiritual/religious music that we discussed last week: Buddhist chant; gospel music (Amazing Grace); Western art music in the Christian church; or music in the synagogue (Salomon Rossi or Kol Nidre). To learn about the Mevlevi, consult the slides, short video, and textbook chapter below (pages 315-321).
In your response, I expect you to cite from at least two of these sources and answer these questions: What role does music play within the Sema ceremony, or what effect does the music have on the listeners’ bodies and minds? Likewise, for the other music from this unit that you selected, what role does music play in that worship ceremony? Do these two traditions share any similarities between them, whether in music, belief, or how people behave? If not, what are their differences and how does music demonstrate those differences?
This blog is due Wednesday 4/29 by 11:59pm. Consult the posting guidelines if necessary, and don’t forget to leave a comment on a classmate’s post before our next class meeting.
Listen: Naat-i-Sherif: Taksim and Peşrev