On Wednesday, March 16th, the Arts Production and Management Department, formerly named Integrated Arts, hosted an event in the Wright Theater called Trioud: Music from Greece and Turkey, featuring Spyros Pilios Koliavasilis, Niko Mitrione, and Ian Power. They played many Greek and Turkish pieces on the oud, including my personal favorites, “Azize” and “Kurdilihicazkar Longa”.
The oud is a string instrument like the lute. It has a short neck, no frets, and typically has eleven strings. It is said to have originated in medieval Persia and is now found in Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Spain, and the Balkans.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ian Power about his performance and history with the instrument. He told me that his oud was a gift from his wife’s parents, and he has now been enjoying it for eight years, getting to play the instrument with his teacher, Spyros, and fellow student Niko.
As a pianist, Dr. Power told me about the transition to playing the oud and about the musical and modal changes that come with it. There are eighty-eight keys on the piano whereas the oud, being fretless, has an infinite array of possible notes with different intervals and shifts. So, playing scales, for example, on piano keys versus this multi-string instrument requires a different technical skill set. “It’s a fundamentally different way of thinking about music,” he explained.
The oud is played using maqams, which are systems of melodic modes heard in music from parts of North Africa and the Middle East. They vary depending on the modulation of what is being played. Dr. Power elaborated on this saying, “A maqam works a lot like a mode or a scale, except that maqams have what are called behaviors. So, certain maqams you play may be more on the lower end of the scale most of the time.”
As a musician who composes experimental music working with microtones, intervals between semitones which are not typically found in the customary music scales, Dr. Power was able to pick up the oud relatively quickly, however he said that “learning about those notes and…how they fit into the broader system of harmony is still something [he’s] working on.”
The concert was about an hour and the trio played eleven pieces. Spyros described the last piece they played as “a traditional dance that we share on both sides of the Aegean Sea, with Turkey and Greece.” It is called “East Thrace Karsilama”.
This concert was run by the Arts Production and Management Department as part of their series about classical music, and supported by the Dean’s Office, and the Peggy and Yale Gordon Trust. This was the first performance that was recorded and the first played since the pandemic.
Dr. Power is the director of the APM, and his experimental digital albums Maintenance Hums and Diligence can be found on his Bandcamp at https://ianpoweromg.bandcamp.com/music. Spyros Pilios Koliavasilis is a performer, composer, teacher, and luthier currently running the Mediterranean Notes Music School and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MediterraneanNotesMusicSchool/. For more details about his music school, contact email@example.com.
Koliavasilis, Spyros Pilios. Concert footage. 16 March 2022.
Navid. “Arabic Maqam Theory – A Brief Introduction.” Oud For Guitarists, 29 Nov. 2013, https://www.oudforguitarists.com/arabic-maqam-theory/
Power, Ian. Personal interview. 22 March 2022.
“‘ūd: musical instrument.” Brittanica, 20 Jul 1998, https://www.britannica.com/art/ud