Samuel R. Hazo (b. 1966) is a prolific and award winning American composer of primarily music for wind band.  He is also a teacher, having spent some part of his career teaching every grade level from kindergarten through college.  He was educated at Duquesne University, and now works primarily as a composer.

Arabesque (2008) represents Hazo’s reflections on his family’s Middle Eastern background and the music he associates with that.  The title means “kind of Arab-like,” and given Hazo’s stated method (below) of essentially borrowing a few general ideas from Arab music without using any specific material, the title fits.  He provides his own program notes in the score:

Arabesque was commissioned by the Indiana Bandmasters Association and written for the 2008 Indiana All-State Band.  Arabesque is based in the mystical sounds of Middle Eastern music and it is composed in three parts.  “Taqasim” (tah’-zeem), “dabka” (dupp-keh) and “chorale.” The opening flute cadenza, although written out in notes, is meant to sound like an Arabic taqasim or improvisation.  Much the same as in jazz improvisation, the soloist is to play freely in the scales and modes of the genre.  In this case, the flute plays in bi-tonal harmonic minor scales, and even bends one note to capture the micro-tonality (quarter-tones) of the music from this part of the world.  However, opposite to jazz, taqasim has very little change to the chordal or bass line accompaniment.  It is almost always at the entrance to a piece of music and is meant to set the musical and emotional tone.  The second section, a dabka, is a traditional Arabic line dance performed at celebrations, most often at weddings.  Its drum beat, played by a dumbek or durbake hand drum is unmistakable.  Even though rhythmically simple, it is infectious in its ability to capture the toe-tapping attention of the listener.  The final section, the chorale, is a recapitulation of previous mystical themes in the composition, interwoven with a grandeur of a sparkling ending.

Both sets of my grandparents immigrated to the United States; my mother’s parents were Lebanese, my father’s mother was Lebanese and his father was Assyrian.  Sometimes in composition, the song comes from the heart, sometimes from the mind, and sometimes (as in this case) it’s in your blood.  The Indiana Bandmasters Association asked for a piece that was unique.  I had not heard any full-out Arabic pieces for wind orchestra, and I knew of this culture’s deep and rich musical properties… so I figured that one might as well come from me. (Plus, my mom asked if I was ever going to write one.)  I hope you enjoy Arabesque.

Here is the official Hal Leonard recording, which allows you to follow along in the score:

Here is an excerpt of the Michigan Arab Orchestra performing a piece that both includes a long taqasim for qanun and features the same dance rhythm as Arabesque:

Next, a montage of various Lebanese dabkas done in Canada, with decidedly more contemporary music that still adheres to the same principals:

See more about Sam Hazo at his website.  Learn more about Arab music and dancing at these sites: Wikipedia on dabke and taqasim.  Dabke on a dance history blog.  Dabke on Arab America.