As artists, we are told to tell a story with our work.
Storytelling is an art form in itself, but mastering this art form is just as difficult as any form of artistry.
However, storytelling can be expressed in different ways. A painter tells a story by what they create with color. A writer tells a story by word and a musician tells their story by performing certain notes in a specific pattern.
In Middle Eastern music, the expressionist form of telling a story is through the art of a taksim. The word taksim itself is of Turkish/Arabic origin and means ‘”improvisational”. It is through taksim that an Armenian or Middle Eastern musician can tell a story while playing their instrument. Often playing a taksim demonstrates a musicians mastery of their instrument – whether it is an oud, kanun, violin, etc. Performing in a specific mode or makam (scale) displays their innate ability to demonstrate their knowledge of a scale or a range of different scales.
I don’t think that playing a taksim should be limited to how a musician understands the makam but more of how they can express themselves by notes. Their soul, the touch of their instrument, can say much more than their understanding of their instrument or the scale in which they are performed. Their passion for the music, the love of their instrument or a connection to their heritage can be felt through their improvisation.
The importance of spontaneous composition can tell a musician life’s story. For me, playing a taksim or improvised solo is less about displaying my knowledge of the scale as it is the warmth of the music or my passion for playing the instrument. I want to be able to express to audience why I play this music more than how good I may be at playing it. Performing a solo is much more expressive than playing a song from the first note to last.
Playing an improvised solo allows you to free yourself from the chains of a particular melody and open allows you to open your soul.
Sting once said ” If you play music with passion and love and honesty, then it will nourish your soul, heal your wounds and make your life worth living. Music is its own reward”.