The Land of Israel, cradle of the three monotheistic religions, has always been the cultural meeting point of the Middle East, and especially in the realm of music. Many instruments are mentioned in our Book of Books, the Bible, as is the effect music has on people, as expressed in Samuel 116, 23: "Whenever the evil spirit of God came upon Saul, David would take the lyre and play it; Saul would find relief and feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him". When David played the lyre, Saul's mood improved. An entire symphonic orchestral ensemble is alluded to in the Book of Daniel 3, 5-6.
Western music drew most of its instruments from Eastern culture, developing and enhancing them to suit its needs. Musical instruments faithfully represent different cultures and the music and technology of the societies in which they were created.
Darbuka and Drum
Not only is the drum probably one of the most ancient instruments, it is also one of the most Common instruments in the world and music presumably originated as rhythm, with tone being added later. The world of Arab rhythms is complex and rich, and the repertoire changes from one Arab culture to the next. The darbuka is a cone shaped drum and it is the most common percussion instrument in Arab music, appearing from North Africa to the Middle East. There is no Middle Eastern music without the darbuka. It is the central instrument that "deepens" Eastern music and lends it its depth and rhythm. The snare drum is part of the percussion section used in light and modern classic Western music, including jazz, and it appears in many modern Western works of music.
Zurna and Oboe
The zurna is a customary wind instrument among Kurds and Iraqis, and there are similar instruments in Bulgaria and China. Zurna players developed a long winded technique in which they play for an extended period without stopping to take a breath. The Western oboe is similar to the zurna, and some Western oboe players have also mastered this technique. Both instruments have a double reed that vibrates when played. The zurna, which may be found in Israel among Kurdish Jews, is usually accompanied by a large drum that hangs on the drummer's body as he stands in the center of a circle of dancers. The combination of a wind instrument and a drum was also popular in Western culture during the Middle Ages and it continues to be so today in various types of European folk music.
Qanun and Piano
The qanun has 50-100 strings and is popular from India to northwest Africa. It is very commonly used in Turkish music and came to Egypt through Turkish influence. The qanun, which is considered to be a precursor to the Western piano, is incorporated into modern Arab music and is considered, along with the oud, to be a focal instrument. The piano reached its peak in Western music in the early 18th century and in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Oud and Guitar
The oud is the most typical Arab instrument, but its origins are unclear, In most cases it has five strings and in ancient times was played with an eagle feather. Today a pick is used. The oud is monophonic. Arab music theoreticians used the oud to explain their music.
The guitar is very common in Western folk and artistic music. There are many different types of guitars and the number of strings varies, although six strings are customary. This instrument is known by many names and has been a part of Western culture since the Middle Ages. The guitar may be played polyphonically.
Rabbaba and Violin
These two instruments represent very different worlds, although similar in construction: both have a sound box, strings and a bow. The Rabbaba is very popular among nomadic Arab tribes and Bedouin tribes living in Israel, and accompanies the telling of ancient stories of love and heroism. The violin is a central instrument in Western music. The secret formula to its construction in the 17th and early 18th centuries was lost, but instruments from that period remain. The Western violin worked its way into Middle Eastern music as well, and is now considered one of its leading instruments.
Dr. Avi Eilam Amzallag
Senior Lecturer, Haifa University
Among the founders of the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra,
Ashdod and served as its conductor for ten years