Richard Dumbrill and Irving Finkel were the hosts of the Semitic Museum at Harvard on October, 14th, 2015, and at Yale, on the 16th at the Whitney Humanities Center where they delivered lectures on Ancient Babylonian Music theory and organology.
The lecture halls in both places were crowded by professors and teachers as well as with a well-informed general audience. As a consequence, we were invited to organize an ICONEA conference at Harvard during 2016.
Special Event with Richard Dumbrill, Director of ICONEA (International Conference of Near Eastern Archaeomusicology) at the Institute of Musical Research, School of Advanced Studies, University of London, and Professor of Archaeomusicology, University of Babylon and Irving Finkel, Assistant Keeper, The British Museum
Respondent: Piotr Michalowski, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
Some of the earliest known examples of musical notation have been found in the region of modern-day Syria and Iraq and date back almost four thousand years. These early compositions—recorded in cuneiform script on clay tablets—have become better understood in recent years. This program will trace the history of early musical composition and discuss advances in the theory of its interpretation. The speakers will demonstrate the sound of this music using reconstructed instruments and show how these were built and played in the Bronze Age. Earlier recordings and video clips will illustrate shifts in the understanding of the compositions, as scholars have gone from interpreting them through a lens of Hellenistic tradition to recognizing them as early examples of the Near Eastern musical tradition and direct ancestors of the Oriental musical system.
Presented in collaboration with the Harvard Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations and the Harvard Department of Music, with the support of the Provostial Fund for the Arts and Humanities at Harvard University.
Free event parking available at the 52 Oxford Street Garage.
The Lecture is free and open to the public. Tickets are required for the Ancient Mesopotamia Cuisine Reception. Tickets are no longer available for the Ancient Mesopotamia Cuisine. This event has been sold out.
Ancient Mesopotamia Cuisine Reception at the Harvard Semitic Museum
Experience a culinary journey to ancient Mesopotamia. This special event will present a curated selection of foods and beverages based on the earliest recorded recipes from the Ancient Near East. For a multi-sensory experience, attend the special event on ancient Mesopotamian music prior to this reception.
Menu features dishes based on 4000-year old recipes, and other ancient culinary documents, adapted for the event by award-winning food scholar Nawal Nasrallah and catered by The Middle East Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Sample dips with tannour-bread, a lamb stew with dried apricots and black-eyed peas, and an aromatic side dish of wheat and lentils. For dessert, nibble on the ancient date-candy Mersu.
During the reception, Dr. Piotr Michalowski, a renowned jazz musician and Professor of Sumerology at the University of Michigan, will give a short performance on saxophone of his modern interpretations of early music.
Tickets are no longer available. This event has been sold out.
Golden Oldies: Music from Mesopotamia
Tags: arts, humanities, talkDescription: Music Talks at the Whitney
Irving Finkel, British Museum; Richard Dumbrill, University of London;
and respondent Miriam Kolar, Amherst College
(Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Yale Initiative for the Study of Antiquity and the Premodern World, and Whitney Humanities Center)
These talks were principally for the benefit of Harvard Students. Follows their reflections on the event:
STUDENT REFLECTIONS ON MUSIC EVENT 10/14/15
I attended all three parts of the event yesterday. I really loved the whole thing; my favorite part was the hands-on discussion at 4:30, because it was really cool to get to work so closely with the instruments and the guests, who were all totally awesome. The lecture was also really interesting, although even studying music theory it was pretty dense and I definitely didn’t get everything out of it. The reception was a blast as well; the food was delicious, the musical performance was incredible, and talking to the guests once again was a lot of fun.
The instrument-building component of yesterday’s event was the most engaging for me, as we got to actually touch the instruments that Dumbrill brought in and to hear what they would’ve sounded like. The innovations involved in the construction of these instruments were impressive – I especially liked the transverse holes in the tuning levers on the lyre from Ur, which allowed for more precise tuning. I was often confused during the public lecture because I have a very insufficient background in music theory, but I was still amazed by some of the tablets providing us with evidence for ancient music theory, especially the seven-pointed star diagram representing a heptatonic scale. This kind of thing makes me feel very in harmony with the ancients – they may or may not have had a very similar way of thinking about math to my way. But the very best part of the entire music event was the food part, where I got to talk to Irving Finkel about his career and really enjoyed that. Of course, the “Ancient Ale” (brewed in Delaware) was also quite nice.
I attended all three events. One of the more surprising things I learned was that most of the musicians who performed ancient music on these instruments were blind; it was interesting to hear their observations on why (perhaps, it was the only job this segment of the population could perform; perhaps, this disability resulted in a perceived heightening of their hearing ability). They provided an interesting context of the social/religious conventions of these performances as well: Michalowski stated his belief that the string instruments, by nature of their volume and depictions on reliefs, must not have been performed in outside religious ceremonies, but that only drums were. After Dumbrill’s formal lecture, Michalowski also made an excellent observation of the origins of these instruments (I believe he said only two of them were native, and most must have been adopted from foreign states). When I spoke privately to Dumbrill about the iconography of music, he discussed a new section of the Epic of Gilgamesh that depicted a “concert” performed by animals in a jungle (providing evidence that there must have made travel to India). On his replica of the lyre, he pointed out the inlays below the head of the bull that depicted stags (gazelles? Some type of antlered animal — see below) performing the harp. I have to admit that most of the theory went over my head, but the pictorial visualizations of music/instruments as ceremony and performance do interest me. Also, A+ food.
I thought the event was amazing – I’m so glad this was made mandatory, I’ve never been to anything like that before. I thought the three visiting experts were riveting, funny, and charming, and the topic was definitely very interesting. The lecture itself was actually a little hard for me to follow when they got into technical terms about music and theory, but it didn’t take away too much from the lecture material and was still enjoyable. The first hands-on section was awesome. What a incredible opportunity to meet such knowledgeable and accomplished Assyriologists and to have my questions answered so thoroughly! Thank you for putting the event together!
Yesterday I attended all three components of the events. By far I enjoyed the first two hours of the event, which were very hands on and gave me a better understanding of what music culture was like. Additionally, I thought I really got to interact with the visiting professors and they were so much fun to hear speak. I found the lecture to be interesting, but much if what was said went over my head as I have a limited music background. What I enjoyed most about the lecture was the disagreement between the professors on the fundamental key points of the role music played. It highlighted the fact that even though we may be able to find artifacts, there is much that will never be known for certain about ancient cultures. I found the final hour or so in the museum to be great as well to really tie several components of the evening together and reflect with others on the event. The food was great and I got to speak with some people not in the class about why they came to the event.
I went to the latter 2 events: the musical performance/presentation and the reception. The first was very interesting, even though it was a bit arcane. I don’t have any sort of musical training, so a lot of the technical things went over my head. However, I found it very interesting to hear the scholarly debate that took place at the end and to see how this sort of thing goes in this field. As a mathematician, I am used to a different style of debate, where one scholar might try to systematically prove the other one wrong, and the debate I saw last night was different. In particular, the argument was in some sense not about the details of the presenter’s argument. The other scholar felt that it didn’t make sense to make the sort of argument that the presenter was making in the first place, i.e. that the actual practice of music can’t tell us anything interesting anyway, so we should be looking strictly at the theory. Mathematicians tend to spend their time carefully poking holes in each other’s arguments, but this seemed to be a broader style of debate.
I attended the presentation beginning at 6 pm, and the reception that followed. I regret that I do not have more knowledge of music theory, as that would have enabled me to get more out of the presentation. It was very cool, though, to witness the discourse at the end of the presentation, as it was clear that the people who were speaking were very passionate about the field, and also clear that many of the conclusions that we draw about the ancient world cannot be completely substantiated, and so there is often ample room for debate. I thought the question of the era in which a researcher lives influencing his interpretation of the music was a very interesting one, because I imagine it is very difficult to properly shed that bias, and I can see that bias spreading to interpretation of archeological and textual finds more generally. I thought the reception afterwards was lovely, and it was so nice to speak with Dr. Finkel about his day-to-day experience as a researcher, and also less day to day experiences like decoding the Gilgamesh flood tablet. It was so wonderful to see how passionate he is about his work, still after all these years.
I attended all three parts of the event. The first part was the most entertaining because we had more freedom to talk to the Professors, who were extremely interesting and quite funny. They explained to us what materials were used to build the instruments and told vivid stories about their work studying the topic. For the second part, I was a bit disappointed to not see them perform, and I also thought the talk was a bit too technical for non-musicians. Still, it was nice to learn about the representations of music in Mesopotamia and the different settings in which it was performed. I also enjoyed the fact that the Professors disagreed about things like whether or not music theory was taught at schools and how to think about the theory versus the practice. Dinner was OK. I thought the traditional Mesopotamian food was suspiciously similar to present-day Middle Eastern food…
I attended all three stages of the event. I really appreciated the first part where the atmosphere was casual and the level of instruction from the guests was fairly accessible to us. During the main lecture event the material was often far too heady and it was hard to get a ton out of it. One thing I found fascinating was the musical renditions of the Ugarit cultic song. However, it was a bit confusing. Right after our guests told us that it was impossible to definitely tell what ancient music was like they attempted to recreate this ancient song. I ended up not sure how much of that was pure conjecture and how much was actually very solid research. I also enjoyed the back-and-forth between the professors, especially between the main presenter and the gentleman from Michigan. When we are dealing with a topic where so much of the evidence is subjective and there is this divide they kept mentioning between theory and practice it was useful to hear multiple sides of the issue and be reminded that we actually don’t know 100% anything about the music. The reception afterward in the Semitic Museum was interesting as well. The food served actually seemed very similar to modern Mediterranean food. It was also really cool to see a casting that last year’s students had done. We’ll do a better job this year.
I was able to attend the first part of the event. I thought it was a great event because the speakers themselves were very engaging and were not afraid to correct/disagree with each other. Content-wise, I liked that the speakers didn’t just lecture, but asked us how we thought things came to be, or why instruments were made the way they were. One thing that was less clear to me however was the difference between certain theories about music and what there was hard evidence for. Overall, I had a great time and really enjoyed this event.
The music event yesterday was very informative, but sometimes a little difficult to keep up with and understand what the speakers were saying. Since I don’t really know anything about music, it was sometimes very difficult to make sense of what was being said, but in general it was really informative and a very fun event. The hands-on and the dinner parts were definitely better in my opinion, since I couldn’t follow most of what was being said during the presentation.
Yesterday I enjoyed attending the hands-on portion and the first half of the ensuing formal presentation, although I unfortunately could not stay for the remainder due to soccer training. As someone who enjoys playing the guitar recreationally, I was fascinated not only by the renditions of the instruments themselves, but by the theories of how music was used and structured in the ancient world. The technicality of the material was at times a bit above me, but it was cool to see how scattered, and sometimes scarce, pieces of evidence were interwoven to formulate educated hypotheses about fifths, diatonic scales, heptatonic scales, etc.
I attended all components of the event. I don’t think I left knowing more about ancient music, rather I think I left having more questions than I came in with. That in itself is valuable though, I was exposed to dimensions of this field of study that I had never even considered, like the different scales these ancient peoples may have used and what the lives of these musicians may have looked like (how children who went blind would often enter music as one of the few options available to them to contribute to society). I was impressed at how different the practice of ancient music was from modern Western traditions, like how there was rarely written music, for much of the history different instruments may not have been played together in an orchestra-like arrangement, the lack of musical leader (conductor), and so on. It’s a great example of why I find the study of distant (temporally, geographically) cultures so interesting, because it helps me recognize unique things about my own culture that I’m in a way numb to from having grown up in it.
Out of the three parts of yesterday’s event, my favorites were the hands-on music event and the food and beverage ceremony in the Semitic Museum. It was very cool to be able to play and tune the instruments as well as learn about the kind of investigative analysis that goes into determining their uses and significances. Being able to hear the guests argue and debate certain ideas gave a cool glimpse behind the scenes into understanding ancient societies. The formal presentation was a bit complicated and hard to understand, but nevertheless, intriguing. The dinner after was without a doubt the highlight of my night. The food was fantastic, and I loved being able to informally talk with the guests. I specifically talked with Irving Finkel for a very long time and he was both fascinating and hilarious. It was definitely an experience that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else and I will remember it for a long time.
I was able to attend the musical demonstrations and talk from 4 – 6, the performance following, and the reception in the Semitic Museum. I found it very interesting that although the music was technically written, its is unclear as to the exact sounds and chords created, leaving most of the music entirely hypothetical. I also enjoyed learning about how these instruments were recreated based actual pieces found in digs. My favorite part was listening to the guests play some of these instruments and trying to imagine that I was in the streets or even in a court in a Mesopotamian city. I found it amazing that these basic replicas truly make the similar sounds to those instruments played thousands of years ago, since only basic materials were used to make them and they therefore have to be pretty similar to the replicas in sound. I also loved eating the food, particularly the dates and nuts that they had for desert. Although I may be spoiled by modern chocolate cake, I still found pleasure in eating these simple deserts they would have prepared. Overall, it was a very interesting experience.
I thought the event was a really great way to gain a greater understanding of the Mesopotamian culture. In particular, seeing the instruments in person put a lot of the material we have learned into a greater context. For example, the instrument that was modeled after a bull was a clear demonstration of the people’s shared beliefs and values. Additionally, it was interesting to hear about the functions of these instruments and the role of banquets and gatherings in the Assyrian elite culture. Lastly, I thought it was really fascinating to see the evolution of the instruments and how they related to people of different social classes. The event yesterday really showed me how music was a unifying force among the ancient people, and I was really struck how big of a role music plays in connecting our modern society to the ancient world.
I attended the Music event from 5:30-8:30pm. Although I missed most of the close-quarters interactions with the instruments and the presenters, I was able to have a short discussion with Irving Finkel about the lab group’s project on pomegranates. I really enjoyed listening to the presenters’ interesting views both in these one-on-one interactions and in the larger presentation setting. It was cool to see how current research is connected to what we learn about in class. Particularly it is interesting to know how many statements about the past which seem simple and straightforward, were actually contentiously debated by top scholars over many decades (there was some debate last night on the extent to which music was taught in schools).
I really enjoyed the whole event, but especially found the first part interesting. I liked seeing the way the lyre was put together and learning why it was built the way it was. It was also neat to hear the differences in sound quality between the lyre and the harp. I think the most interesting thing that I learned was that many people who learned to play instruments were blind. The public lecture was also interesting, but much of it went over my head, as I don’t know much about scales and modes etc. The food at the Semitic museum was delicious and although I couldn’t stay to hear the performance, it was cool to get to eat food in the style of Ancient Mesopotamian cuisine while surrounded by Mesopotamian steles and artwork. Overall the event was informative and the guest lecturers were funny and knowledgeable about their fields. I liked that we could hear some different theories on aspects of music in Ancient Mesopotamian culture.
I attended the building the instruments and informal talk about the instruments and the formal public presentation of the music, but I did not attend the dinner afterwards. Talking to experts that know so much about music and the development of music was very interesting. Part of what Richard said went over my head, but what I could decipher was exciting. When Richard had the group construct the bull headed Lyre and tune it, that was very interesting. The question of what is the scale of ancient music was quite interesting. Listening to Richard play was amazing the harp had such an amazing tune. I did feel bad for all the goats that were slaughtered for the instruments. Having that hands on involvement and getting to fiddle with the instruments was very fun.
I attended the lecture, as well as the food reception and concert. I enjoyed the lecture, especially seeing the instruments that were modeled after ancient instruments and/or created the way ancient instruments were created. The lecture got pretty technical at points and became difficult for me to follow because I have almost no background in music theory, but the gist of what he was saying: that there are commonalities in music through time, as well as the complexity of decoding the ancient musical system, was astounding. I very much enjoyed the second component because it was a little more interactive with eating ancient food and hearing the music. During that segment, I also got a chance to sit down and talk with the Professor who gave the lecture. Talking to him one on one was a real privilege because it allowed me to better understand the material covered in the lecture on a less technical level. He also told me a bit about the other visiting experts, especially the musician, which was interesting because it allowed more of an inside viewpoint. Being able to share the event both with other students as well as non-Harvard-affiliated persons was fun because I was able to share with them a little about what I had learned and seen in the class so far.
I loved the music event – it was one of my favorite aspects of this class so far – I’ll never forget tuning the ancient harp (though it may have been an overstatement to tell the room full of people that I “tuned the harp,” as I only tuned one of the strings relative to another) – I also felt lucky to be one of the few people in the room, perhaps, who was able to keep up with much of the hardcore music theory jargon being tossed around. An excellent observation was made on the part of the speakers when they remind us on several occasions that the surviving musical texts were likely the purely theoretical/mathematical musings of scribes rather than the highly colloquial idioms practiced by communities of musicians (reminds me of the evolution of American folk and blues music, which was similarly regional prior to the advent of radio as a unifying force).
The music event was quite interesting as it became apparent that there is great debate and a mixed understanding of musical instruments and music in general in Mesopotamia. This is because of having only certain kinds of evidence available (such as only finding one actual instrument but there being written records of many) that do not provide necessarily clear answers. I attended the first part of the music event, the hands on part. In general I really enjoyed the event, although I would say I liked the hands-on portion more than the actual lecture piece. I was really impressed by the complexity of the musical instruments that were presented, as well as many of extrapolations drawn by the researchers on pitch, social function, and actual components of each instruments. One of the most interesting pieces of information was the social functions of these instruments – where were they played, in what atmosphere, and for what purpose. Were they played in more religious settings or in larger, more relaxed groups. I was also fascinated by the roles of the actual musicians, in that many of them were blind in solely served as musical accompaniment, all without any form of written music. In general, I really liked having such an in-depth discussion of how music shaped ancient civilization as a tool of both leisure and purpose.
I attended the 2nd half of the hands-on musical instrument session, the entirety of the music presentation, and part of the reception with the food. I thought it was interesting that the presenters emphasized there was such a difference between music theory and the actual musical performances. It seemed as if a lot written on music theory at the time was not actually used in the performances themselves, which is odd because why would anyone go to the trouble of articulating how the instrument should be used and then not take advantage of this information? Also, I was fascinated that heptatonic scales existed so long ago. I play violin, and I’ve always wondered why we structure our musical system in octaves with 8 notes per scale as opposed to any other system. I’m curious if anything has been discovered about the rationale behind a heptatonic system. It is rather unintuitive to me, and I wonder if our current system is based off the ancient Mesopotamian one, or if it evolved independently (I think they mentioned something about this during the presentation, but I didn’t quite understand what they were saying). I’d be curious to learn more about this.
I attended the open seminar/discussion with the three professors and stayed for half of the formal lecture. Although the time commitment was quite lengthy, I truly enjoyed the academic experience of being able to learn from three of the world’s leading experts on ancient Mesopotamian music. The professors were very comical and helped relay the information in a very engaging, interactive way. Having the actual instruments at the event was also very useful in helping us students visualize and understand the structure, build, and utilitarian characteristics of ancient chordophones. Although I did not attend the actual reception event, I heard from a friend in the class that this event was also very casual, something that I truly appreciate about this course. This event was truly a learning experience that fostered genuine curiosity for the material. As a student, it is a breath of fresh air to be able to learn for the sake of learning, free of the overbearing pressure of assessments and evaluations. The event yesterday was perfectly indicative of the nature of the entire course: A teaching style that presents material in a way that caters to the learning needs of all students. Thank you for all your work and effort in arranging this event, it was truly an enriching experience.
I went to the hands on display between 4 and 6. I was completely fascinated as to the method of Assyrological academia. The idea of coming up with conjectures and then discussing them was great. For example, when the first speaker was saying how they determined that the lyre was portable and the other two professors gave their opinions, I was engrossed.
I thought the event was amazing. The presenters were incredibly interesting. I especially loved the give and take between the different views on the subject. The hands on part before the lecture was very interesting because I personally have never played or even seen a Lire up close. For my first time seeing one, and that one being designed thousands of years ago was really quite interesting. The presenter’s passion for their topic made the entire event memorable for sure, and I am very clad we had the opportunity to see them and hear them speak. I unfortunately had to leave right before they began playing the music, which I’m sad I missed. I would say the only negative of the event was the length – 4 hours is a little bit too long in one go.
I found the most interesting aspect of the event yesterday was the hands-on/discussion portion at the beginning. Being able to see and touch the instruments Also having a chance to talk to the scholars in that kind of setting was helpful, especially since they were speaking at a less technical level, knowing we were students. Also, having read their papers, I enjoyed seeing just how similar their interactions and voices were in real life as in their writing. While the lecture afterwards seemed interesting, I got lost very quickly in the technical terms, although I was impressed by how much the scholars and the audience knew. While I understand the point that the scholars made about not having the evidence to reconstruct the music of the ancient world, having something to hear in the lecture was the most engaging point for me. Having some kind of window into the actual lives of these ancient cultures, something to hear and touch makes the texts much more accessible and was a more interesting point to an outsider than the particulars of the academic debate. The food at the reception was really great; I’m looking forward to our food evening event now.
I attended all three events yesterday, the music event, the lecture and then the gathering at the Semitic Museum. Overall, I enjoyed the night although there was a lot of information that went right over my head. I know nothing about music so the entire discussion about scales and notes and such I was just nodding and smiling. But other than that, I found the casual discussion about instruments, music, and the evolution of music overtime informative and fun (as far as “fun” in academic conversations goes). The presenters were knowledgeable and passionate and made me regret not following through with piano lessons. This morning someone not in this class made a joke about only listening to real oldies (the song we listened to last night) and I chuckled. I also enjoyed the food. 10/10 experience. Thank you very much.
I attended all three sections, and the initial hands on part was by far my favorite. First off, the three experts were all amazing and hilarious and really fantastic to listen to. Second, seeing them describe how they actually made the instruments the brought, and listening to them describe the process of how they deduced what they looked and possibly sounded like was amazing. Especially hearing the two opposing views on if can even have an idea of what the music sounded like was very interesting. I especially liked the reconstruction of the bull headed lyre and the anecdotes they told about discovering the instruments. In addition, they added in a number of semi random side comments only tangentially related to music but nonetheless very fascinating with respect to Mesopotamia. For instance, while talking about blind musicians they went off on a tangent about blind prisoners of war and I believe Zimri-Lim was deposed by Hammurabi. It was amazing. The actual lecture I think may have been a bit too technical, but I suppose there really is no other was to discuss theory on ancient music then by getting extraordinarily technical. Then the reception was amazing because the food was absolutely delicious and the ancient music interpretation on the saxophone was fantastic. He was a truly remarkable player. Overall it was a great experience, and one I am really glad to have had. It is these kinds of experiences, these very unique events, that are a large reason for why I was initially attracted to this course.
I attended the 6:00 “concert” and 7:30 gathering and thought both were extremely informative and, at times, entertaining. I enjoyed the talk at 6, however thought it could have used a little more interaction with the instruments to help give an idea of music in Mesopotamia. The reception at 7:30 was a nice mix of “fun” and informative, being able to actually interact with and try food from Mesopotamia was a great experience. Overall I think both events were wonderful and had nor real qualms as the presenters at 6 pm were informative but also showed an enthusiasm for the topic which is always refreshing.
I arrived at around 5:15, so I was able to experience playing the instruments, hearing the lecture on “Sounds of the Past,” and the food/music event at the museum. I didn’t realize the laboriousness of tuning these instruments until I was able to actually touch them, and realized that the range of notes was limited to what we would be used to on a modern piano (no sharp or flat notes). The major points from the lecture that I’ll remember–there’s a difference between music theory and practice. We may only have knowledge of scales, but we know that Mesopotamians had an understanding of how one note could be used to generate the entire next scale. The scholars were even in disagreement over whether or not music was something learned as lessons (are the “plucking” tablets those belonging to students?). The most “exotic” food I tried was probably the apricot, lamb, and beans dish, but the restaurant owner did explain that it wasn’t incredibly difficult to adapt the ancient recipes for our event––the culinary culture really persisted throughout the ages, including the use of spice.
I attended both the hands on section at 4:00 and the “Sounds of the Past” talk at 6. Having a chance to get a very personal “lecture” from some of the leading historians of their field was an amazing opportunity. As a fan of music, I found the types of instruments they used to be fascinating, and having a chance to build, touch, and play them was very rewarding. In the “Sounds of the Past” I found myself a bit lost in the technicalities of musical terms, but the overarching idea of how they played, who played, and why they played was good. I enjoyed the opportunity to delve into a specific topic as it made connections with other areas of ancient Mesopotamia, like religion and daily lifestyles, as we saw the differences in secular and religious instruments and saw who learned music. I found the connection between lack of sight and music to be very interesting as well.
I attended all of the components of the event. I thought the hands-on presentation was really great because I actually understood what was going on, and it was very interesting to learn about what these people study and how it relates to our course. Additionally, seeing the instruments was also very exciting. It’s nice to have a learning experience outside of the typical lecture/note-taking formula. The lecture from 6-7:30, quite frankly, was very difficult for me to understand, because of its technical nature. I’ve played the piano for most of my life, and am quite proficient in music and musical theory, but I honestly had no idea what was going on! The food was really good, though! I’m excited for the cook-in! Overall, I really enjoyed it!
I was only able to make it to the reception, but I found the food to be not so different from modern day food in present day near east. I walked in completely blind to what ancient Mesopotamian music was going to sound like, but it came across as sporadic lacking a constant beat.
I attended every part of yesterday’s event but left a bit early from the reception at the end. It was so cool to see and touch the reproductions of the ancient musical instruments. The professors who spoke had wonderful personalities and it was entertaining to watch and listen to them interact. I did not understand most of the lecture because I have very little technical musical knowledge. I wish it were possible to know what ancient music actually sounded like, something I am sure everyone who attended the lecture would like to know, but it’s interesting that you can recreate/hypothesize about the music theory of ancient cultures based on such limited information. It was really interesting to learn about their process of academic research. Thank you so much for organizing this!
I attended the music event from 6-7:30 (the lecture format). I have a background in music theory, so I thought the enneatonic system (nine tones rather than 7) was extremely interesting. I am very familiar with the theory of western music, but it was strange to me to realize that a “scale” is arbitrarily defined to sound a certain way that people find pleasing or interesting, so not every culture will come up with the same musical scale. However, there are various commonalities, namely the leading tones were the same used in western music today. Regarding the actual presentation of information, the style of the talk was very different from anything I had been to before, with multiple speakers responding to each other’s ideas in front of an audience. Personally I enjoyed the musical arrangements of ancient music, partially because they reminded me of the Byzantine music that is heavily incorporated into the Greek Orthodox Church, so I was a little offended when the music was so vehemently detested by academics who are so knowledgeable on the subject. I did appreciate hearing the alternate perspective of the musical sources, though, that these were purely theoretical exercises and did not correspond to actual music played at the time. However this does seem contradictory to the statement of the Syrian people that said the arranged music reminded them of traditional Syrian music. Overall it was a very enjoyable lecture; thank you so much for the opportunity!
I was only able to make the first part–hand on and the talk–but it was so cool! I was struck by the fact that they said music seems to have served very similar functions to what it serves today. It’s also fascinating to think about what the music may have sounded like, what scales and harmonies they might have used, even though we have very little evidence to produce that information from. I also loved that the visiting professors were just trolling each other the entire time. It also struck me how much of the scholarship is taking the information we know and just…guessing as to what was actually the case. And people’s guesses obviously differ, hence lots of controversy. It’s so strange to think these instruments were used 5000 years ago and yet they can make sense to us, musically and practically.
I attended the first two parts of the event (the hands-on instrument discussion and the lecture) and I very much enjoyed both. I thought it was interesting to see the way that ancient peoples’ connection with nature is evident in the design of the instruments. I was also fascinated by the complexity and thought that went into the creation and playing of these instruments (e.g. the way they could be taken apart and transported, and the development and evolution of tuning mechanisms over time). The formal lecture was confusing at times when it dealt with music theory as it relates to the ancient world, but overall was interesting and engaging.
Last night’s events really illuminated the texts regarding music that we had already read. I was there for the end of the student event, the entirety of the lecture given by Finkel and Dumbrill, and the beginning of the “after-party” in which food was served. I found it incredibly enlightening to see how these professors were able to extrapolate so much regarding musical theory of ancient times through such little information. Even though it was always prefaced with the notion of “this might be completely wrong,” it is still interesting to see how a corpus of evidence can be interpreted by a group of people, debated by others (as we saw at the end of the lecture), and still reach a somewhat tenuous platform on the matter. Tying in wall-carvings, text regarding music, and archaeological evidence into a complete notion of what music might have sounded like in ancient times seems like a puzzle that requires a journey to just get a single piece, but also requires intense debate on how the pieces might fit together.
Yesterday’s event was fairly enlightening – I am a musician (I played piano and oboe at high levels and currently sing in the Harvard Glee Club) and so appreciated a number of the ideas presented. For example, it had never before occurred to me how string instruments functioned or the distinction between lyres and harps (the former has a bridge that channels the vibrations of the strings into the sounding board, the latter has the strings connected directly to the sounding board), and it also had not occurred to me that wooden instruments would suffer greatly in Mesopotamia’s wildly fluctuating climate. In relation to the latter, because of my rather modern focus on music, I also hadn’t thought about how useful leather would be in the creation of instruments. I also learned that modes are not in fact a Greek concept, despite their deceptive names (Ionian, Dorian, Lydian, Phrygian, etc.), and that they did not emerge until around the twelfth century AD. Aside from the purely musical knowledge I gained, I also appreciated insights into the methods for elucidating the nature of the music and instruments of the ancients — for example, the absence of the bridge but the inference of its presence by holes placed there, or the nature of the tuning of the instruments by the tension that the body of the instrument and the strings would need to sustain.
I had to arrive late so I saw the latter half of the talk as well as the question and answer portion and the reception afterwards. Since I had to miss the beginning of the talk, I was a little confused but since I have a background in music I was interested to hear about the 9-tone scale, how the scale was different going up versus down because they valued reflection so the scales are basically mirror images of each other, and I especially enjoyed hearing the different interpretations of the music. I liked how the speaker wasn’t too serious and made some jokes about the previous interpretations obviously being inaccurate and not fitting our expectations of the sound at all based on modern music in the near east, and his personal anecdote about going to Lebanon to record the music. One thing I didn’t like was when people asked questions, they were often very specific and then would be answered without any of the experts giving background so it was hard to gain anything from some of the questions/answers. I liked that at the end he talked a little bit about the instruments themselves and played a few notes so we could hear what they would sound like. I also loved the reception because it brought the event full circle to have that immersive cultural experience of eating relevant food while surrounded by art and relics from that time.
The hands on portion of the event was definitely my favorite part. It was nice to get a more in depth look at the instruments and be able to ask questions that were not for a specialized audience. I know very little about music and was pretty lost about a lot of the things that the speakers discussed. The reception was great, the food was wonderful.
Since I had to teach section until 6:30, I was able to attend the portion of the lecture from 6:45 to 7:30 and a very early part of the reception. The thing that I found amazing was how much information about the music has been left over. For instance, the clay tables with songs that can actually be played was an amazing concept to me. It is rare for archaeological information can be utilized to recreate an aspect of a society, and one so accurately to how it was in ancient times. It really brought to life the ancient Mesopotamian culture hearing their music. One thing that struck me was how the lines (or strings-sorry I know nothing about music) were spaced out on the instrument based on the age of the major gods. For instance, I believe the distribution was 15 years, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, and 60 years, and the strings were placed accordingly apart. The combination of religion with music was an interesting fought, and that qualities about the gods dictated and limited the sounds that the music could make was telling about Mesopotamian culture. Overall, I am glad that I attended the event because it was about a topic that I had literally zero background knowledge.
Yesterday I attended the ending of the hands on session, all of the second session where there was a lecture and a short example of playing the instruments, and I also attended the third session where we were served ancient Mesopotamian food. I enjoyed the ending of the first session, because I arrived just in time to have a chance to fiddle with the instruments and have a hands-on exploration of them. The second session was interesting to me as well. The lecturer made ancient Mesopotamian music seem rather simplistic. What I understood from the presentation is that they mainly played simple notes, and not very complex music compositions. Another interesting point someone made is that people interpret what the music may sound like based on their own personal experiences, which inevitably renders different opinions. In the third session, tasting ancient Mesopotamia was quite an experience. I was not a fan of the food, but it did spark interesting conversation about how ancient Mesopotamians probably rarely ate meat and most likely depended heavily on vegetables.
I arrived right as the music demonstration was ending (because I had an overlapping section for another course). I then attended the lecture. Though the material was definitely difficult to follow since I am not a music person, I enjoyed hearing such renowned experts speak about their subjects. I also enjoyed how playful and humorous these experts were towards each other and towards the material. Hearing examples of notes and seeing examples of ancient instruments were very helpful to understanding the material.
I attended the “music performance” component from 6-7:30pm. I thought it was very interesting to learn about the music aspect of Ancient Mesopotamia because it shows us that our concepts of music are very similar to theirs. It also makes me wonder how the two Professors that spoke were able to recreate the scales and the actual “music” from that time when we do not actually know for sure what kind of music they played/performed/listened to. It makes me wonder how accurate some of our work on dissecting ancient culture/politics/etc. actually is. Sometimes, it seems with re-constructing the history, we are leaning heavily on the help of our imagination. But overall, I thought the professors were very charming and knowledgeable about the music the Ancient Mesopotamians played, and I really enjoyed listening to the reconstructed songs/pieces. There seems to be a very ethereal feel to the music.