My Quarter-Tone System

Two priests playing harps


I have always been fascinated by quarter-tones; I was raised on them, hearing them on the radio, on TV, in church, everywhere. But when I started studying the theory of music, much of which depended (and still does) on the occidental methods and practices, I was caught in the middle of a dilemma: are quarter-tones as ugly, unruly, sissy, haphazard and superfluous as some would lead me to believe?

     At the time, I was not a child anymore; I started my musical self-education around the age of nineteen. And so, my consciousness was easily put on the alert. I was adamant: I had to be scrupulously careful so as to be able to discern which particles to retain and which I could simply do without. You see, I had to apply a continual process of analysis/synthesis every step of the way; because while ideas in their raw state could be conveniently adopted by all cultures without any fear of corruption or dissolution, practices can be, and most often are, quite specific to each individual culture.

     One of those problematic areas was Harmony. Could I just go on and adopt any and all occidental harmonic practices to our modal system? Or should I endeavour to find alternative approaches? Bit by bit, I came to realise that our melodies, despite everything that had been said by occidental (ethno-)musicologists, do follow the tonic/dominant scheme after all, just like in the occidental music. Later on, I read a master thesis that confirmed my point: working on folklore tunes in all well-known scales, the researcher concluded that our Egyptian music had the same hierarchy of pitches no matter which scale is being used, i.e. no matter what intervallic structure happens to be used. And all the time, there were the same old pillars of music: the tonic, the dominant & the subdominant. Small world!

     That should have sufficed; I could from then on continue using my old friends, quarter-tones, with a clear conscious. But melody and harmony?! Against a tough opposition claiming our feeble, local music should finally be put to rest in favour of the "Elder Sister", the occidental music, the only viable, savvy option??! Would I not be much better off following the lead of all our avant-garde, educated composers let loose by our Conservatory? Well... Guess what?

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