Music of Mesopotamia
This article treats the music of Ancient Mesopotamia.
Cuneiform sources reveal an orderly organized system of diatonic scales, depending on the tuning of stringed instruments in alternating fifths and fourths. Whether this reflects all types of music is not known.
The discovery of numerous musical instruments in royal burial sites and illustrations of musicians in Sumerian art show how music seems to have played an important role in religious and civic life in Sumer. A lyre is an example of an instrument used in Sumer (Irvine 2003). Before playing a stringed instrument, musicians washed their hands to purify them. Many of the songs were for the goddess Inanna. Dancing girls used clappers to provide rhythm, and eventually drums and wind instruments began to evolve. Music and dancing were parts of daily celebrations, and temple rites-music was played for marriages and births in the royal families. Music was also used as accompaniment in recitation of poetry. Musicians were trained in schools and formed an important professional class in Mesopotamia.
Instruments of Ancient Mesopotamia include harps, lyres, lutes, reed pipes, and drums. Many of these were shared with neighbouring cultures. Contemporary East African lyres and West African lutes preserve many features of Mesopotamian instruments (van der Merwe 1989, p. 10).
The vocal tone or timbre was probably similar to the pungently nasal sound of the narrow-bore reed pipes, and most likely shared the contemporary "typically" Asian vocal quality and techniques, including little dynamic changes and more graces, shakes, mordents, glides and microtonal inflections. Singers probably expressed intense and withdrawn emotion, as if listening to themselves, as shown by the practice of cupping a hand to the ear (as is still current in modern Assyrian music and many Arab and folk musics) (van der Merwe 1989, p. 11).
Two badly damaged silver pipes have been excavated from a grave at Ur and dated to c. 2500 BCE. The pipes were crafted with what appear to be finger holes, and it is believed that they formed a pair of tubes - "double-pipes" - that had reeds inserted. A number of reconstructions have been proposed, the most recent being a pair of thin tubes with three finger holes in one tube and four finger holes in the other.
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