Patrick Clark YES Academy Iraq Report

Patrick David Clark teaching music students at American Voices' YES Academy in Iraq

Day Three: Tuesday, July 3 – Duhok University, Iraq

Today in composition class, my ten students and I listened to Claude Debussy’s Voiles from the first book of Préludes. “What is the scale that Debussy is using in the first part of this piece?” I asked.

A general perplexity prevailed until I explained Debussy’s trademark whole-tone scale and played it up and down the piano like a harp and the generally reticent Jumaah declared it to be “magic.”

Indeed every analysis we make in class reveals magic to these Iraqi students. They are up front in confessing that they’ve never looked at music in this investigative manner and never realized that such structures exist beneath the sounds.

As is turns out, they’ve heard very few of the masterpieces of Western music. I asked if they knew Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and am excited to report that they haven’t—I’m excited because I will have the pleasure of presenting this steamroller to an uninitiated audience tomorrow. I can only hope for a riot (“If that’s a bassoon, then I’m a baboon!” -Saint-Saens at the Rite’s première in Paris, 1913).

I’m hearing everything fresh again myself—a kind of Spring of the senses—because there is a mood of excitement around the University. In the taxis the drivers subversively turn up the radio for the Americans in the backseat, giving us a dose of the exotic sounds of their native instruments: the saz, zurna, and santur. The serpentine timbres and affective decorations are as intoxicating to me as the whole-tone scales are to the Iraqi students. I’m learning how to absorb again, and perhaps growing younger in the process.