Today our Israel Seminar class took us to a really interesting synagogue in the Nachlaot neighborhood. We got to sit and listen to a Piyyutan (someone who sings piyyutim. Piyyutim are songs/prayers that are part of a service, part of a celebration or other various times). He spoke to us about the revitalization of the piyyut singing, which was an Arabic-Jewish tradition.
The music uses a lot of Arabic melodies and often they are actually popular Arabic Songs from countries of origin. He sang us a few melodies from Spain, Iraq and the city the tradition is from. Unfortunately I don't remember the name of this city. Honestly, it was beautiful to listen to.
Imagine floating melodies in interesting modes and scales that are used. They sound like minor-keys but they also use half-tones and quarter-tones. The pitches are not something that is normal for us to hear in western music and it was beautiful to hear him sing.
One of the other things he spoke to us about was how he learned to sing like that. It was something that he started to learn as a small child. When he was a teen, like most teens, he backed out for a while until he was in the army when he realized that he missed it. The way he learned everything is by going to services and listening to someone else perform the songs. The issue is that there are about 100 different modes/scales. One for each week as well as others for specific services. Yes, there are people that can tell the difference between the scales and the melodies.
This is an incredible kind of music and I would be really excited to go and check one of the services out, especially the winter piyyut singing. However, this takes place only on Shabbat mornings at 0300. That's not a typo, it's only at 3:00AM and lasts until 0700. It would be incredible, but I don't think this is something I will be able to get up for on a Shabbat morning.
Since I highly doubt I will have that chance, I really appreciated hearing him sing today.