Gilded Serpent presents...

Freddie, Part 5: Today’s Music

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Dancing with Legends: Interview of Freddie Elias

by Artemis Mourat

posted May 26, 2010
part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

[Ed note- We took a bit of a break after the first 4 sections of this interview. We were hoping that Mr Elias would send us more pictures to go with this last section. Now maybe he will once he sees this last section. If so, we will have a part 6!]

Middle Eastern music – it’s not the same anymore. That is definite. And different types of people come in. Everyone is trying to develop a new concept, destroying the original authenticity. Where is that beautiful articulate dancing? Now the dancers, and I mean this respectfully…all they can do is come up to you and say; “Give me a fast intro, give me a ciftitelli in the middle, give me a fast 9/8 out.” How could I write an arrangement on that? They should take the beginning and develop a form from there.

Nowadays, everyone’s trying to develop a new concept. I take my hat off to them and I know that everything has to change.

The challenge is to develop something you want, but don’t destroy the authenticity. Don’t destroy the Byzantine or the authenticity of Turkish music.

Turkish music is great. Some musicians take Turkish songs with unusual time signatures and make them 2/4. They make the song like a hasapiko. Unfortunately and respectfully with the highest dignity, there are great bands out there who turn everything into a 2/4.

I also suggest things to the musicians. I tell them; “You really are playing a certain way (and I explain it). Be a little softer. Do this or do that. And while you are playing this, try that.” (He beats a rhythm on the table). Or I say: “Don’t do this {He plays more on the table} and how about that (He plays something different on the table and hums). Learn the developments, the arpeggios and so forth. You have to study. In other words, again we come back to the tuxedo pants to share the glory. You have to study.

Advice for Dancers

I think, a very humble personal opinion, dancers should familiarize themselves with the music and with the compositions that they are working with. And I don’t know if this would be a helpful suggestion, but when John Tatassopoulas and I worked in Washington, we used all Abdul Wahad numbers. They are classical listening numbers created for vocals.

Now if the average individual would listen to Abdul Wahad numbers, they would learn so much. There are unbelievable movements in there. There are different rhythms in there. There are Saidis there and malfoufs.

Take those and if you’re not happy with that, make your own form. Become an arranger in your own shows. Talk to the musicians. Say; “I want this too fast and I want that too slow and I want my karsilama very penetrating.”

Oh, and another thing, when I was in Washington, DC, the dancers and I and John and the guitar player, we used to work from 8:00 PM until 2:00. It’s hard to believe sometimes but from 2:00 to 6:00 AM we rehearsed with the dancers. And I took my pen and said, “You know when you’re doing that pivot, let me write that down so we can coordinate.” 

Coordination is the most important partner development of the dancing. Dancers should work with musicians. I, for one, would love to rehearse here every night with any dancer that would come to work here.

I would be glad to. If they want me to come at 4:00 in the afternoon, I’d just make it my business to cancel what I have to do, even a doctor’s appointment. I would come here and this is true. I proved it with my band. I used to drive from Manchester, New Hampshire to Peabody, MA with my band every Monday. For thirty two years. You can ask anybody. We rehearsed. It was so important. Maybe when you write an article, you can let the dancers know that they should try to get a hold of the musicians to rehearse with them. Because when you rehearse, you may have an idea that will help me.  And, I may have an idea that will help you. In other words, the bottom line is that we have to work together. If you don’t want to work together, forget it, don’t be in the business. 

Qualities of a dancer: Presentation, of course. Personality. Always smiling, like this one here (Points to Za-Beth). She could make a mistake and people will not notice or they will forget it, because they see her smiling. That’s the secret.

When I graduated from the conservatory, my French teacher was a great man, Gaston Elcus. He said, “When you leave here, all you have to do is put some Brilliantine on your hair, brush your teeth and smile. It is easy. You are gonna make it.” Tend to your hair with Brilliantine, brush your teeth, smile, and you can never go wrong. (We all laugh)

Dancers should get a hold of their craft and make sure they know what they are doing. They should protect their craft, respect it and protect it. They should go up to a musician and say; “I want a karsilama, not too fast, not too slow, but what I want you to do please, is to give me a little feeling and dynamic expression. When I come this way, slack the music down. When I come up, do that. When I go around, do something else. I’m going to drop to the floor at the end.” This makes it coordinated.

If they are good musicians, they will abide by the rules and respect the dancer. We have to work for her, not against her. The young lady depends on you. She depends on the musicians.

The musicians have to pay attention to the dancer and they have to look at her feet and her face. What are you poor dancers going to do if musicians just want to do what they want to do at any time they want? The musicians are there to please the dancer and the audience too.

Yes, like I said before, I’m not particularly prejudiced here, but Michael is one of the greatest drummers. First of all, he’s got feeling. He works with the dancers. Any movement you have, he catches it. He’s not looking up in the sky or thinking about who he is going out with tomorrow. He is right there with the dancer. It is a professional job he is doing. He’s looking at you with his undivided attention. Here is a secret for you too. When he is doing that, he’s gonna give you a little pitter-pat 9Freddie taps his heart rhythmically). You don’t have to orchestrate everything or write every note. You want the musician to feel you

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MaryEllen Donald