Insomnia has struck again. Through my bedroom window, the full moon casts a silvery glow across my bed sheets and onto the floor. As I follow the light’s ethereal path with my eyes, I look to the far wall where my desk stands. Suddenly, like a moth to a flame, I’m drawn to the brilliant blue cast light of my computer screen. It beckons me away from my bed. Its 4:00 am and I’m feeling rather melancholy. There are emotional reasons for this but lack of sleep may be making it more pronounced. The hum of the computer fan wards off the silence that deep night brings but I still feel small and alone in my chair. Deep in the pit of my stomach there is an uneasy quiver as though my body memory is expecting something unpleasant that my mind no longer remembers.
I check for emails. The empty inbox glares at me from the screen. I click half-heartedly at the half dozen blogs that I normally follow – two new posts. Suddenly I no longer feel so solitary. The voices of my fellow bloggers swirl and dance through my mind. I feel comfort in knowing these strangers through their words, as if they are speaking to me. In reality, I may not know them at all or conversely, perhaps I know a part of them better than those who have not had the privilege to read their thoughts.
Upon reaching the end of the final posting in my list, I stare longingly at the computer screen. My mind is blank – what now? Go back to bed? Sleep was still distant; an unwilling participant as it had been for many years. Suddenly the word “News” jumps out at me and I scroll through the hundreds of listings – news from all over the world. I am always intrigued by the arts; drama, dance, and music. Music! I suddenly realized the antidote to my emptiness. But then I’m faced with another dilemma – out of the millions of composers, singers, musicians, and musical forms in the world what could I possibly choose to sooth my soul? My soul. It came to me, I don’t know from where, but the answer was suddenly there; The Oud.
One can describe the Oud in one of two ways. Its history, regional variances in its name and usage, and its features and characteristics can be listed in a dethatched manner. Or one can attempt to explain the emotional and physical response to the sounds of the Oud. My preference is the latter. Perhaps as you read this, the sounds are already having an effect on you (look for the player below). When placed in the hand of a great player like Farid al Atrache, the Oud becomes a conduit of the musician’s soul and the souls of thousands of musicians before him going back more than 5000 years. Its sounds are not fixed. You cannot place a specific feeling on any particular piece. If you are joyful as you listen to it, it too flows joyfully – the notes skip and play in front of you. If you are miserable, the notes drip like tears in a pool of sadness. It can sound celebratory or tragic. It can lift dreams from one’s mind to dance before us or can pluck at the turmoil of one’s heart – each shard of pain attached to a note as they spin and explode upward.
The Oud reaches back to the ancient civilizations and brings forward a reminder of who were are. In one single note it unites ancient and modern. Can you feel the cool, night winds of the desert as they caress your face? Can you smell the cinders of your campfire as you lie under a million stars in an ancient land? We, like our ancestors, cannot help but be enchanted by its exquisite sounds – thus the Oud remains as it always was and always will be.
My eyelids are finally heavy and my mind filled with images of long ago. Sleep is finally ready to embrace me.