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Re: The meter of the Jewish zhok
- From: Solidarity Foundation <svzandt...>
- Subject: Re: The meter of the Jewish zhok
- Date: Thu 17 Oct 1996 03.51 (GMT)
The question is not an easy one.
Although I have never thought the zhok meter was 5/16, when 7/16 was
suggested to me (by tsimbalist/accordionist Joshua Horowitz), my reaction was
similar to yours. In discussing the matter with him, however, I have come to
realize that there are many subtleties involved.
Let me try to clarify my position. First, it is of course true that the
zhok is sometimes played in a more or less straight 3/8. But we at least agree
that there is an "aksak" (Turkish for "limping") form, even if we disagree on
precisely what it is. We also agree that the aksak is the older of the two and
the 3/8 is a simplification of it. But let's put aside the simplified form for
now, because the question doesn't relate to it.
Second, please note that I specifically said the zhok is not FELT as
seven. There are not really seven beats, in the sense of actual pulse, and if
I tried to count it out as seven while playiong it, I'm sure I could not do it.
This is in contrast to the fast Bulgarian dances you mention, in which one
really feels seven beats. In saying that the zhok is "metronomically" seven, I
meant only that the meter is proportionately divisible into seven equal units.
But these are units of time only. One actually feels this metric figure as a
pulse of three, the elements being in the time-proportion 2:2:3. It is only in
this "stopwatch" sense that I call it seven.
Now comes a further wrinkle. Assuming this triple meter, in which the
third element is a little longer, if you listen to the very pronounced beat
in the accompinament to a zhok, it always comes on beat one and beat three --
beat two is always silent. (This is true even when the zhok is played in
3/8.) That means that only TWO beats are actually played, of which (coming back
to the proportional division into 7) the first comes on ONE and the second on
FIVE. These divide the bar into TWO parts, in the proportion 4:3. So in this
two-meter, the FIRST beat is a little longer than the second.
The fascinating thing about the zhok is that BOTH things are going on
at the same time. The meter is at one and the same time a three with a slightly
prolonged third beat, and a two with a slightly prolonged first beat. The
resulting effect is like a slightly limping two superimposed on a slightly
And that is just the basic pulse. Above this is the melody, which often
syncopates into varioous proportionate subdivisions of seven, such as 1:2:4
or 1:3:1:2, AGAINST the basic pulse. And sumetimes the accompaniment figure
varies as 3:1:1:2 (where, in A minor for example, the notes would be AECE,
with the next downbeat landing back on A.
Finally, let me emphasize that these are analytical observations only.
I don't believe it's possible to play any of these figures, or at least play
them with the right "feel," by literally counting out the units. Just as with
jazz, it is possible only to feel the various groupings in the right
proportions and syncopations.
In practice, I have always felt the meter as a slightly limping two
superimposed on a slightly limping three, as explained above. But if you
analyze it out, I think you'll find the proportional basis is seven. (I've
tried it with five, but it doesn't work as a zhok.) A related but faster kind
of zhok, popular today in Romanian music but not found in Jewish music, uses
a rapid accompanying figure in the tsimbl that also shows the basic
7-structure: a dotted 8th and 16th plus three 16ths, the dotted eighth being
very short, the first 16th being a pickup to the next 3.
I'd be very interested to hear other people's views on this.
Itzik-Leyb Volokh (Jeffrey Wollock)