Tasheka Saunders: An Egyptian Sound

Introduction:   The Google Arts Virtual Exhibition “An Egyptian Sound” features a collection of musical depictions covering over four hundred years of Egyptian music and instruments. The collection is inspired by one’s own passion and love for music artistry. Music soothes the soul and brings joy in the midst of sadness. This exhibition seeks to uncover the ways in which Egyptians explored and shared their music ability and artistry. Much like the society we live in today, music was an important part of Egyptian life, and musicians occupied a variety of positions in Egyptian society. Even in the Bible, one can acknowledge the power that music had on the king. One instance in 1 Samuel speaks of “Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him”. This exemplifies the power of music. Music found its way into many aspects in Egypt. You would find it in the temples, palaces, workshops, battlefields and even in the tombs. Music was an integral part of religious worship in ancient Egypt, and Hathor and Bes were the gods specifically associated with music. It has been found that Egyptians even expressed their music through hieroglyphs.  Researchers have learned that there were many ancient Egyptian musical instruments. There are depictions of instruments of all kinds, including string, wind and percussion. The hieroglyphs also show those listening to music clapping their hands along with the performances. What I found to be so interesting about the Egyptians and people today were the similarities in which music instruments are still used. In Ancient Egypt, music was believed to be one of the most important elements of their culture. There were musicians and singers on all levels from those who had the opportunity to play for kings and queens to those who just did it for entertainment. It is so ironic that much of what music did for the people of Ancient Egypt still does for Christians today.  I have witnessed and experienced firsthand the power of music. In a church setting, I have seen how the compilation of music, praise and worship has caused people to be free, healed and delivered. Therefore, I found it interesting to know that music had the power to drive out evil spirits even back in ancient times. The five works of art in this google arts presentation include: “Sheet with Hieratic Inscription about Neskhonsu-the Singer of the Great God Amun”, Tomb Relief: “Female Attendants Clapping Hands”, A “Pair of Ivory Clappers”, “Relief featuring blind harpist”, and a “Wooden figure of Bes playing a tambourine”. Each piece of art work has a significant meaning to this collection and helps to cohesively bring together a more in depth understanding of Egyptian music and sound. One seeks to uncover and reveal the dynamics of music represented in each art from. You will learn what each piece represents, what type of art it is and materials used, how instruments were used and even how they relate to music today.

Sheet with Hieratic Inscription about Neskhonsu, the Singer of the Great God Amun Date Created: 1069 BC - 945 BC |Credit Line: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, gift of Miss Annette Finnigan |Period: 21st Dynasty, Third Intermediate Period |Physical Dimensions: w57.5 x h23.8 cm (overall) The Sheet with Hieratic Inscription about Neskhonsu was a very interesting piece to research. It reminded me of the sheet music we use today in our music classes but with a bit of distinct differences. While the sheets we use today are noted with various symbols related to music terminology such as treble clefs and half notes, it seems that this piece of art work is composed of several pictures and a variety of symbols. Christopher Wood notes, “Since drawing detailed Egyptian hieroglyphics was time consuming, a cursive script called hieratic was used for everyday correspondence and record keeping. Hieratic was used from about 3100 BCE into the Roman period” (Wood,2010). The hieroglyphics were written using tempera and ink on papyrus. Hieratic inscriptions were depictions instruments of all kinds, including string, wind and percussion. The hieroglyphs also show those listening to music clapping their hands along with the performances (ttp://www.ancient-egypt-online.com). One piece of hieratic papyrus of Neskhonsu states that Amun comes to him to calls upon him, appeases the heart of him who worships him, gladdens the one who pronounces his name. Amun is also said to spiritually closer to his worshippers. (Goff,1979, p.34). Though there were not many resources that acknowledge Neskhonsu, she is said to be an attractive woman who die at the age of thirty years old. She was the daughter of the High Priest of Amun Nesibanebdjedet and his wife Tahentdjehuty. She was also known as first chief of the concubines of Amen-Re and a prophetess in the land. The piece of art can now be found on in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. It is now mounted between glass dimensions 9 5/8 x 13 3/4 inches (24.4 x 34.9 cm). The piece dates back to the third intermediary period 1069 BC - 945 BC.
Relief featuring blind harpist Date Created : 1333 - 1319 B.C. |Credit: Rijksmuseum van Oudheden | Dimensions: 159 x 125 cm | Saqqara, Egypt The depiction of the blind harpist really struck my attention and reminded me of Ray Charles, a notable blues singer of our day. It was fascinating to see that even back then people did not allow their physical disabilities to stop them from pursing what they enjoyed doing. The art work is a part of famous relief that can be found in the funerary chapel of Paatenemheb, who was the High Priest of Re. It displays a group of musicians including the harpist playing for a dinner meal that Paatenemheb is having with his wife and children. The material used in this art form is limestone and composed of upper and lower registers. The dimensions of the piece are about 159 x 125 cm created during 1333-1319 b.c. The song the harpist is singing is written out in hieroglyphs above the orchestra. The final sentence reads: "The Pacific (Osiris) not listening to the pleas of the people and lament no one rescues from the grave." One resource references that the harpist is singing “"Increase still more the good things which you possess, and stop worrying. Do what you feel inclined to do and will give you pleasure. Enjoy yourself while you are here, and don't worry until the end comes. Enjoy each day to the fullest. For be sure no one can take what he possesses with him, and no one who has passed can return” (piney.com) Research showed that in Ancient Egypt one of the most common and favorite instrument was the harp. Often musicians would gather to play and entertain the family members at the eternal banquet and many times you would find that the male harpist were blind. Adams (2004) notes, “Harp parts and even some, almost complete, original harps have survived – thanks to the dry climate – and are now on display at museums worldwide, and in private collections. Most of these instruments were found to be carefully wrapped in cloth, before there were buried” (http://www.zwoje-scrolls.com). There have been archaeological discoveries in the tombs of pharaohs, servants and kings that display the importance that harps had on the Egyptians.
Wooden figure of Bes playing a tambourine Date Created: 1300 BC | Credit Line: British Museum collection online| Dimensions: Height: 28.00cm | New Kingdom; 18th Dynasty This wooden figure of Bes playing the tambourine was created in 1300 b.c, made of wood and sits about 28 cm high. In this art work Bes plays a tambourine which is a small frame drum having one or two skins nailed or glued to a shallow circular or polygonal frame. The tambourine is normally played with the bare hands and often has attached to it jingles, pellet bells, or snares. European tambourines typically have one skin and jingling disks set into the sides of the frame (britanica.com). I am very familiar with the tambourine. As a child I would play it in church when the choir would sing or someone who dance and shout. Clapping and playing musical instruments such as the tambourine have the same effect, as does stamping and dancing. Bes has been considered to be an ancient Egyptian dwarf god. He was a complex being who was both a deity and a demonic fighter. Bes was depicted as a dwarf with a large head and short thighs and his ugliness was believed to be a great deterrent to evil spirits. His frightening appearance was enhanced by his tongue. Unlike most other gods, Bes is always shown full face. He was a god of war and began as a protector of the pharaoh and became very popular with the Egyptian people because he protected women and children above all others. This god was associated with sexuality, humor, music, dancing and often noted on household items such as furniture, mirrors and cosmetics containers and applicators as well as magical wands and knives. The god Bes was particularly associated with protection of the home. The Egyptians would either place a shrine of Bes in their homes or have his image painted on interior walls. Bes was often shown holding a knife with which to fight evil forces. The most important role assigned to Bes was the protection of the mother and child during the dangerous time of childbirth. A spell to help with birth complications could be recited four times over a clay figure of the god that had been placed on the head of the woman in labor. Ironically, Bes was also associated with entertainment, laughter and happiness. This is due to the ancient’s belief in duality; balance in all things. He is frequently depicted playing a harp, flute or tambourine while singing and dancing, we do know that Bes Festivals were very popular among the ancient Egyptians, and that these events generated a wildly joyful temperament through music and general merrymaking.
Pair of Ivory Clappers Dimensions| Height: 33.50cm; Width: 5.10cm; Depth: 1.50cm; Weight: 0.25kg Credit Line| British Museum collection online | New Kingdom These pair of ivory clappers are made in the form of a pair of hands and were used as a musical instrument. These musical instruments are known as clappers, and they were used in pairs. The art piece is Ivory from hippopotamus teeth and its dimensions are Height: 33.50cm; Width: 5.10cm; Depth: 1.50cm; Weight: 0.25kg. An image can be viewed from The British Museum online. Clappers were often played together with sistra, harps and pipes. The curved shape of the clappers shows that they were made from hippopotamus tusks. The noise of clapping, banging and rattling was also thought to drive away hostile forces. Stamping, and dancing were used in the same way to banish dangerous spirits. The goddess Hathor, whose head appears on both clappers, was often associated with music and entertainment. Hathor was also seen as a protective deity. She was often invoked in spells to drive away evil spirits such as those which caused illness. She also protected both mother and child during the dangerous time of childbirth. The sound produced by striking these two elements together replaced hand clapping as a way of creating a rhythm for music and accompanying dances. Hathor, one of the most important Egyptian goddesses, was associated with fertility and childbearing. Carved versions of her head, with its distinctive cow ears, were often used as protective amulets. This example formed part of a magical device used either as a wand, to ward off evil spirits, or as one of a pair of musical clappers. The most beautiful known examples of clappers are carved from hippopotami canine teeth, as are these. The relative curve of the object is determined by the natural shape of the tooth. Other, simpler clappers in wood exist. Clappers with hands appeared in the Middle Kingdom, yet it seems that the most beautiful of these objects can be dated to the New Kingdom, particularly those representing a head of Hathor. The Hathor head has a curled wig held back in seven places and is surmounted with a decorative frieze.
Tomb Relief: Female Attendants Clapping Hands Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 11, reign of Mentuhotep II, ca. 2049 BC - 1998 BC Date Created: 2049 BC - 1998 BC |Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Joan Stark in memory of Louise J. Roth| Dimensions: 12 1/2 x 11 x 1/2 in. (31.7 x 27.9 x 1.2 cm); object with mount: 13 13/16 x 12 3/16 x 1 5/16 in. (35.1 x 31 x 3.4 cm) | Deir el-Bahri, Thebes, Egypt | Cincinnati Art Museum This tomb relief depicts a line of female singers and or dancers forming part of a larger musical procession. It was created during 2049 BC - 1998 BC. The dimensions of the artwork is 1/2 x 11 x 1/2 in. (31.7 x 27.9 x 1.2 cm) and is showcased in the Cincinnati Art Museum. The tomb is a display of Nefru, wife of the Eleventh Dynasty King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II. Two women are depicted, with fragmentary representations of two others clapping their hands (94). King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep (Mentuhotep II) was revered by the Egyptians as the ruler who reunited Egypt after the era of disunity (the First Intermediate Period) that followed the end of the Old Kingdom. “Each performer, shown clapping hands, wears a white sheath dress and a broad floral collar. Each wears a long wig, locks pulled forward to rest on the chest in the favored style of the period. The ornamental strings of large round beads attached to the hair are distinctive features of this scene; traces of white paint on these ornaments suggest that they were meant to represent silver. Actual strands of such beads, hollow balls in precious metal separated by spacer beads, have been found in tombs dating to this period”. This relief was originally part of the decoration of the temple's main sanctuary that was added to the building at the end of the king's reign. The figure of the goddess Hathor on the right of the block was chiselled away during the Amarna period, when King Akhenaten propagated the sole worship of the god Aten. Hathor was repaired in plaster in early Dynasty 19 and some of the paint on the whole block may also have been renewed at the time. The Cincinnati fragment retains much of its original painted decoration: black for the wigs, yellow for flesh tones, and blue, red, and green for the floral collars.
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