Shirin Dances

This summer I decided to write a few pieces of music inspired by fantasy novels. If nothing else, this project gives me an excuse to read fantasy novels. I had never encountered Guy Gavriel Kay before, but I was quite impressed by his two-volume The Sarantine Mosaic. It’s set in a city and culture that is unabashedly borrowed from Medieval Byzantium, the Eastern Roman Empire. Technically the story is fantasy, but there’s not really much magic in it. If you like novels that are heavily laden with palace intrigue, you’ll probably like it a lot.

One of the main characters is a dancer named Shirin. She’s a celebrity, the star dancer of one of the leading chariot-racing teams. We never actually get to see her dance in the course of the novel, but from the fact that the chariot racers are high-spirited and face death in the arena on a daily basis, we can imagine that her dances would not be sedate. She might start with something slow and sultry, but before very long the men would want to see some moves. There would be baubles, bangles, and beads of sweat. Veils would flutter and probably fall to the ground, revealing … well, intricate gymnastic gyrations, at the very least.

Greek and Turkish music is often in 7/4 time, so that was obviously the place to start. 31-note equal temperament gave me some suitably exotic harmonies and melodies. The result: “Shirin Dances.” Here it is:

I don’t usually do pieces with such sweeping tempo changes, and the list of tempo changes was the very first thing I devised, before starting to create the music. How to keep the piece from falling apart at the seams was a puzzle in itself. If I’ve succeeded, possibly you can get a taste of the effect Shirin’s dancing would have had on those chariot jockeys.

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