Tuesday, November 13

Sounds of Schoenberg: The Levantine buzuq

UCLA ethnomusicology graduate student Ryan Vig plays the Levantine buzuq, a long-necked fretted lute and folk instrument, with roots in Arab communities across Lebanon and Syria. (Laura Uzes/Daily Bruin)

UCLA ethnomusicology graduate student Ryan Vig plays the Levantine buzuq, a long-necked fretted lute and folk instrument, with roots in Arab communities across Lebanon and Syria. (Laura Uzes/Daily Bruin)

The original version of this article, and headline and caption accompanying the article, incorrectly stated buzuq as Turkish. In fact, it's Levantine.

Each week, Daily Bruin A&E will explore the instruments of the World Musical Instrument Collection and their performers that all contribute to the musical landscape of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. This week, we highlight the Levantine buzuq, a long-necked fretted lute.

A car sped away from the city of Detroit, and a Levantine buzuq – almost 6,000 miles from its birthplace in Damascus, Syria – sat in the backseat. In an apartment in Los Angeles, UCLA graduate student of ethnomusicology Ryan Vig anxiously waited to welcome the instrument to its new home.

Vig had been waiting almost a year to acquire a buzuq – out of the dozens of instruments he had played in his lifetime, this was the instrument he felt the deepest connection to.

Four years and two buzuqs later, Vig has dedicated his master’s thesis on the history and development of the instrument, as well as the context that it’s played in. Since then, he’s also learned to play not only the buzuq, but also the Greek bouzouki, the kanun and the Turkish saz.

A member of the department of ethnomusicology’s Near East Ensemble, Vig first entered UCLA as an instrument collector, maker and repairer. He has been volunteering to help manage the UCLA department of ethnomusicology’s World Musical Instrument Collection for the past four years.


His father, also an instrument repairer, encouraged Vig’s curiosity for different styles of world music. Although Vig grew up playing stringed instruments like the guitar and mandolin, he discovered an unexplored passion for Near Eastern music once he entered the UCLA ethnomusicology program.

Vig’s professor and graduate advisor, A.J. Racy, introduced him to the buzuq during Vig’s first year at UCLA.

“There was something about the metal strings, about the sound and the body of it that pulled me in,” Vig said. “With (the buzuq) and Near East music, I love … taking these … new rhythms and melodies but making them expressive and beautiful.”

The buzuq, a long-necked fretted lute and folk instrument, has its roots in Arab communities across Lebanon and Syria.

Vig learned how to play the instrument from İlhan Ersoy, a professor from Izmir, Turkey. He spent last summer at a homestay in Bursa, Turkey, perfecting his buzuq skills and knowledge of the Turkish language, and now plays Arab, Turkish and Greek music as part of off-campus groups to raise money for charitable causes.

On campus, Vig keeps busy managing the instruments in the collection, which are used for display, playing, research and classroom education. His responsibilities as a volunteer include documenting instrument repairs; organizing, polishing and photographing the instruments and monitoring the humidity and temperature of the rooms where the instruments are housed.

Vig plans to continue learning about and repairing instruments from the Chinese erhu to the Indian sitar. After graduation, he hopes to one day work again with the collection, especially with Near Eastern instruments like the buzuq.

“Dedicating myself to these different kinds of world music has given me the opportunity to have great times with some amazing people from different cultures,” Vig said. “The greatest joy for me is in sharing music and sharing instruments.”

Compiled by Kyle Young, A&E contributor.


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  • Andy

    But what does it *sound* like? Take advantage of your electronic publication platform and link your readers to something more than they can get if still reading in print.

    If the artist you profile can’t / won’t provide a multimedia clip, spend a few moments to find a good representative performance and link to it. Don’t make your users all go looking themselves, or worse – sending them away wondering but not motivated enough to spend the time looking themselves.

    Here’s a good example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8-tbwMX62U