From The Halls of Afghanistan to The Shores of Tripoli?


Not since 1096 (The first Crusade) or the days of Lawrence of Arabia has the Western world been so fascinated with the mysterious and exotic Middle East. Of course our fascination with that area currently is based on both oil and the war on terror. Many counties in that area were completely unknown to Americans and their cultures misunderstood. The culture is still very misunderstood and many people operate from a stereotypical set of beliefs.


Despite the political realities of today, 100 years ago the area was just as misunderstood and as we've shown with several other essays, (Asian music, Amerindian Music, Hawaiian Music, Coon Songs) the music of the time was reflective of stereotypes and distorted images of the music of that part of the world. Nonetheless, the Tin Pan Alley songwriters managed to produce many popular songs about that area of the world. Two seminal events captured America's imagination about Arabia and the Arab world. First was Lawrence of Arabia ( Thomas Edward Lawrence, 1888-1935) a British liaison officer during the Arab Revolt of 1916-18. When the war ended, the American journalist, Lowell Thomas, produced a slide show about Lawrence's exploits that eventually led to an overblown and almost mythical story of his exploits.


The second event was the 1921 film The Sheik starring the romantic actor, Rudolf Valentino. Valentino's portrayal became the definitive image of a Sheik of Arabia for many years after. In today's light, his portrayal is so dramatically overdone so as to be laughable. But, in 1921, his popularity as the leading movie heartthrob was unquestionable and every woman who saw him wanted to be swept up by a Sheik and taken to a tent in the desert to be his love puppet.


In this month's (June, 2005) feature we look at songs about some of the countries in the Middle East, Sheiks and a few songs of the Sahara desert. We hope you enjoy this romantic look at an area that is now one of turmoil and danger and still vastly misunderstood by Americans and most of the rest of the world. We're continuing the change in the presentation window of the Scorch format songs this month. Rather than the short pages we've had in the past, I'm trying out a full page format. We've always used the shorter page in order to prevent you from having to scroll down as the music plays. Our primary interest was in having a setup where you can view one page at a time as the music plays without any other action needed by you. However, a recent spate of requests for a full page format (mostly for printing purposes) has caused me to try out that format this month. For our regular readers, we'd like to hear from you on which format you prefer. Let us know your opinion.


If you are new to us, to enjoy the full musical experience, we recommend that you get the Scorch plug in from our friends at Sibelius software. The Scorch player allows you to not only listen to the music but to view the sheet music as the music plays and see the lyrics as well. Each month we also allow printing of some of the sheet music featured so for those of you who play the piano (or other instruments) you'll be able to play the music yourself. It's a complete musical experience! Get the Sibelius Scorch player now.


Richard A. Reublin, June, 2005. This article published June, 2005 and is Copyright © 2005 by Richard A. Reublin and The Parlor Songs Association, Inc. Text, images or music may not be reproduced in part or in total without express written permission of the author or a company officer.


The Sheik Of Araby


Music by: Ted Snyder
Words by: Harry B. Smith & Francis Wheeler
Cover artist: Unattributed

Exactly when Arabia became referenced to as "Araby" may have roots that were established long before this song. In his biography of James Joyce, Richard Ellman makes reference to a Bazaar which took place in Dublin called "The Grand Oriental Fete, Araby in Dublin" which took place in 1894. Joyce wrote a short story based on this bazaar titled Araby. This song placed the name firmly in the public's mind in 1921 and the usage has been common in slang for years. We do have two other songs in this month's feature that predate this one so we know that it was common usage at least from 1894 on. Wikipedia tell us that;

"Araby comprises the fictional or romanticized traditional counterpart to Arabia or to the Arab world. Note for example the song The Sheik of Araby. In the context of Edward Said's view of Orientalism, Araby exemplifies the exotic and mysterious nature of the Middle East." (


Musically, this song is one of America's most lasting hits, remembered still today. The song was directly inspired by the film mentioned above starring Valentino; The Sheik. Eddie Cantor was perhaps the one who made the song most popular through his performance of it in the 1922 Schubert stage show, Make It Snappy. The song was also featured in the 1940 film Tin Pan Alley, sung in a comedic vein by Alice Faye, Betty Grable, Billy Gilbert and the Nicholas Brothers. It is definitely a "snappy" tune and one most will remember. The music is pure Tin Pan Alley, bearing absolutely no resemblance to true Arabic music. It does however have some passages that sound rather mysterious, even oriental so the composer did try to convey an image of the mysterious Arabia.


Ted Snyder (b. 1881, Freeport, Illinois d. 1965, Hollywood, CA) Ted Snyder is the person who gave Irving Berlin his start in the music business by hiring him in 1909 as a song plugger for his publishing company. But Snyder is also recalled as a composer in his own right who wrote hits such as The Sheik of Araby (1921) and Who's Sorry Now? (1923).


Little is known of Ted's early life, other than he attended the public schools in Boscobel, WI., and as a very young man, he posted theater bills for a living. Later, he was a cafe pianist, and then a staff pianist and song plugger in Chicago and New York music publishing houses. Like Berlin, his first publications came in 1907 with his first song There's a Girl in This World for Every Boy, with lyrics Will D. Cobb. Snyder wrote a number of other tunes in collaboration with other important lyricists of the day and in 1909 he began his association with Berlin. Some of their first tines included, Sweet Italian Love, Kiss Me, My Honey, Kiss Me, and Next To Your Mother, Who Do You Love? as well as 1910's That Beautiful Rag.


In 1913, Irving Berlin was writing his own melodies, as well as his own lyrics and Snyder's firm is reorganized and is called, Waterson, Berlin and Snyder. Ted Snyder also continued writing his own melodies, often with other lyricists such as Bert Kalmar and Edgar Leslie. Among the songs he wrote with Kalmar and/or Leslie are: Moonlight on the Rhine, In The Land of Harmony and The Ghost of the Violin. From the end of the first World War till 1930, Snyder continued writing songs with other talented lyricists.


In 1930, Ted Snyder retired from the songwriting business, settled in Hollywood, CA., and went into the restaurant business. He died in Hollywood. He is a member of the Songwriters' Hall of Fame.
(Adapted from Kunkle, pp 1784-85)


Hear this lasting "Arabian" hit.

Listen to MIDI version

Listen to Terry Smythe's Piano Roll Version! (Played by Zez Confrey)





Words and Music by: Irving Berlin
Cover artist: Barbelle

Six years before Valentino's inspiring film, the great Irving Berlin had Araby on his mind. Adorned with a cover by Barbelle which features camels, a minaret and traditional Arab garb, the cover is about all that could be construed to accurately represent Arabia. In fact, Berlin barely included anything even remotely mysterious, oriental or Arabic in the music itself.


The song is very much a standard TPA sounding song and even has a bit of a raggy feel to it (it had not been that long since Berlin had his first major success with Alexander's Ragtime Band (Scorch format) and the many "rag" songs he wrote during the few years after). Rather than the music it is the lyrics that Berlin uses to carry us to Araby. In his words;

Tonight I'm dreaming of Araby,
That's where my dreams seem to carry me;
Where ev'rything is oriental;
And ev'ryone is sentimental.

There in the shade of the shelt'ring palms,
I met a maiden fair;
I long to hold her gently in my arms.
Oh, how I wish I were there!


As with the prior song, Eddie Cantor popularized this song in vaudeville, as did the lady on the cover, Renie Davis. The song was also first recorded on the Victor label by Harry McDonough.


Enjoy this wonderful old Berlin song

listen to MIDI version

Listen to Terry Smythe's Piano Roll Version! (lightning speed!)



I'll Sing Thee Songs of Araby

before 1900


Words and Music by: Frederic Clay
Cover artist: Unattributed


Sometime around 1900, this song appeared as a part of a production of Lalla Rookh. The story for this production was taken from an 1817 book-length poem by Thomas Moore. The story is about a princess’s trip from Delhi to Cashmere to meet her betrothed. Along the way, a poet (her husband-to-be in disguise) recounts to her historical tales of insurrection and ecstasy, of revolutionary heroes and passionate women. Exactly when Clay's production appeared is unclear to me as I cannot find any record of performance. I can however find a horse, an Irish band, a Schooner and a wine by that name. I'm estimating a date of 1900 or before from the appearance of the sheet music which is undated, a practice normally only found in pre 1900 music.


The music in this song is sublime and beautiful but dated. It definitely has the signature of late 18th century art music, more formal than much of the popular music of that time. Again, we have music about the subject of Arabia (Araby) yet we get no flavor for, or insight into true Arabian music. Arab music encompasses much more than what we now know as Saudi Arabia. It has its origins in two musical traditions; that of the Eastern Arab states (Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq) and the Western (Morocco, Algeria & Tunisia. Most has its earliest origins in court music. The notation and scaling is derived partly from Greek music theory but is primarily based on the fretting of the "ud" a pear shaped plucked stringed instrument, very similar to the lute of Europe. With complex rhythms and unusual ( to Western ears) tuning, Arab music has a sometimes oriental and mysterious nature. Melodies were often accompanied by hand clapping or drums and featured other instruments such as the rahab, a relative of the violin and wind instruments.


From the New Grove, here is an Exorcism song from the Red Sea area. Note the unconventional (for western music) key. The melody uses a loose rhythmic structure, more 2/4 than anything but with some passages in 8/2 and 13/8. To listen to the midi of this piece, click on the music. It's a pleasant tune that rather belies the purpose of the song. To learn more about Arabian music The New Grove has an extensive article and on-line go to: for a bit about the history of Arabian music and some fabulous wav files of authentic Arab music played on authentic instruments and with vocal. Listening to them will give you an idea of the fabulous sounds and complex music of the Arab culture, don't miss this site!


Listen to and see this wonderful song ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)

Listen to MIDI version




Words and Music by: William Wilander and Harry Donnelly
Cover artist: Starmer


The entire area we tend to call the Middle-East is actually geographically considered western Asia and as such, we do hear similarities to some eastern Asian music. Afghanistan finds itself in an area where their music is influenced more by Asia and India as opposed to the Arab states. Of course we know Afghanistan more for the Taliban and the recent war that ousted them in favor of democracy. Afghan instrumentation is similar to Arabic but has a vast variety of lute-like instruments including several that are completely unique to Afghanistan, the rubab (seen at left), tanbur and the dambura. To see more images of Afghan instruments, go to: the Afghan network's instrument page.


Their music has an extremely melodic and interesting sound. On the one hand, the Indian influence is clear and on the other, it has some sounds that are quite unique. You must go to and listen to some of the fabulous music they have available to listen to, it's another "don't miss" site.


As for the song we've featured, it of course has no similarity to true Afghan music but like the others this month, it is very much a Tin Pan Alley product. The song uses a common musical motif in the bass line that seems to have somehow become one that conveys a desert-mid-east sound, a 4/4 dum-dum, dumdum, dum dum alternating of an octave and a single note. As well, the verse really conveys that "mysterious" somewhat foreign melody that we might associate with far away oriental places. The cover calls the work a "oriental fox-trot song." It really is a fascinating and well crafted song. I hope you enjoy it.


Hear this "Afghani" song (Scorch format)

Listen to MIDI version

Listen to Terry Smythe's Piano Roll Version.


Kashmiri Song


Music by: Amy Woodforde-Finden
Words by: Laurence Hope
Cover artist: Unattributed

Another area in Western Asia we've heard much about for the last few years is to the east of Afghanistan. Kashmir is a hotly disputed region in the Himalayan valleys. Both Pakistan and India have claimed the area and have been fighting over it for years. The music of Kashmir is heavily influenced by India but also has flavors of Iran and Persia (Iraq). Instruments include a zither-like instrument, lute, drums and fiddle. There are three distinct forms of music in Kashmir, namely, Sufiana Musiqi (traditional classical music) handed down to the present generation by old masters: Chhakri, Roef, Wanawon etc., (folk music), and, ghazals, geets and choral songs (modern light music). For more about the music of Kashmir, visit the Kashmir Observer's excellent article on the subject.


Again, we have a song that is musically unlike true Kashmir music but one of this month's discovered treasures. Each month, I find works of musical art that are fabulous yet somehow I've not heard before. This piece, a very artful and classical style piece is one of my two discoveries of the month. The work has a bit of an oriental tone at the introduction but moves into a moving melody with a wonderfully harmonic accompaniment. The poem (lyrics) is very touching as well so this pair of writers in my opinion produced a fabulous work that fortunately, has stayed in the classical repertoire for over 100 years. The lyrics by Laurence Hope (1865-1904) were originally a poem that the composer, Amy Woodforde-Finden (1860-1919) set to music. Finden was born Amelia Ward in Valparaiso, Chile, where her American father was British Consul. Later the family settled in South Kensington, after which Amy traveled in Kashmir and married a lieutenant-colonel who had served with Colonel Nicolson. Perhaps surprisingly, she experienced difficulty getting her songs published, until the singer Hamilton Earle took them up. Among artists who have recorded the ‘Kashmiri Song’, the most unlikely is perhaps Rudolph Valentino in his only recording.(From CD liner notes where this song as well as I'll Sing Thee Songs of Araby appears on Hyperion More Songs My Father Taught Me )


Enjoy this sparkling piano work (Printable using the Scorch plug-in)

Listen to MIDI version

There are no Lyrics for this work.

In A Persian Market


Music by: Albert W. Ketelby
Words by: Ketelby
Cover artist: "MAE"


To the west of Afghanistan is today's Iran, once the core of the empire of Persia which at one time (BC )extended north to the Aral sea, east to India, West to the Greek islands and south into Egypt and the Saudi peninsula. A truly great early civilization, Persia has a rich history and a culture of many influences. An interesting history of Persia (with a great musical background) can be found here:


This piece, by one of the late 19th, early 20th century's finest classical composers is a character piece, one of several exotic descriptive pieces Ketelby wrote. The piece is a tour de force that tells the story of a day in a Persian market. The story begins in the morning with the arrival of a caravan and takes us through the clamor of beggars in the market, the arrival of a beautiful princess, the visit by the Caliph and finally the end of the day when the caravan moves on. Ketelby did not write lyrics as such but did include some commentary for some portions of the work. You can see them as the music plays by using the Scorch plug-in and viewing the Scorch version (click on cover image or link below).


Albert Ketelby (b 1875, Birmingham, England - d. 1958, Isle of Wight )displayed a talent for music at a young age, and by his teens was composing classical pieces. He attended Trinity College of Music in Oxford, beating out Gustav Holst in a scholarship competition. Although he achieved some critical recognition for his choral and chamber works, his greatest success was in descriptive pieces, much along the lines of Delius's "In the Fens," but with much more exotic subjects. His "In a Persian Market," "In a Chinese Temple Garden," and "In a Monastery Garden" were very popular with theater orchestras and in sheet music form. Although this type of music is now out of style, it was well considered at the time--Ketelby was in some ways the last of a line that included Johann Strauss and Franz Lehar.
(from )


Listen to this Persian character piece (Scorch format)

Listen to MIDI version

Lyrics (No lyrics file for this piece)



Music by: Jack Stern
Words by: Bobby Jones
Cover artist: E. E. Walton


A place we often do not hear about in this area of the world is Turkestan. Turkestan is not a country but a region in western Asia that encompasses a number of former satellites of the USSR and in the 11th century covered a much larger area. To complicate things, there is a Chinese (Eastern) Turkestan to the east and Russian Turkestan to the west. As such, there is no specific musical genre associated only with Turkestan, but rather individually for the states or countries contained within the area. That said, being a part of Asia or Russia, I can't help wonder why the cover artist depicts what looks more like a Spanish señorita with a Mideast or desert background. Perhaps he was as confused as me as to really where Turkestan is!


The introduction to the song is again, clearly American Tin Pan Alley style and a bit modern as well. The verse after the introduction gives us the composer's musical impression of the mid east but can't contain his TPA instincts as we go into the chorus. Its a lively tune telling the story of one who wishes to return to the beauty and mystery of the "oriental land" of Turkestan.


Listen to this great exotic song ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)

Listen to MIDI version




Music by: Irving Weill
Words by: Paul Cunningham and Al Dubin
Cover artist: Unattributed


Reaching about as far west as we can go in the Mideast, we find Libya and it's fabled port city of Tripoli. Libya is yet another of those countries we've heard much of because of terrorist links and conflict. A few well placed bombs and the threat of invasion has mellowed Libya's outlook and perhaps once again it will be an exotic place of beauty we can all visit without fear.


The cover of this piece is one of the best, the traditional Libyan ships in the harbor with the city in the background is beautiful. The music is a very nice waltz and it was a very successful work that became quite popular. The song has a wonderful melodious nature and a dreamy sort of tone to it. As a waltz, it's grand. As a representation of the namesake city, it's a bust. But hey, who's checking anyway. Though written in 1920, the song seems to hark back to earlier times. Certainly the lyrics hearken back to good times in Tripoli and fond memories of times spent there. Interestingly, in the lyrics the lyricists refer to "Vesper bells were a ringing, Choir voices were singing;" Given the religious orientation of Libya (98% Muslim) it seems highly unlikely one would hear vesper bells. I'm not discounting it entirely, just seems pretty unlikely. I guess that's the great thing about the arts, one can take romantic liberties and despite any inaccuracies, we can truly enjoy songs like this.


Listen to this great old song (Scorch format)

Listen to MIDI version

Listen to Terry Smythe's Piano Roll of Tripoli.


Sand Dunes (My Desert Rose)


Words and Music by: Byron Gay
Cover artist: Unattributed


One of the more real and imagined features of the Mideast are the deserts. Of course the Sahara is somewhere near there (but not quite). Of course Arabia and the other countries in the south of this area do have vast deserts and Bedouin tribes have lived there and traded there for centuries. It's odd that something as inhospitable as a desert would have so much lore and interest for the world but it surely does. Of course, again we can go back to Valentino and the Sheik as perhaps the defining moment of the desert as romantic. Many songs have been written about the desert and we thought a couple such songs were certainly in order for this month's feature.


Byron Gay ( b. 1886, Chicago, Illinois - d. 1945 Los Angeles, California ) was a composer who wrote several song hits and a number of film scores that spawned hits. We may not remember them today but some of his hits were, Vamp Me (1922), The Vamp (1945), Home Run on the Keys (1936) and The Little Ford Rambled Right Along. This song is even less well known but it is a gem. Gay uses a few of the "oriental" sounding chords and passages to add the mystery of the desert to the piece. It's really a very entertaining and sophisticated song. Based on the cover it seems that this song may have come from a stage work by the same name but I've been unable to find any information to confirm that. Enjoy the music.


Listen to this wonderful old song Printable using the Scorch plug-in

Listen to MIDI version


In My Harem


Words and Music by: Irving Berlin
Cover artist: Gene Buck


Now for a little comedic interlude, provided by Irving Berlin. Of all the images and practices of the mysterious East, the Harem conjures up all the opulence, beauty and (unfairly so) the decadence of the countries. Harems owe their primary origin to the Ottoman Empire that extended around the eastern shores of the Mediterranean centered on what is now Turkey. Simply stated, a harem was the woman's section of the Muslim household. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Imperial Harems contained the combined households of the Valide Sultan (Queen Mother), the Sultan’s favorites , and the rest of his concubines. It also contained all the Sultanas’ (daughters of the Sultan) households. Many of the harem women would never see the Sultan and became the servants necessary for the daily functioning of the harem. Many of the women of the Imperial harem were reputed to be among the most beautiful of women in the Ottoman Empire. Young girls of extraordinary beauty were sent to the Sultan’s court, often as gifts from the governors. ( Above quoted from Harem in the Ottoman Empire at )


Perhaps every man's dream is a harem and Berlin gives us an Irishman, Pat Malone who finds this dream come true. Musically Berlin has created quite a different work than Araby (seen above). He uses a number of musical conventions to create a much more mysterious mid-eastern sound including of all things the "there's a land in France" melody we all knew as kids. With some heavy bass and strange sounding progressions this song may come the closest to giving us a musical stereotype of the region. It's a great tune with a wonderfully funny set of lyrics. You gotta love this one!


Listen to this great old "Harem" song (Scorch format)

Listen to MIDI version


Across The Hot Sands


Music by: J. W. Lerman
Cover artist: Starmer


For our final piece this month, I present a fabulous work, the second and the best "discovery of the month." If you've read some of our other articles that feature marches and two-steps, you know that this style of music was immensely popular during the last years of the 19th century and early 20th. We've featured many and though they are very entertaining and exciting, in many cases one sounds a bit like all the others. Not so in this case.


First we hear that loping bass line that brings images of a camel caravan to mind, then Lerman takes us into a mysterious and musically sensuous line that has that mysterious quality. The caravan continues then another, more regal theme appears that brings images of Caliphs and Sultans to mind. A transition takes us back to the mysterious theme and a return to the beginning of the piece for a repeat to the coda. Perhaps you'll not find this work as captivating as I have but I believe it to be a rare and outstanding work of musical art created from an almost mundane genre.

Thanks for riding our magic carpet back into time and the Tin Pan Alley songs of the Mideast. We hope you enjoyed this month's feature and come back to read all of our articles and features.

Listen to this great two-step song Printable using the Scorch plug-in

Listen to MIDI version

This work has no lyrics

This article published June, 2005 and is Copyright © 2005 by Richard A. Reublin and The Parlor Songs Academy Text, images or music may not be reproduced in part or in total without express written permission of the author or an officer of the corporation. Though the songs published on this site are often in the Public Domain, MIDI renditions are protected by copyright as recorded performances.

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