Zills, the Endangered Species

Something’s happened over my dance career....something that doesn’t get the press like global warming, but still is a change in the bellydancer's environment that mystifies me.

Zills are becoming extinct. Students in classes are required to learn basic care and feeding requirements of zills; however outside the classroom environment, zills are rarely heard in performance habitats.

What’s happened to them? Why aren’t dancers performing with them?

The most common reason I’ve heard for the decline in the zill population is:

It’s hard to play and dance at the same time.

Therefore, in the interest of preservation, I’ve attempted to describe the zill “species” I have captured over the years, and the respective habitats I’ve found them in.

My favorite species are Saroyan...nothing against the others, but over time I’ve found Saroyans hold their pitch better and are more balanced. This is not to say you won't run into a few genetic mutations every now and then, that will happen with any species.

Zildjians are also a favorite species. I've seen them more often prowling around as a concert/jazz band percussion instrument vs. a bellydance zill, but they aren't restricted to those habitats. They have a very pure, midrange, clean and crisp call.

Zills species in my collection are:

Brass Saroyan Grecian - found in classes and small, minimal background noise venues. The lightest in weight and lowest in pitch of all the Saroyan species, so if your finger strength is on the high end you’ll need to take this into consideration. You can be too “strong” for your zills, which will make playing them more difficult.

Silver Saroyan Arabesque - found in medium size classes, large echoey performance venues, noisy restaurants. Call is a high pitched ring, but if properly played doesn’t become annoying. Good at cutting through the background noise in restaurants. Silver zills will have a higher call than copper or brass due to the metallurgical properties of the metal.

Silver Saroyan Tutankhamen - predominant habitat is restaurants, call is a tich lower in pitch than the Arabesque.

Brass Saroyan Afghani - extremely adaptable species for teaching large classes (over 20 students) and for outside performances. Nice mellow call but are the heaviest Saroyan species, therefore the zill trainer needs to make sure their fingers are strong enough.

Copper Saroyan Ghawazee - the highest domed zill of all species described so far, higher call than brass but not as high as silver. Very adaptable for all size classes and smaller outdoor venues, easily spotted by it’s unique copper color.

Brass Saroyan Tutankhamen - sometimes known as the ‘workhorse species’, this zill is a favorite for classes, private parties, and not-so-noisy restaurants.

Brass Saroyan Dervish - a unique species specially adapted to theater and outdoor performances. Call is a flat, “clacky” sound which fits many ethnic musical arrangements.

Zildjian Thins - nice, crisp sound, sustained ring. Excellent zill if you’re fortunate enough to perform with musicians instead of recorded music.

Egyptian Sagat - Thicker, higher domed, less ring than zills; perfect for Ghawazee style. Tonal pitches; requires strong hands and fingers due to the clamshell grip used when playing them.

And finally, a nondescript, one-hole, hand forged, thick, uneven tone, round elastic 1 1/2" set of sagat my father captured for me from a street vendor when he and my mother toured Cairo years ago. I don't play them for performances but now that my father has passed on, the fact he took the time to hunt down some finger cymbals for his crazy bellydancing daughter...well, you can't really place a value on that. If I had to pick a favorite species, it's these for that reason alone.

I encourage everyone to get to know your species of zill - like any creature, the more care, feeding, and attention it receives will encourage it to respond positively to you.