While the Philadelphia Arab Music Ensemble has always been one of our most fun and educational initiatives, it may now also claim to be our most well attended semester-long program. Enrollment in the Fall 2015 semester was just shy of 100 members, and now the Spring semester enrollment has crossed into triple-digits with over 110 University of Pennsylvania students and community members participating in Arabic choir (led by Music Director Hanna Khoury), instrumentals (led by Hanna Khoury and Kinan Abou-afach), and two percussion sections (led by Hafez Kotain). As the ensemble flourishes, we are excited for the possibilities that lay ahead in our partnership with the University of Pennsylvania.
Thematically, the two semesters have focused on the historical creation of Arab identity through music, poetry, and rhythm. In the Fall 2015 semester, the repertoire consisted primarily of music related to Al-Bustan’s then central project Words Adorned and muwashshahat-a genre of poetry popularized in and profoundly connected with al-Andalus. As a guiding lens, muwashshahat and Word Adorned illustrated for participants how the mythical past is recalled and re-imagined in present times to form our self-understandings. The repertoire in the Spring 2016 semester includes songs more directly related with contemporary Arab nation-states, with the intention to show (1) the rich musical traditions in different regions, (2) how those musical traditions inform and are informed by their regions’ respective cultures, and (3) the aesthetics that tie different Arab musical traditions together. Thus far, our ensemble members have loved the contextualization of the music which they perform.
Each semester we introduce participants to at least one guest artist whom we invite for a demonstration open to the public. Vocalist Dalal Abu Amneh was our guest in the Fall, demonstrating the nuances of Arab vocal tradition with her beautiful renditions of several muwashshahat songs. This semester she returns to Philadelphia for a program reviving Sufi poetry, with a demonstration at UPenn on April 16 and a concert at Trinity Center for Urban Life on April 16 and a demonstration at UPenn on April 14.
“During Dalal’s performance, I felt transported to this transcendent field. All the problems I had previously been mulling over seemed to melt away; I was entrenched in and enchanted by the music…Her voice was fresh and captivating. It was interesting to hear the same music we learned in class this semester performed with such beautiful technical style. I really enjoyed hearing all of the different variations in her voice, and learning about the different singing styles for folk and classical Arabic music.” – Nikita, choir member
“I feel genuinely honored and privileged to have been able to perform with Dalal Abu Amneh last Thursday. Her voice was incredibly powerful and listening to her explain the differences between folk and classical music with spontaneous demonstrations was an opportunity like no other. I felt like the entire concert was tremendously interactive as she detailed the differences between singing from your nose area and chest area and continuously taught us more about music in the Arab world.” – Richa, choir member