Music and Arabic language educators from across the U.S. and Canada convened at Greenfield Intercultural Center at the University of Pennsylvania in June for a five-day course on Arab Arts & Culture presented by Al-Bustan with the support of Qatar Foundation International and the School District of Philadelphia.
It was a week of intensive learning from Al-Bustan’s faculty of musicians and scholars, along with engaging exchanges of ideas among the participants, faculty, and guest lecturers. Topics covered in the course ranged from the arts and cultural history of the Arab world, to a focus on iconic Arab artists Umm Kulthum, Fayrouz and the Rahbani Brothers. Participants were also introduced to Al-Bustan’s digital education tools and developing lesson plans on Arab cultural themes.
Morning sessions included a workshop on Arabic poetry led by Kinan Abou-Afach, who guided Arabic teachers in identifying rhythmic patterns and meter in poetry and creating their own rhythmic poems. Al-Bustan devotees know Kinan as a resident composer and cellist in Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble; he also has a deep passion and interest in poetry inspired by his father Nazih Abou-afach, a renowned Syrian poet.
Music teachers, meanwhile, were immersed in Arab music theory with Music Director Hanna Khoury, and learned to play a variety of Arab rhythms with percussionist Hafez Kotain.
Hicham Chami, qanun player and ethnomusicologist, presented a lecture on Lebanese cultural icon Fayrouz and the Rahbanis, and led afternoon sessions with Arabic teachers discussing culture/media and developing lesson plans. Additionally, all the participants attended stimulating morning lectures presented by guests Marwan Kraidy, Director of the Project for Advanced Research in Global Communication (PARGC) at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and Alon Tam, PhD candidate in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania.
The week culminated in a concert of classical and contemporary Arab music performed by the educators with Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble at Iron Gate Theater.
Participants connected with teaching professionals of diverse backgrounds and raved about the quality of their experience. Here is a sample of the feedback we received:
Our instructors created a safe space for us to take risks and really learn!
Marita, Music Teacher
The schedule and format of courses was a perfect, well-sequenced combination. I feel that my diverse learning needs were met and I reached a creative peak while continuously integrating new knowledge and understanding.
Andrew, Music & English teacher
I have gained so much knowledge from the musicians and other teachers. I hope to see them again next summer!
Anne-Marie, Arabic & Spanish Teacher
I surprised myself with all that I was able to learn and am excited to take back so much to my students.
Diana, Arabic & Poetry Teacher
There was a lot of insights and activities that I did not expect to be that influential on my approach to Arabic music. It was way beyond my expectations maybe because we were directly learning from passionate, skillful, and masterful musicians and expert teachers!
Fatima, Arabic Teacher
Read these related blog posts:
Fairuz or Amr Diab? Al-Bustan summer intern Max Dugan (recent graduate of Kenyon College and student of Arabic language) weighs in on how to select music to incorporate into Arabic classrooms.
What’s So Wrong with Mohammad Abd al-Wahaab? asks Al-Bustan program coordinator Max Dugan. Read Max’s recap of a contentious conversation which asks whether the modernization of Arab music represents an erosion of the purity of Arab music.
Collaborative Learning at Al-Bustan’s Arab Arts & Culture Course as Al-Bustan summer intern Jane Leif Abell (PhD student in Anthropology at University of Pennsylvania) describes.