Expanding Horizons Through Arab Music at Penn
by Jeanne Leong | February 19, 2014
After hearing Arab music for the first time at a wedding a couple of years ago, University of Pennsylvania senior Idress Syed was so enthralled with the sounds that he soon began taking drumming lessons in the Arab Music Ensemble percussion class at Penn.
“The sounds were just mesmerizing,” Syed says.
. . .Taught by Arab musicians Hanna Khoury and Hafez Kotain from the Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, an arts and education organization in West Philadelphia, the class is offered through Penn’s Music Department and the Greenfield Intercultural Center.
Growing up in Atlanta, Syed, whose ancestry is Indian, sees some similarities between the Arab music and the Indian cultural events he’s attended at which drummers performed.
“The beats aren’t the same, but the feeling is the same,” says Syed. “It’s not just hitting the drum to make a sound, it’s to make people happy, to create the atmosphere where people will engage with each other. It’s a lot more than making a pleasant sound.”
. . .After taking an Arab language class at Penn, junior Amy Cass’ interests expanded to include Arab culture and music. A semester of studying abroad in Jordan followed, and after returning to Penn, the international relations major from Laconia, N.H., joined the choir.
“In the Arabic alphabet,” explains Cass, “they have several letters that we don’t have in English, so they’re sounds that are not natural for English speakers to make.”