In Fall 2009, Al-Bustan formed the Philadelphia Arab Music Ensemble, open to youth and adults interested in learning to play and sing classical/folk/traditional Arab music.
Offered in partnership with University of Pennsylvania since Fall 2011, this community ensemble is led by Music Director Hanna Khoury, with Kinan Abou-afach and Hafez Kotain. Classes meet once per week at University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Music. The repertoire varies each semester and is informed by the music of the guest artists invited each season as part of Al-Bustan Music Concert Series. Each semester culminates with at least one concert performance.
Members of the Ensemble are of diverse backgrounds, Arab and non-Arab, those studying Arabic, and those interested in a new musical experience. As one college student noted upon reflection of her first year with the Ensemble:
I have been studying violin for 12 years, and this is my first experience with Arab music… we learn so much by rote, by ear… it’s a slow process to learn how to improvise but it’s very rewarding. I learned a lot of new techniques, new trills, and I also learned to think more lyrically, to be more freer in embellishments, and I think I can take this to whatever music I’m playing.