Boston College organized a free Arabic music concert on rainy Sunday night, April 15th, at Gasson Hall. Prof. Ann Lucas said the introductory remarks first in English and then in Arabic. She welcomed us with “أهلا و سهلا” and also wished that the program will continue in the future (في مستقبل) Many of the audiences also were Lebanese. I stood throughout the show because all the chairs were taken. It was my first time at such a formal Arabic music performance. Before my exposure to music of the same region was mostly dabke and zajal music.
The main show of the evening featured Lebanese oud performer Charbel Rouhana. Before he went on stage, the ensemble and chorus performed Levantine folk songs featuring themes of love and scenes of nature in the first half. Children of the Center for Arabic Culture the opened the show with My Darlings Around me (حبايبنا حولي), conducted by Syrian lawyer and conductor Alma Riceh. This choir is the only children’s Arabic choir in Massachusetts. The remaining choruses were directed by Nizar Fares, a Beiruiti who holds a PhD in musicology. During certain intervals, the Qanun player also had his solo parts and the audience responded with loud applause.
Dr. Fares, who also plays the Oud and is a musician in his own right, praised Charbel Rouhana to have accomplished what he thought as excellence that required an average person at least four times the amount of effort. Rouhana took stage and played several more numbers of Levantine songs as well as Oud-centric musical arrangements for us. The later learned that the oud is an instrument 3500 years old and has heavily influenced the Spanish guitar.
|Gasson Hall April 15th; Picture found from website|
I also attended an Oud performance in Beirut, where I sat very formally at first; but I soon realized that Oud could also be entertained for a dance party. The crowd in the bar rose to their feet and also made requests upon the performer. I later found out that Rouhana also performs Oud in jazz style.
In this case, at Boston College, it was modeled off of a European influenced understanding of a performance. I had read about Umm Kulthum’s rise in fame as well as her collaboration with old forms of performances. While she retained the formal Arabic language in her pronunciations, she also contended with the new arrival of film and dressed in European dresses.
|Umm Kulthum and her ensemble|
The Lebanese dialect lyrics of this musical performance was transliterated and translated for us to follow. I could understand “moon” and “lover.” During the call and response sections, I also participated in the choruses. I noticed that the gender of the addressee is important in Arabic; God would be presented as a gender-specific figure in literature and poetry. In contrast, Indian Sufi music addresses God in gender-neutral terms.
After the last amusing song Qahwa (coffee), a nun from Lebanon presented an award to Boston College’s music department, commended this performance and also praised the ability for music to communicate through all cultures. She also looked forward to future performance exchanges in Boston. Rouhana also signed his book on Maqam for people who were interested in purchasing it. I would like to learn more about Arabic music theory in the future.