New Syrian Music Recalls Happier Times

Dec 1, 2015

Though planned for years, the Dec. 5th concert by The Crossing and Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture's Takht Ensemble at Bryn Mawr College presents new music by Syrian composers right at a time when their homeland is in civil war. However, the Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns reports that the music isn't about current strife, but earlier, more peaceful times.



David Patrick Stearns: On the surface, the rehearsal isn't so unusual: Philadelphia's The Crossing Choir is singing ancient words to freshly composed music. Beyond the surface, The Crossing is singing in Arabic - only one way in which western and eastern musicians are finding common ground in a concert titled, Words Adorned.



Hanna Khoury:  I don't want to politicize the project because it never started as such. I mean, the idea was to create a work that would minimize the cultural divide, in terms of - musically speaking, would create a body of work that audiences of Philadelphia will be able to relate to whether you're an Arab or non-Arab. Aesthetically, it's supposed to blend sounds of the city, of this pluralistic, cosmopolitan place.



DPS: That's Hanna Khoury, music director of Al Bustan Seeds of Culture, which commissioned composers Kareem Roustom and Kinan Abou-afach to write choral works based on Andalusian poetry, some of it dating back to the 11th century. For Kinan Abou-afach, who has lived in Philadelphia for five years, writing Of Nights and Solace was mostly about meditations on love.



Kinan Abou-afach:  For me, this was really taking a break of what's happening in Syria. I tried my best not to be influenced by the amount destruction and death that is happening there. This was my vacation.



DPS: Why Andalusian poems?



HK: It's an era that people keep yearning back to for many reasons. Either they're crying on the ruins of something great that happened and will never happen again, or it's just like to evoke these great times with the hope they will come back.




DPS: Those Arabic microtones that are so much a part of that music might seem incredibly foreign to western singers. However, The Crossing's director Donald Nally discovered they just need getting used to.

Donald Nally: And I find myself doing it all day. [Sings] I'm finding my way into this musical language that I've heard but have never done. Never! I'm loving it.

Ticket information for the December 5th concert.