Orientalism derives its name from the eponymous book by the Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said. My interest in orientalism started with the constant disparity I felt between my experience of being an Arab, and the representations of Arabs which I saw in art, media, and even what claimed to be scientific literature. Those representations of “the Orient” had very little to do with what I know about my own background, my lived experiences, and everything that I have read in Arabic. This piece is a result of these reflections. It is a commentary as well as an artistic response to that phenomenon.
Another interest of mine has been the passage of time, especially the passage of musical time, as opposed to chronometric time. In my quartet, the measurement of time is passed from player to player, so as to create a flowing evolution of the sense and function of time. As each player takes control of measuring time for the whole ensemble, a natural shift in the perception of time will occur for interpreters and audience alike. The passage of time thus interacts with perspective and with focus. Every player will get the chance to manifest their experience of time, resulting in four different perspectives on the flow of time. These different time-layers ultimately create a counterpoint of tempi between players. Essentially, my quartet intersects my interests in Orientalism and the passage of time – both of which part and parcel of phenomenology, of conscious experience.
Unlike a traditional string quartet, which seeks to blend the individual player with the quartet, my piece seeks to identify the individual in opposition to the ensemble. Just as time flows smoothly from player to player, so too do sounds bleed into each other like different colors, or different perspectives continually intruding into one another – whilst alternating with solo passages. This draws a parallel with the disconnection between the individual and the system, between my individual sense of self as an Arab in America, or a Christian from a Muslim-majority country (both of which Edward Said himself experienced), and the system and politicized representation of the Middle-East and of its peoples (often viewed as only one people).
Orientalism received honorable mention in the 2021 ASCAP Foundation’s Morton Gould Young Composer Awards and was awarded first prize at the Suzanne Culley Senior Composition Competition.
La’ib an-nard (The Dice Player)
This piece is loosely based on Mahmoud Darwish’s poem which is titled “La’ib an-nard” (The Dice Player). Mahmoud Darwish was born in 1941 in the small village of Al Birwa. At the age of seven, he fled his native Palestine to Lebanon. His village was destroyed soon afterwards. The destruction of his village is mentioned several times in this poem. This poem was written in 2008, the same year of his death. It was his final artistic statement.
In this poem, Darwish employs the metaphor of rolling dice in order to recount his life and all of its haphazard elements, those outside the locus of one’s control: family, hereditary diseases, natural talents, place of birth, political circumstances and sex, for example. The text is essentially a reflection on the role of chance and luck in life.
The poem is long (23 minutes recitation) and difficult to summarize. However, it is a deeply personal, contemplative and expressive narrative, peppered with wise proverbs. Perhaps that is why it continues to be so convincing. Darwish discusses several near-death experiences, his thoughts on femininity and on religion, referencing both Christianity and Islam.
My piece is not intended to be a setting of the words. Rather, it is a commentary. The form of the music is entirely independent from that of the poem. Musically, the first three sections of the piece each cover one distinct element. Though unrelated, all the elements ultimately coalesce and fully integrate into each other.
La’ib an-nard was selected as a finalist from a pool of more than 2200 submissions from 90 countries from composers of all ages for the Kaleidoscope Ensemble’s 2019 Call for Scores. It was also awarded the second prize in Webster University’s Young Composers Competition. In 2020, La’ib an-nard was selected again as a finalist for the Kaleidoscope Ensemble’s Call for Scores from a larger pool of almost 8000 applicants.
Shubho Lhaw Qolo
Shubho Lhaw Qolo is a Syriac Aramaic chant which is traditionally sung during Christmas season. Having grown up with this chant, it deeply resonates with me. Most modern settings of this chant are bilingual: using both Aramaic and Arabic. I wrote my own setting of the chant to be performed by a solo viola rather than sung. The music draws upon a lot of exotic sounds in order to evoke sublime, otherworldly divinity, awe and marvel.
hubho Lhaw Qolo was awarded first prize for the 2020 Warren County Summer Music School’s Promising Young Composers competition. Additionally, it was selected as a winner for the 2020 Sewanee Summer Music Festival Call for Scores, and second prize at for the 2020 Ohio Federation of Music Clubs Collegiate Composition Contest.