Middle Eastern Music Ensemble hosts Moroccan artists

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Since its founding in 1994, the William & Mary Middle Eastern Music Ensemble has hosted multiple guest artists from a variety of traditions. But this semester is the first time that they have hosted musicians from abroad.

 Nasreddine Chaabane and Amina Bensaad, musicians from Morocco, are in the midst of a two-week residency that will culminate in a performance with the ensemble on March 30. The free concert of North African Andalusi Music will take place at Williamsburg Regional Library at 8 p.m.

Chaabane and Bensaad came to William & Mary thanks to the efforts of Jonathan Glasser, a visiting instructor of anthropology.

 Glasser has been playing with the ensemble since his arrival in Williamsburg in 2006. This year, as part of his new tenure track position in anthropology, he was able to use professional development funds to support the residency of Chaabane and Bensaad, musicians he worked with while doing fieldwork in Oujda, Morocco.

  “Most new faculty at William and Mary use start-up funds for equipment, materials, or their own research,” said Anne Rasmussen, director of the ensemble and chair of the Department of Music. “It’s unique that Professor Glasser is using his professional development funds to invite his musical colleagues from Morocco.  The ensemble has been hard at work learning a full program of ‘Andalusi’ (North African) repertoire and we are very excited to host these musicians.  Since 1994 the ensemble has hosted over 20 guest artists, but we’ve never had the opportunity for such a long residency. We will all be speaking Arabic by the time they leave!”

 During the last two weeks, the ensemble has been working with Chaabane and Bensaad through rehearsals and workshops in preparation for the Friday night concert.

 “Nasreddine Chaabane and Amina Bensaad are leading musicians in the Moroccan city of Oujda and have travelled with their group ‘Association Ahbab Cheikh Salah’ to many places throughout North Africa and Europe,” said Glasser. “This will be their first visit to the U.S. and I am excited that we will be able to introduce them to the ensemble, the College, and the wider community.  The association that they run is dedicated to teaching young people the Andalusi tradition of North Africa, so in many ways this will be a perfect fit.”

 Students in the ensemble as well as those in Glasser’s senior seminar, “North African Music,” had been preparing for the couple’s visit all semester and eagerly anticipated their arrival.

 Ensemble Assistant Tiffany Schoneboom ’12 said that she expected to benefit from the experience both as an ‘ud (stringed instrument) player in the ensemble and as a student in Glasser’s senior seminar.

 “This is an incredible opportunity for me to experience this music culture first-hand,” she said.