Distinguished guest artist Johnny Farraj and the William and Mary Middle Eastern Music Ensemble serenaded a sold out Ewell Recital Hall with tunes of West Asia on November 12, 2021. Though held on a chilly night, the audience remained warm as the community celebrated stories and cultures of the global region through the musical performances.
Born in Lebanon and of Palestanian descent, Johnny Farraj triumphs through life as he balances his roles simultaneously as a distinguished musician and a software engineer. Farraj was welcomed to William and Mary by his long time friend Anne Rasmussen, a music and ethnomusicology professor at the institution. This, as he revealed, was actually his second — and only first successful — attempt in visiting the university; the first time would have been via the “Songs for Syria” concert in March of 2020 that was cancelled due to the pandemic
After multiple Zoom rehearsals and virtual ensemble productions, Farraj was finally able to join the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble in person, with the added beauty of the group being directed by Professor Rasmussen. The ensemble has also worked with other scholars and guest artists in likewise events in pursuit of honoring the study and performance of traditional sounds and musical theories from the Middle East and the Arab World, and was delighted to add Farraj to the indispensable network of friendships.
Common topics like love and nature, but melodically expressed through Middle Eastern storytelling. It was a powerful reminder that no matter how different everyone’s experiences may get, humans can manage to find a way to connect through their mere ability to go with the flow of life. One may perceive the world through a particular lens, but everybody has a body behind that lens.
Though he hopes this would not be his last visit, Johnny Farraj has thankfully left some unmissable traces through which the public can find him. He is the creator of MaqamWorld, the leading online reference on Arabic music theory that is now translated into 8 languages. He is also the co-author of “Inside Arabic Music” along with colleague Sami Abu Shumays, and intends to keep serving as an advocate and educator on the matter.
The Middle Eastern Music Ensemble with Johnny Farraj was a featured event of the Asian Centennial at William & Mary, organized to commemorate a century of Asian students at the university.