Middle Eastern Music Ensemble
About the Ensemble
Director: Dr. Anne Rasmussen
Established in 1994, the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble welcomes students, faculty, and community musicians who are interested in exploring the styles and repertoires of Arab, Turkish, Persian, Armenian, and Greek musical traditions that comprise the music of the Middle Eastern. Through the continuous study of new and different repertoires of music, the ensemble has become an exemplar of the student/faculty research that characterizes the College of William & Mary. Over the years, the group has presented numerous formal concerts featuring guest artists from a variety of Arab and Middle Eastern music traditions. Through education and outreach, this ensemble has enriched campus and community life with its many concerts, guest artists, and scholars. The group generally gives 1-2 formal full-length concerts per semester, usually with a guest artist, and several shorter performances at events on campus and in the community.
The Middle Eastern Music Ensemble's instrumentation is flexible depending on the year and the ensemble's current repertoire. The ensemble generally includes:
- 'Ud (pronounced "ood") - a pear-shaped, fretless lute
- Several violins (tuned G-D-g-d)
- 1-2 violas
- Nay (rhymes with "high") - a reed flute
- Qanun (pronounced "kanoon") - a 75-string lap zither
- Percussion instruments including the Tablah/Darabukah drum, various frame drums known as Daff, Tar, or Bendir, the Riqq, a tambourine, and sometimes the Tabl Baladi (a big bass drum), Marawis (small laced drums from the Arabian Gulf), and Sagat (finger cymbals)
- On occasion, saxophone, clarinet, accordion, piano, Arabic synthesizer, or harmonica
Auditions and Rehearsals
Please contact ensemble director Professor Anne Rasmussen to introduce yourself. Musicians, including people interested in singing, should come to the first rehearsal of the semester, which is an interesting meeting and introduction to the ensemble's program for the semester.
Rehearsals take place weekly on Thursdays from 7:00pm-9:30pm in Ewell 207, the rehearsal hall on the second floor of the Department of Music.
Performances and Tours
The Middle Eastern Music Ensemble has become an international ambassador to the college by hosting musicians from the Sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Morocco. In 2014, the ensemble planned study/performance tours to both Oman (January) and Morocco (June). The ensemble's new trajectory and focus on North African music has come about as a result of collaboration with Professor Jonathan Glasser of the Department of Anthropology, who has been a member of the ensemble since 2006.
Over the years, the William & Mary Middle Eastern Music Ensemble has been invited to perform up and down the Mid Atlantic Region for a wide variety of community organizations and educational institutions including the Marhaba Club of the Tidewater Arab American community, SERMEISS: The Southeast Regional Association of Middle East and Islamic Scholars, MACSEM: The Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology, The University of Virginia, Wake Forest University, Salisbury University, Duke University, The University of Pittsburgh, Georgetown University, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, and The Prism in Charlottesville, VA. In Washington DC, the ensemble has performed at the Smithsonian Institution and in collaboration with the Spanish Embassy and the William & Mary in Washington Program. In the Williamsburg area, the Ensemble performs regularly for the Occasion for the Arts, the James City and York County school systems, various churches in the region, and countless events on the campus of William & Mary, such as Family Weekend, Earth Day, the various conferences, and for various guests and dignitaries visiting the W&M from the Middle East region.
The ensemble has done a number of interesting collaborative projects including hosting a 3 week residency with two musicians from Paris, as well as twice hosting musicians from Morocco. We regularly perform for the Hampton Roads Refugee Resettlement Holiday Party and have riased significant funds for that organization through our concert activities. The ensemble has sponsored workshops at the W&M Washington Center, for example with the faculty ensemble of the Edward Said National Conservatory from Palestine. The traditional music of Iraq has been the focus of the ensemble's seasons more than once with Amir ElSaffar, an Iraqi American who has devoted his career to salvaging Iraqi music in the face of cultural genocide. The ensemble presented a major concert in Washington D.C. sponsored by the Embassy of Spain with the theme "Andalusia: Cultural Crossroads." The concert included traditional Arab and Spanish-Mediterranean repertoire along with several traditional Sephardic pieces sung by guest vocalist cantor, Ramon Tasat. Composer Duncan Nielson and painter Liz Gill created a multi-media musical narrative for the ensemble with slide show and live narrator entitled "Fierefiz," which the ensemble presented in 2006. The ensemble has also worked with Sami Abu Shumays, director of the New York-based Zikryat, and with world reknown musicians A.J. Racy and Simon Shaheen. We have been fortunate to work with Nasreddine Chaabane and Amina Bensaad of Oujda, Morocco, both in the US and in Morocco, who are colleagues of ensemble member and Professor of Anthropology Jonathan Glasser. The ensemble is the first in the United States to study and perform Omani music and to host Omani musicians, as a result of Anne Rasmussen's fieldwork in the Sultanate of Oman.
The William & Mary Middle Eastern Music Ensemble has released two CDs which are available from Director Anne Rasmussen for $10.00.
Live in Performance (2000)
An Extraordinary Season (2013)
Since 1994, the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble has presented numerous formal concerts featuring guest artists from a variety of Middle Eastern traditions. These guest artists include:
- Munir Beken (composer, 'ud and tanbur)
- Nadim Dlaikan (nay)
- George Sawa (qanun)
- Yusef Kassab (composer, vocalist)
- Nabil Azzam (composer, violin)
- Latif Bolat (composer, vocalist, and baglama) and Kenen Yildiz (baglama)
- Sue Rudnicki (darabukkah)
- Nader Majd (vocalist, tar) and Ali Analou (tonbak)
- Maryem Hassan Toller and Ernie Toller (vocalist, nay)
- Richard and Harold Hagopian ('ud, violin)
- Karim Nagi Mohammad (percussion and dance)
- Toufiq Ben Amour (vocalist, multi-instrumentalist)
- Scott Marcus (multi-instrumentalist, Director of the University of California - Santa Barbara Middle Eastern Music Ensemble)
- Ahmad Al-Khatib and the faculty ensemble of the Edward Said National Conservatory from Palestine
- Amir El-Saffar (santur, trumpet)
- Ramon Tasat (cantor)
- Ali Jihad Racy (composer, multi-instrumentalist, Professor and Director of the UCLA Near East Ensemble)
- Dwight Reynolds (scholar, musician from the University of California - Santa Barbara)
- Bridget Robbins (nay)
- Nicole LeCorgne (percussion)
- Elizabeth Ayyoub (vocalist)
- Tomas Lozano (hurdy gurdy, guitar)
- Soheil Kaspar (percussion)
- Rahim Al-Haj ('ud, composer)
- Sami Abu Shumays (composer, violin) and Faisal Zedan (percussion)
- Nasreddine Chaaband and Amina Bensaad of Oujda, Morocco
- Salim Al-Maqrashi ('ud, vocalist) and four musicians from the Sultanate of Oman
- Hanna Khoury [Arab-Israeli-American] and Kinana Idnawi [Syria]
- Simon Shaheen [Palestinian-American] (composer, performer, educator)
- Amir El-Saffar [Iraqi-American] (composer, performer, recording artist)
- Howard Levy (harmonica)
- Harris Simon (jazz pianist)
- Nasreddine Chabaane and Amina Bensaad from Association Ahbab Cheikh Salah in Oujda, Morocco and their students,
BouAbdallah, Hakim Chitouie
- Kareem Roustom
- Nizar Fares
- Jamal Sinno
Sephardic Cantors, Ramon Tasat and Matthew Klein
- Charbel Rouhana and Sister Marana Saad from Beirut Lebanon
- Nadr Majd and Ali Analoui fom the Center for Persian Classical Music
- Aicha Redouane and Habib Yammine, from Paris, France
The ensemble has also worked with various dancers including Michele Forner, Jana Beaufait and her troupe, Najla Turczyn, and Alexandra King.
Students of the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble have created a digital catalog of scores, programs, and transcriptions spanning the lifetime of MEME known as the Middle Eastern Music Archive (MEMA). The purpose of MEMA is to be a virtual exhibit of the unique history of the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble at William & Mary. By including multiple sheet music versions of pieces that were and are used by the ensemble, the archive attempts to create an ethnographic roadmap of MEME's performance history.
For many years, MEME's projects have been sponsored by the James H. Critchfield Endowment for Middle Eastern Studies, the Program in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and the Department of Music. But we need your support! Donations to the ensemble can be made online or by check made payable to the W&M Middle Eastern Music Ensemble (2664). You can also help by purchasing our new CD featuring guest musicians from both Morocco and Oman!