Afternoon sunlight shines through a stairwell, a whiteboard shows the intervals of six Arabic scales, and a door opens onto a studio at Bait al Oud.
I found a welcoming community of musicians and friends this year at Bait al Oud al Arabi (House of Arab Oud), located in the al Nahayan neighborhood of Abu Dhabi. Bait al Oud is a music institute with multiple branches, founded by Iraqi oud master Naseer Shamma. The Abu Dhabi branch opened in 2008 with the support of the Tourism and Culture Authority, and you can read an early article on it at this link.
Founder of Bait al Oud, Naseer Shamma, discusses the art of improvisation in a group class (top right) and students record oud instructor Sherine Tohamy playing the piece we learned that day (bottom right).
Most Bait al Oud students are Arabic-speakers of various nationalities living in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. They take private and group lessons in oud, qanun, or voice, and study solfege and music theory. Sight-reading is emphasized as an important skill, especially since most students already excel at learning by ear. This differs from the situation of many conservatory students in the U.S., who learn to sight-read well but may not learn to play by ear.
I had the chance to play with one of the ensembles at Bait al Oud during its 7th anniversary concert on February 25th. The concert featured students, recent graduates, and instructors, including Bassam Abdel Sattar, Sherine Tohamy, Ahmad Fathalla, Faisal al Sari and Samer Abu Reslan, under the supervision of Naseer Shamma. The concert was held in the Abu Dhabi Theater at The Breakwater (above). The Breakwater area is popular for its view of Abu Dhabi’s Corniche and skyline. On weekends, young people cruise through in their cars to check out the scene, and families and friends set up chairs along the water (below).
The ensemble I played with performed three pieces as a group: Ashjan al best online casino Jisr, Kan fi al Andalus, and Anshudet al Fan. The first two are instrumental pieces composed by Naseer Shamma and the third, Anshudet al Fan, is a vocal piece that we performed instrumentally. The lyrics of Anshudet al Fan were written by Egyptian poet Saleh Gawdet in 1944 in praise of King Farouq, who ruled Egypt for nearly two decades. Mohamed Abdel Wahab set the poem to music, composing an extended musical introduction to gain the King’s favor. We played this introduction and the opening lines of the song, which I especially like:
الدنيا ليل والنجوم طالعة تنورها / نجـوم تغير النجوم من حسن منظرها
ياللي بدعتوا الفنون وبإيدكو أسرارها / دنيا الفنون دي خميلة وانتوا أزهارها
والفن لحن القلوب يلعب بأوتارها / والفـن دنيـا جميلة وأنتــوا أنوراها
The world is dark, and stars come out to light it / stars that envy stars for their smart appearance
You who create and hold art’s secrets / the art world is a garden and you its flowers
Art is a melody that plays with the heartstrings / in its beautiful world, you are the stars*
Our ensemble was followed by several others, which included students from solfege, qanun, and vocal classes at Bait al Oud, as well as graduates, instructors, and guest musicians. Here’s a write-up of the concert, translated below (Fatema Atefa, Al Etihad):
In a concert organized by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority yesterday evening, the international oud player Naseer Shamma celebrated the 7-year anniversary of Bait al Oud’s presence in Abu Dhabi and announced the upcoming opening of a new branch of Bait al Oud in Khartoum. The venue for “Harmony: the 7th anniversary of Bait al Oud” was The Abu Dhabi Theater at The Breakwater, and it featured Bait al Oud’s distinguished instructors and their students, under the supervision of Naseer Shamma.
Naseer Shamma introduced the concert with a brief overview of Bait al Oud’s importance and its role in establishing and spreading culture. He mentioned the recent addition of the qanun to all of Bait al Oud’s branches. The oud section began with a performance of Law Kan Li Janah composed by Naseer Shamma and featuring Sham Ghaleb, Fateen Kanaan and Hassan Abdel Baqi. This was followed by several other pieces, including one by Mohamed Abdel Wahab.
The vocal section performed a diverse collection of songs. Emirati singer Tarek al Menhali excelled in his performance of Qalbi Illy Lowah by Mohamed Abdo, and Ronahi Mamo sang several excerpts from Umm Kulthum songs. Nancy Khalaf performed songs from Palestinian and Iraqi heritage, Yamah Ma Wel al Howa and Maru Aleh al Helween. Oud instructor Faisal al Sari concluded the program with two songs from the Emirati heritage, surprising the audience with his lovely voice for the first time.
The program from “Harmony: the 7th Anniversary of Bait Al Oud”
Bait al Oud’s Abu Dhabi branch is a thriving example of the Arabic linguistic and musical diversity I’ve observed in the UAE. Students are exposed to different tunings, techniques and rhythms of the Middle East and beyond, and bring their own musical backgrounds and interests to the Bait al Oud community. As the concert program shows, we heard pieces composed in Egyptian, Sudanese, Palestinian, Iraqi, Tunisian, and Gulf dialects and musical styles, and all of these origins were represented among the performers.
*this is my own, non-literal translation