April 15th was the graduation concert of two Bait al Oud students, Sham Ghaleb and Fateen Kanaan. It was both a jury and a concert; a committee of musicians rated their level of accomplishment as oud players. The hall at Bait al Oud was filled beyond capacity, with late-comers standing wherever they found a spot.
I loved hearing the audience sing along with the solo oud performances of famous Um Kulthum songs like el hob kolo [All of my love] and daret el ayam [The days have gone by]. Their singing was quiet but audible, like a chorus unable to restrain itself. It reminded me of a gospel choir I loved when I young, that performed every year on Martin Luther King Day. The singers had beautiful, powerful voices, but sometimes, for effect, drew their melodies inside, giving forth only a low hum that seemed to come from everywhere at once. The audience at Beit al Oud created a similar pulse of collective musical energy.
It was fun to compare this event with the juries of my past. Sham and Fateen were under great pressure with a 90 minute program of solo and small ensemble pieces, but a festive audience shared it with them. Among audience members were instructors who spent long days with them in the month before the concert, fellow oud students whose classes had been postponed, and family members who stopped in daily with food and drink. After the concert, the audience was nervous as they waited for the results—but overjoyed when they heard that both students earned a rating of excellent.
One of Sham and Fateen’s ensemble pieces was called Lamasto El Qamar, composed by Naseer Shamma and arranged by Samer Abu Reslan for three ouds and cello. Beit al Oud graduate and instructor Mazen El Bagir joined on oud and my brother, Colin Stokes, joined on cello.
The new graduates celebrate with their instructors Naseer Shamma and Sherine Tohamy after the concert.