Thank you, thank you, thank you. My senior recital was a great success thanks to the wonderful work of all the performers, Naomi Oster (my co-director), and various professors.

I would like to make a point that was neglected in the program. I have somehow neglected to include Matthew Michelic, Professor of Viola at Lawrence University, for his wonderful help on Electronic Battleship. We actually spent the entirety of winter term together, and he was instrumental in making Electronic Battleship the quality work that it became.

And of course, thank YOU, to everyone that came to the recital. I was overwhelmed with the positive responses I got from everyone, and I am so glad that it turned out to be a memorable experience for the audience. It was wonderful to hear everyone’s responses and what parts were really memorable to them.

Since the recital, I have had many people come up to me asking for a recording. I regret to say that I will not be sharing any direct recording of the recital to the public. However, there is something a little more exciting in the mix.

I am collaborating with the wonderful videographer, AJ Williams to create a video album based on my recital, which will be available by early June. We are now in the process of making a few music videos and recording some of the works so that we can present them to you in as effective and professional way as we can. The reason why is because I believe a direct recording of the recital would fail to capture the intense mood of contemplative religiosity that was quite present in the space. The concert venue was also frankly not the best space for a recording. It was perfect for the concert, but less so for recording. Finally, I do believe that the essential message of the recital would be easier to capture in a 5 song album than it would be in a long youtube video titled “recital.” I appreciate everyone’s patience in this and I hope you will find the end product worth the wait!

If you would like to get acquainted with what to expect, please take a look at this PDF. It is the program from the recital, explaining what pieces were in it, the text from the songs, and a cohesive background of what to expect. I highly encourage you to take a look, as it not only gives you some insight into the work I have been doing lately, but it also has some beautiful poetry which deserves to be shared

A Night of Infinite Resignation Program

While you wait, there are still many opportunities to hear new music until June, and I’m so excited to share some of these performances with you!

The first event is coming up this Saturday, April 22 at 8 PM CST, where the Lawrence University Wind Ensemble will premiere my piece, On the Mountains of Orphalese…! This is, without a doubt, my favorite and best piece I have written during my time at Lawrence. I shared a recording of the reading the Wind Ensemble did last year, but now we have the opportunity to hear it after it has been rehearsed for the past four weeks. Here is an excerpt from the program notes:

This piece is special to me because it was written during a difficult time in my life where I felt extremely isolated and had an intense longing to leave where I was and start over. At those times, I turn to literature and poetry to find meaning somewhere away from reality. I thought about a work by the Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran, a poetic epic that neatly ties his entire world view, and lays it bare for the world to witness; his book of poems, The Prophet. Orphalese is the setting of this tremendous work, where a prophet is stranded from their home in a distant place, waiting for a ship to take them back. Interestingly enough, Orphalese is not a place that exists, but it is a place where a prophet teaches, a place of holy insight far away from us.

Hopefully, this will inspire you enough to come, or to listen to the live stream! If you are away and would like to listen to this work, please use this link at the time of the concert to hear it live with us! My piece will be somewhere in the middle, first one after intermission.

Please click here to view the live-stream!

Please also be on the lookout for an opera scene, and a project I’m very excited about, a collaboration with a prog-rock band at Lawrence University, The Goat Wizard! Both of which I will be posting more about soon!

Hello all. I’m so sorry for not having made an update since the election. A lot has happened since then, including the conclusion of my semester in Austria and many works of hard preparation for some exciting things to come!

It has been a bit quiet in this site lately, mainly because I’ve been in the developing stages of a couple big projects. There is a lot planned for my last term at Lawrence, and I hope you can join me for them, whether in person or through here.

The first thing that’s happening is my senior recital, dedicated to Aleppo, and title A Night of Infinite Resignation, I and twenty other performers, directors, videographers, have come together to explore identity and trauma through time. It has been an immense process, filled with many nights of rehearsals, planning, introspection, and learning. And in these next two weeks it will be even more so! This recital is not just a concert of 5 pieces, but a complete gesamkunstwerk, an all-encompassing work.

Something I learned within the past year is how much I love collaboration. Not just among musicians, but across a diversity of fields.  One of my favorite concerts while I was in Vienna was a collaboration between a trombone player, an organist, a composer, and a dancer, and they did an hour-long show, similar to what I will be doing, based on the passion of Christ. Unlike any concert I’ve seen before, that beautiful, hour long moment is engraved into my mind, because for that moment time froze and I was taken to what felt like the core of reality, that I had woken up from a slumber which we call our sense reality. This is what happens when music, poetry, and drama marry.

Naomi, the wonderful co-director, had this to say about the recital. “Nebal asks his audience to answer questions that reach the core of what it means to be human. Where does pain come from? How are we to heal if we are historically and actively marginalized?”

For all my friends in the Appleton area, I invite you to come see the concert live, April 9 at 8PM in the Lawrence University Chapel. For anyone that can’t make it, the music will be coming out as an album within the next month or so, and a video album will be available for all to see by June.

Also happening this term, my wind ensemble piece, On the Mountains of Orphalese…,  will be premiered by the Lawrence University wind ensemble April 22 8PM at the LU Chapel, where you can watch it live or view via livestream! Also on the menu is an opera scene, done by members of the Lawrence university opera department, led by Copeland Woodruff. There will also be another, much less formal concert happening later towards May, where I will be talking a bit about my experience in Vienna, and what I learned about marginalized minorities there and how to use that information for increased diversity embracement here in the U.S., where my Euphonium sonata Three Places in NOVA, will be premiered by Sean Jobes! Please also be on the lookout for an organ piece, and a very exciting, very bold project for next year!

Thank you to everyone who has supported me the past few years and put your trust and support into my education and artistry. I hope you will find something meaningful from what I post within the next couple months.

 

Dear friends,

It is very much possible that Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. A result that has caused many of my dearest loved ones a sense of panic and distress to levels that I have never seen before. Many of us are witnessing an immediate and glaring signal that we, as People of Color, as LGBT+ people, as artists, are not welcome in this unforgiving world of hate. I myself feel numb, having suffered a panic attack for a few hours, I suddenly stopped and felt my own soul shield up, my brain knows it’s survival time.

I’m sure many people understand this feeling, and it will spread as fear engulfs the planet. But we must stay strong. We must stick together, and be so brave as to love one another in ways radically tighter than before. I do believe that as artists we can create works that can channel the negative energy of our world and use it to create good, but that will require courage. Now that we are essentially abandoned by our government, it is up to us to reshape our own communities, and it must be as inclusive and welcoming as possible, always with the radical intent of destroying racism. We must unite to provide people of all sexual orientations, all genders, all ethnicities and all classes a safe space. We as artists can do that.

We must stop avoiding politics in our music, as if what happens in the world does not affect our art. That’s not true, stop bragging about not being political, because that hurts me as an artist whose life is political. Art cannot create social change in itself, but it can channel our frustrations and our passions and find a common ground in humanity that one can’t find through conversation.

I have been frustrated with new art in America. The best of it has been coming from People of Color, yet the classical world is so elitist, it now stings with the same hatred that elected Donald Trump. White composers have done next to nothing for composers of color, it is still Christian dominated, women in the industry are growing but barely. Meanwhile, there are still many people reluctant to write art relevant to the now infinite anxiety of our world. The disenfranchised needs more artists, and we need art that can reconnect us all as people.

Now, who wants to join me in dedicating their work towards bettering humanity? As artists, we have that power, why not use it?

With love,

Nebal Maysaud

I want to apologize for not keeping people in the loop as often as I would like. I’ve thought many times about updating my blog but I had a difficult time figuring out what I want to write about. There are cultural differences here which are strong, there’s my internship at the refugee house, my many many complaints on German grammar, and a new work has been completed! So I will try to give a brief summary of what happened these four weeks and what I learned in that time.

First off…

Berlin and Paris

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Berlin and Paris, for a week. I had family in Paris and I convinced my cousin to meet me in Berlin. It was a fabulous time with lots of food and music. The first day we arrived in the afternoon and took a walk around the city. We walked around the Brandenburg gate, got some ice-cream and took a stroll through an outdoor art sale.

Then I got to scratch off something off of my life’s goal’s list. We saw the Berlin Philharmonic perform Debussy’s Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un Faune, Arcana by Varese, and Symphonie Fantastique by our favorite Hector Berlioz. The Debussy I thought was pretty good, it wasn’t the best interpretation ever and was a bit quieter than I expected so it didn’t blow me out of the water. The Varese, by contrast, requires an orchestra so huge that it can only blow you away. I loved it but it was also very clear that this is not the orchestra’s specialty. They then proved that point with the most stunning performance I’ve heard in my life. I’m not kidding, I was in tears after about four notes into the Berlioz.

After that, I went to a few museums, and I was really impressed by Berlin’s ability to take stuff from the Middle East and put it on display. Their collections of architecture from Babylon and Mesopotamia were absolutely stunning.

And Paris was, even more, fun. Mostly because I got to celebrate Eid al-Adha with my family and they were eager to show off what the city had to offer. We went up to the Eiffel tower and saw the whole city from there! Then we took a walk through the Champs-Élysées and got back to my Aunt cooking way too much food for me. I also saw La Cathedrale de Notre Dame, the Louvre (that took an entire day), and La Palais de Versailles! The garden was gorgeous, I spent the whole afternoon just wandering through it and I only got through the very beginning!

So after this, many people have asked me about the treacherous task of creating…

Relationships with other students

After orientation, I was able to get away from the scary men and actually befriend a few of the students. I’m very much the type of person that has only a few close friends and otherwise prefer isolation. This term has been very different for me in that my relationships with people are not determined by membership in some sort of group or clique, but rather through a number of individual relationships. This has the major advantage that dangerous people cannot enter a group space and make it unsafe for everyone. Which is better than I can say for Lawrence, where abusers continually invite themselves in group spaces I’m in and force me to leave. Here safe spaces for me are not officially formed but instead arise from these individual connections I have made with POC in the city, people at my internship, and connections with people at home, who I am grateful for. This is all a longwinded way of saying that I have made friends here without compromising my safety, people that know me personally knows I’m healing from a number of abusive situations at Lawrence, and I’m proud of myself for that and grateful for those that are helping me.

On my next post, I’ll talk about my trip to Salzburg, Halstatt, and Graz, as well as what I learned in regards to healing and how issues from home will still follow you abroad. Those will be coming very soon because I’m quickly learning how to submit things on time!

Bis Spater!

 

 

 

A lot happened these past couple weeks so I’m just gonna lay it all out as much as I can and give my initial assessment of what it’s like here.

I landed at the Vienna International airport a day ahead of orientation, so I got to unpack my things and get settled in my new home. I noticed two things right away, (1) omg this cab ride is so expense and (2) omg, this city is gorgeous! Vienna is apparently very dedicated to constantly keeping their old buildings in great condition. Most of these buildings were built in the 19th century and have been treated wonderfully over the years. Here’s a panorama picture right outside of my apartment!

Vienna Nussdorfer Strasse

I’m not kidding, all the buildings look like that. And they just get more elegant as you get closer to the center!

So after the first day, I had to leave Vienna immediately. We were told to meet at the airport and we would take a bus to Mariazell for a four-day orientation. It was a bit strange because I was only meeting new Americans at that point, and I was frankly uninterested. The group studying here is upper-class and white, as one might expect. I immediately met quite a few fraternity guys and they were frankly really scary. But then I just took a deep breath, accepted the fact that I’m in a new space, and just went on. The first couple days was filled with all sorts of microaggressions like “oh, you’re MUSLIM?!! I never met one of those before!”, “yeah man, don’t white people just suck” (this was said to me by a white man, we barely met) and a number of others that I won’t share. Some people I called out and they (fake) apologized. But there were a good number of people I decided I just need to avoid this entire time. Of course, these things happen anytime I meet new people, but this group was particularly insistant.

Meanwhile, I won’t even talk about the classism here. I’ll leave that to your imagination.

So I was a bit lonely at the beginning, but I was still meeting new people and more importantly, I got to explore the city of Mariazell. It’s a fascinating place of pilgrimage, with a statue of Mary that’s centuries years old right in the center. The cathedral is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. It was originally in the gothic style, but during the counterreformation, they expanded it and adjusted it to a baroque style. I spent hours just sitting in this building admiring all the intricate little details that went into this giant work of art. Some pictures below.

After Mariazell, we got back to Vienna. I ate a lot of street food and did very little fancy stuff because those cost money. But I did get to walk around and enjoy the incredible scenery Vienna has to offer. There are a couple bars around here, some taverns, and best of all, cheap food! Just being here makes me better understand the muses at work for the composers I have looked up to my whole life. Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Berg, Schonberg, Webern, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, etc. They were all here, I can feel a sense that art has to be the very best in the world here (whether that’s good or bad, you can decide). It’s also a staunch reminder of how much white supremacy is infused into this artform, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

So what else happened? Well, I’m doing a public service internship here. I’m going to be helping out at a refugee house 8-10 hours a week and will be looking more into how public service works around here. For example apparently, people give more money to animal welfare than children. I also am taking lessons on organ and composition as soon as I find a teacher and I can’t wait to get back on the pipes! Pieces are coming along rather well and recital planning is only a little bit behind schedule (oops).

There’s so much more I want to write about. Orientalism is REALLY strong here. The racism here is very different, it’s much less violent so I like that more. There’s a lot of denials here (no! racism doesn’t exist here!) also there’s apparently a fascist running for president. These are just sort of little trends I’ve been noticing, but definitely expect me to get into a lot more detail on those in later blog posts.

For now, please enjoy these pics of Vienna! I’ll keep you updated soon when I start taking lessons and make my trip to Berlin to see Symphonie Fantastique and the Turangalila! As well as a brief excursion to Paris 🙂 Auf Wiedersehen!

It has been an intense year so far, and it seems like it’s only going to get busier from here. Right now I’m at Dulles International Airport waiting for my plane to take me to Vienna. So many thoughts are passing through my mind as I plan ahead for these next four months. I’m trying to figure out how I’m gonna eat, if transportation will be ok, all of these sorts of things one can’t really figure out until they get there. But the big question that’s been on my mind lately is How did I get here?

To be quite honest, I’m still not sure why I was selected to go. Why did they accept my application when I submitted it a week late and wrote the essays in an hour? My decision to apply came not even from a desire to explore new territory or anything like that. I just couldn’t imagine spending a whole year at Lawrence again.

You see, this past academic year has been really stressful and isolating. There were so many people in my life I had learned were extremely toxic and I had to cut-off friendships from some of the people I was most attached to at Lawrence. In other words, when you start fighting your oppression, it’s gonna suck. For a long time, I felt unsafe and had to use my energy to watch out for myself. And the worst of it was felt from my own housemates, who stopped talking to me because I was being “racist against white people” among other arrays of microagressions.

So one day in a state of anxiety, I opened up my computer and checked the deadlines for studying abroad. I knew I couldn’t afford it, but I’d rather bust my arse to find a way than endure more of this. The application was apparently due that day. So I just got to work immediately, asked for an extension and was able to turn it in a week after the deadline. I still owe my advisers, the abroad director and my professors my life for writing my recommendations so quick!

After that, I went to work looking for as many scholarships as I can. I didn’t get any IES scholarships, even the diversity one (despite the fact I’m one of about 4 POC there) but I was able to get some from Lawrence, and I was approved for an addition to to my student loans.

I feel like I was was fated to go. I kept getting these signals that I needed to get out, and it wasn’t just that I needed to leave, but I needed to be somewhere else. I didn’t realize until later that all of pain I endured from this past year was a sign that I had someplace better to be.

So I guess that’s how I got here. It’s still surreal though. Going to Europe has always been something like a display of class to me. That it was a luxury only to the rich, and even though they say there’s money to help you out, for an Arab musician with few connections that’s not the case at all. I think this  is why I always get shy around people that say they’re so jealous of me or how lucky I am. I guess I am lucky, there was so much luck that happened in this process, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. It was worth it though. So here’s hoping Vienna can open doors I would have never seen coming!

I’ll try to keep you all updated at least every 2 weeks, if not weekly. But for now, oh shoot they’re boarding…

 

This past winter someone shared this wonderful event called Art Song Lab. It pairs composers and poets to create an art song together, with everyone coming to Vancouver for workshops and the premiere. It turned out to be one of the most magical experiences of my life. I was paired with Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, who eventually became one of my favorite poets alive, and also a dear friend. 

Our song came out of several conversations about post 9/11 racism, and what it’s like being a Middle Eastern person in the United States. It seems as if this project sort of came to us and was less of a product of our skills as artists and more of a message which we were fated to share.

This piece opens many conversations about who the piece is for. I still cannot answer it, but I know it’s not for white people, although it might be a good source of trying to understand their privilege. It’s not for any person of color because the issue must be firmly Middle Eastern, although this can be a great source of community building. This piece is not for my fellow Middle Eastern brethren, even though it may be a source of healing, as it was for me. The only person this piece may be for is Alan Kurdi, the boy with the red shoes, a victim of white sensationalism, whose photo was shared across the internet in a frenzy because somehow white people are ok with looking at the dead body of a beautiful brown boy. I hope that with this piece, it will help his soul rest.

It seems as though we are in the midst of a cultural shift where social issues are entering privileged spaces (the classical music world in this case) with more intensity than before.  There were many songs that were social justice related at Art Song Lab and the people were dedicated to creating a safe space. In Vancouver, where the festival took place, I found myself in a loving and supportive community right away, something I have to work really hard to find here in the US.

Yet, I also witnessed people reacting by refusing to listen to the voices of the oppressed. There is a strong desire to get away from an issue and stay neutral, especially in the art world. It is for that reason that white people will never understand this work.

White listener, it’s important to understand that we are angry, but a big reason why we are angry is that no one sees the love that is there among my own people. For my listeners who are people of color, I hope this piece will be a source of healing for you.

God bless Alan Kurdi and his family. May Allah look over him and support his loving family as they grieve and struggle to live in a world where they endure so much suffering. May God grant justice to those who have abused his name and bring comfort to those who grieve him.

for Alan Kurdi (2013-2015)

Written in Collaboration with the wonderful poet, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, tenor William George and pianist Corey Hamm.

Performed at Song Launch, as part of the Queer Arts Festival 2016 for Art Song Lab 2016

www.artsonglab.com

Song for a Small Guest
Alan Kurdî (2013-2015)

Seaweed followed the law. It released you
to waves bussing your small body

down, down dark currents, silver
minnow tunnel. Your red shirt swallowed

the Aegean, billowed and swelled,
but your shoes stayed on. By them the sea

knew your refuge dream, restored you to shore
so your father Abdullah could find you,

a guest of the sea. Without guests
all houses would be a grave, the poet wrote

making a worm from mist, a bird from sand.
What prayer transforms this empty

castle guards watch, ignorant of the gift
to shelter each other? Who will help

close, open, close your velcro laces
for the journey your father dares

for your sake? You, a gift loved with milk
cake and honey. You, names altered

to keep you safe—not Mohammed, Jesus.
Not Muslim, Christian. Hush

don’t bother now as white tourists gather
multiplying your image on their little screens

to console each other. You are not their orphan
of beach foam, Alan flag bearer

watching from the lap of God.

 

I strongly recommend listening to the recording before reading my notes. It’s very important to me that you, as a listener get the most personal experience with this piece, and let it establish a place for yourself before you start to explore it even more.

 

Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to work with the Lawrence University Wind Ensemble on a reading. I want to thank Dr. Mast for arranging the session, and members of the LU Wind Ensemble for their artistry during this reading. You all brought so much life to this please, thank you.

This piece is special to me because it was written during a difficult time in my life where I felt extremely isolated and had an intense longing to leave where I was and start over. At those times, I turn to literature and poetry to find meaning somewhere away from reality. I thought about a work by the Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran, a poetic epic that neatly ties his entire world view, and lays it bare for the world to witness; his book of poems, The Prophet. Orphalese is the setting of this tremendous work, where a prophet is stranded from their home in a distant place, waiting for a ship to take them back. Interestingly enough, Orphalese is not a place that exists, but it is a place where a prophet teaches, a place of holy insight far away from us.

Orphalese is only briefly mentioned in the beginning, but I was left imagining what this place would look like. Where, in this world, could exist such a place where the people can truly recognize the prophet among them and listen to what they have to say? When all around me I hear words of hatred, pettiness, and a refusal to hear what anyone has to offer. Where could exist such a place, where an immigrant could arrive at some unknown place and be welcome to such a loving community and given the resources to learn and teach the people of that place what they know? Certainly not here, where the message is consistently becoming clearer, outsiders are not welcome.

It seems like the current land of the prophet is going to be in danger for a long time. As people sit down reading this, contemplating whether or not the decedents of their own lord and savior can be trusted to enter the country. The art, culture, education, social progress all need to be halted so that perhaps one day the magic can return to the mountains. The current mountains where water was turned into wine is now under fire, and so I must take refuge in the mountains of Orphalese, perhaps I can still find meaning there.

 

 

Today marks a very special day as I drew the double bar line on the first movement of my piano sonata, The Arrogance of Time. In the past 3 weeks I’ve written 500 measures for this first movement, a record for me. How was I able to write so much? the reason is because the piece itself has been a project I started thinking about since this summer, and its inspiration has been something I’ve carried my whole life.

Content Note: The following contains information on suicide and mental health, if either of these things trigger you in any way, or remind you of negative experiences you’d rather not recall at the moment, I would not be offended and in fact, I’d advise you don’t read the rest of this post. It will not negatively impact your experience with the piece since these are more influences rather than a program.

My aim with The Arrogance of Time is to give a memoir of my experiences with my own mental health as well as what I learned by being around others with similar, worse, or just drastically different experiences that all have something to do with mental health and yield a similar result, the formation of a close bond with the individual that I will never forget and the need for us all as human beings to be open about sharing our struggles and being willing to help.

Everyone has unique experiences with their anxiety attacks. Mine vary, but usually they’re silent and unnoticeable to an outsider. Growing up I learned that showing an anxiety attack will make things worse and so my body eventually adapted and I got good at hiding them when they happened, but it’s still miserable.

In a panic attack my worst enemy is time. I tell myself “it will be over soon, just hold it out for a couple minutes” but just as my thoughts get distorted so does my sense of time. Seconds feel like hours, and minutes feel like days, while I get bombarded by what feels like a smoke grenade being detonated in my head, sometimes taking days to clear up. 

Musically, I portray this feeling right off the bat, with various attempts to fix a beat to tempo. There are swirling thoughts in the forms of different themes that appear in and out of a cloud of notes of an ambiguous center. It’s a sonata form with 2, 3, or 4 themes, depending on how you look at it. It has 2, 3, 4, or more pitch centers depending on how you hear it, it can have different pitch centers at the same time while still being the same material. The development’s ambiguous and it’s hard to determine what is a cadence when I can’t establish anything else. One thing I do know for sure though, is that this movement is very personal, it’s a musical portrayal of my thought process during an anxiety attack. It takes various things happening in my life, good, bad or neutral, and makes them all bad. It finds ways of to create suffering when I have no reason to. I’m unable to tell if my friends hate me or not, if I’m lonely or not, and even when I lose all sense of time and relation, I’m still not even able to convince myself that I’m having an anxiety attack. The piece ends solidly in A minor, turning the themes into a bit of Rachmaninoff style desperation taking all the themes, a cadential rest from panic towards melancholy. 

To those of you who are suffering or have suffered through anxiety, depression, or any mentally related illness, I’d like to dedicate this piece to you. You deserve to be noticed, and seen as the heroes you are. You deserve better, from all of us, and I hope you’ll accept this gift as a way of support and bring some good to the way many of us deal with mental health in our society.

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Hello my dear reader. I’ve noticed it has been quite a while since I’ve posted something and I must apologize for that. My next premiere is not until October, but I have been super busy writing so much music that I’d like to catch you up on what I’ve been working on.

Omnia-Sacrae – Fantasia on the Kyrie for two antiphonal organs, one obviously bigger than the other

As you can see I have yet to learn about writing pieces that can be performed again. I am very excited about this piece. It will be performed at the Lawrence University Composition Studio Recital on Sunday, Nov. 8. I took a very philosophical approach to this piece, examining the different ways one can view religion, and not in a way where we usually separate Christianity from Islam from Buddhism, but in a way that can only be deeply and tremendously personal to each one of us. I explore ideas of free will by giving the players different options and play with the relationship of 5 and 7 and the relationship of God and humankind. More elaborate program notes will be posted as we get closer to November, along with a downloadable score for your own analysis!

Three Places in NoVa – Concerto for Euphonium and Wind Ensemble

I am currently making the finishing touches on this piece and I’m very excited to get the chance to share this with all of you. I good friend of mine, Sean Jobes, come up to me with the idea. I was talking about a concert that may happen in the future in Northern Virginia, where both of us are from, and he said “well, I’d love to play your Euphonium Concerto, but you don’t seem to have one.” Well, Sean, here’s my response. The piece is in 3 short movements, it’s still heavy with inner reflection and meaning, but it has a lighter character to it than my other pieces. Sean will be entering this piece in the Lawrence University Wind Ensemble Concerto Competition, so everyone wish him luck! No movement lasts more than five minutes, but each one is a portrait of our experiences in Northern Virginia. More info and program notes will be published as we get closer to a potential performance date.

The Arrogance of Time – Sonata for solo piano

This piece will have two performers, Joey Arkfeld, to whom the piece is dedicated to, will give the recording and East Coast premiere. Derrick Hahn will give the Lawrence University premiere. Both of them are fantastic pianists and (I hope) this piece will speak to both of them. I’m an incredibly anxious person, this past spring I faced tremendous mental challenges and various anxiety attacks that greatly weakened me during that time. This piece is a reflection of that, I want to capture the fuzz in your head that comes from constant overthinking and constant worrying over your own social anxiety. I want to capture the default sense of depression and the work it takes to contain your own thoughts, and I want to capture that feeling of hopelessness when your on the third day of your own anxiety attack. Performance looks to be sometime this winter or spring.

Songs of Love and Sin – Encyclical for Voice, Viola, and Oud (or guitar)

I am very excited to announce a collaboration with Lubana Al Quntar, a fantastic vocalist in the DC area. This will be another song cycle, similar to Holy Doubts and Empty Prayers, and I plan on writing many more. I use the term encyclical because I’m making a specific religious assertion in this piece, similar to what the pope does when he announces his encyclical (for example, his last one was on climate). This is entirely my own invention and I may just disown it, but I’ll see how it works out for now. In this piece I will examine the relationship of Middle Eastern and Western Culture, and the particular loneliness that one can be forced into when they’re caught between these two cultures. In some cases, it appears people are ignorant on both sides, one may appear a safe haven from the other, it could be that your own character could have evolved into one that doesn’t fit either culture. I also plan on exploring gender identity in the Middle East and the particular torment that we face on a daily basis thanks to western intervention, the nature of theocracy, the backwards nature of Sharia law, and the particular hypocrisy of close-mindedness defended by a twisted religious assertion. This will be released as a bandcamp album with a concert in a couple years. Yes, it will be in like, 7 languages.

Akasha – Cantata

This I’m also excited about! I am collaborating with Henry Dykstal, a great writer here at Lawrence. I don’t want to give away too much about this except, come to my senior recital and witness it yourself.

Well, that’s it folks! I also have a commission for an organ piece but in honesty I don’t know what to do with it yet, but I will be sure to get more information to you as soon as it’s available. Hope you all had a great summer and are as excited as I am for a great year of music.

There’s a video of Holy Doubts and Emptry Prayers now! On top of the excitement of my new piece, Electronic Battleship, you can also enjoy the theatrical aspects of this song, and also get some explanations for the unusual sounds you’ve heard. This is such a theatrical piece and I’m so fortunate to have Joanne Bozeman video tape the performance. Enjoy.

So you may have noticed my joke of a program note I posted on my blog a while ago, but I probably should have mentioned that Electronic Battleship is an actual piece. It’s an 8 minute work for String Quartet and Percussion. Unlike my previous pieces, I actually don’t really have much to say about this one other than to enjoy it. There’s stuff there to talk about, for sure, but you can figure it out.

Violin I – Sylvia Middleton

Violin II – Sarah Olsen

Viola – Trent Guerrero

Cello – David Sieracki

Percussion – Liam McCarty

I’m grateful to my performers for their hard work on this difficult piece, and many thanks to those that have supported me throughout the entire composing and rehearsal process of this piece.

Program notes:

It remains of utmost importance not to submit to the empirical opinion of post-modern conservative classicism in the aural-temporal medium of sound. Therefore, I shall not refer to the following as “program notes” as such would lead astray the mind to  more conservative ideals. Rather, with these artistic muses expressed in the neo-written fashion, I aim at defining a peak objective with which my aural interdisciplinary landscaping may provide a resolution to the anxious sound capturing systems (ears) of radical tonalists. It’s an a priori truth that the lack in performance mediums for the viola was not without purpose. Yet my goal is concerned not with the arrogant classicism found in the capitalist based structure of harmonic gestures centered on the tonic and dominant vertical sonorities (or tonality, as some pre-contemporaries would call it) but instead with the anti-structural archaic fashion of numerical expression within hyperbolic introversion. Which is why I decided to feature the viola heavily in this piece.

One might say this is a “piece” written for “string quartet” with added “percussion”, yet I’d prefer to think of it as a philosophical practice in aural sectarianism and contemporary cyclical post-numeral enhancements. The sound scape begins with a series of modular post-rhythmic anomalies which superimpose each other in a manner which can only be determined by the use of intermediately aggressive numerical processes. Each rhythmic block contains something I would like to call and anti-block which mirrors its own actions and thus doubles the outcome. As the aural movement of the work continues, one can hear a clear structure in the metronomic pendulum of the division of form.

This piece is, without a doubt, one which follows the anti-post-modern abnormality of the mortal composers of early history (even going as far back as Messaien) and it’s not divided by form but instead through a numerical pyramid of increasing and decreasing frequency and pitch, with clear divisions of moments determined by the sounds of aural attacks.

The process continues until the peak of the piece, in which I invent a convention I would like to call suspenseful post-quintal-a posteriori- instrumental and asexual divisions according to the division of sound with dramatic increase in frequenticity leading to a climactic quantal tension of note movement. Some might call this a chord progression, but again, my goal is to free the audience from the constraints of illuminati controlled tonal pessimism.

The work proceeds to end with an interpretation of the ontological proof that God exists. One may find that the ending, much like your life itself, is nothing but a series of meaningless events trapped in a cycle of neo-post-cyclicism.

Hello All,

This coming week is the premiere of a very exciting art song. Kathleen Baudendistel, Derrick Hahn and I have been working very hard to present this piece on Thursday and to start the anticipation, I thought I would give you all the program notes right here.

When I was in Lebanon, I was confronted with many different speculations as to what it means to follow God. I lived in a village with a very religious family, and there was an array of theological interpretations regarding all different aspects of life. I was there to visit my family, but I was also on a spiritual journey. My community here in this country takes a radically different approach to theology than the same Abrahamic religions I explored this past summer. My freshman year of college was marked by the realization of just how many people here are spiritually lost. Not to say that they just don’t know what they’re doing, but lost in the sense that their institutions have failed them to the point where they can’t get the spiritual fulfilment they desire by remaining in the system. This has led to the identity of being “spiritual but not religious”, and that is an aspect I explore in this piece, taking from my own personal journeys these past couple years. This is not a theological treatise, but a personal inflection on the issues of modern faith.

The piece is in five movements. Sacrilege, Heirophany, Reconciliation, Credo, and Crucifixus. It takes a journey from the deepest pits of hell and keeps ascending upward, attempting to reach a higher truth. If it ends with truth, and the first movement is Sacrilege, one can guess that the piece starts off with a lie. Indeed it does, it begins with my own interpretation of a commandment that, from what I’ve witnessed, has caused some confusion. The first movement is an example of using the lord’s name in vain. In this case, it’s calling for the annihilation of those of a different faith simply because they are a different faith. I have never worked harder to make music sound raunchier, more dissonant, and emblematic of those most gruesome sin. Being from the Middle East, living in a Christian town going to a liberal arts college, I’ve heard a lot in the name for and against various religions, and it is because of this manipulation of the faith to fulfill a political goal that we have an increasing disparity between those of faith and those without, and some of us end up getting caught in the middle, and do not have a community that can provide the safe space they need. Which is why, at the very end, I stick in a quote translated from the Qu’ran itself which clearly states an openness to people of all faiths, so long as there’s faith and they work righteousness (atheists, don’t worry I’ll get to you in a minute)

The three middle movements are a journey moving on from the chaotic beginning. The second, Heirophony, is just that, we take the human voice as a reference to humanity and its many different struggles with what may be beyond, and I use the piano at certain points to represent that beyond, as if that movement is a divine intervention for what came before and an opportunity for our sinner to repent. After that, the reconciliation comes with the “heaven” motif playing in the piano, but also deep octaves and a painful Db. The feeling I was trying to capture was that of a sinner atoning for their sin. Some people like to think that one can commit a crime, repent, and things would be better, but it’s actually a process. Should one person apologize to another for something horrible they did, it would take time for that pain to heal, and that’s what’s happening in this movement. It becomes lighter and more confident, and after going through a sequence (a literal sequence) of reaffirming their faith, not in God but in bettering them-self, only then are they washed off the their past.

But then comes doubt. The questions of what is moral, what is ethical, what is sin and what is not? All are infinitely complicated and I haven’t been able to answer them. Then there’s also the existential dread of the fact that we could just be doing this all for nothing. Sometimes one may want to cry out to the void in hopes of an answer to the question “why don’t you reveal yourself?!” and that only brings up the question of free will. There is no divine intervention in this movement, it is only for voice, and mixed speaking and singing at that. The scene has changed now, to that from Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” which is a chapter in his novel Brothers Karamazov. [the rest of this paragraph is spoilers, skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know] In this scene, Jesus Christ comes back during the inquisition, and is captured by a grand inquisitor. While the lord is chained, the inquisitor states why he captured him, and revealed that he believes that the lord has done wrong in granting them free will. He mentions how people want to be slaves, that they don’t want to wonder for themselves, they just want to know for sure. In other words, if the lord won’t grant them security in abandoning their free will, the church will.

Then I do something odd. The singer, knowing well that she is a soprano and doesn’t fit the classic descriptions of Jesus Christ becomes the Messiah reborn. For the first time in this piece, I attempt to actually reach the divine, and seriously ask the question “what would Jesus do?”  Slander goes around all corners of the globe over the prophet yet few have the same view I do. God to most resembles a father, but to me, I have seen more of it in my mother. I’m not here to tell the story of the rapture, I wanted to create that moment when I pray, when I’m with my mother in Lebanon, inside the temple, when I feel I’m with the divine. Sometimes we forget that there is a spiritual element to faith, and some people have it and other don’t, to everyone its different.

So the last movement is really timeless, yet stuff happens. She starts by going down the last 7 words of Jesus Christ, going back in bible translation, a reminder that we must remember to look at scriptures at the root as well as in the modern era. Before the last words, she quotes the Qu’ran. There is so much animosity between the two major religions that we tend to forget that Jesus is a prophet in both religions. Here is the message that I believe Jesus Christ would bring to the world should she arrive today. “Indeed those who have faith and do righteous deeds. The all beneficent will endear them. Indeed we have made it simple in your language. So that you may give good news to the God-weary.” (Qu’ran Book of Mary, translation by Ali Quri Qu’rai) Same message from before, but now it’s just faith, not faith in God, and I do believe the two are different (the Qu’ran may say something else but I’m actually referring more to a personal statement here). I believe faith can come in many forms to many things. Some of us concentrate it into a god, but sometimes faith in yourself can be enough, and if you do righteous deeds, then you’re already God-weary. After that she is crucified again, and I’ll let you play out why we ourselves would kill the Messiah again. The piece then ends with a prayer, which i will actually not talk about and just let you witness for yourself.

There are a couple stories which really shaped this piece. One being my reaction to Eid al-Fitr, the last day of Ramadan. We were huddled around a small TV in the front porch that evening and they were broadcasting the “celebrations” of this holiday from many different Imams, Priests, and Sheikhs, and I was frustrated at all of them. I was furious because instead of actually paying attention to the purpose of the holiday, they made the decision to take the opportunity to rally against everyone that’s not them. They called for the blood of their enemies both in the East and South, and spoke with a tone that’s deep with anger, and devoid of spirit.

At the time, I was also reading the Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, and it was life changing. It taught me about the nature of doubt, why we desire a divine force to lead us, along with exploring the idea of free will. Of course, I am talking about the Grand Inquisitor, which I suggest you read in full, but it is quoted in the piece.

Most importantly however, was my own faith journey which I took with my mother the entire time. I am grateful to have her in my life, and willing to join me on any spiritual path I wish to explore and always willing to sit down and explain the stories of past prophets and preachers. It is through her I learned the story of Moses, Jesus, Rabi’a, Joseph, and Abraham. She always put them from the aspect of our religion, but I was curious about how all these prophets related to each of the Abrahamic religions, what are the similarities and differences? I’d ask her and we’d read the scripture together, and go through each individual line, and with the understanding of how much weight each word carried, we made the most universal interpretation as much we could. It is through these moments I have come to the opinion that the Abrahamic religions are much more similar than we think, and in many ways, almost the same.

So, in case you didn’t get it, there is a lot in this art song. It’s very dear to me and contains everything I learned through my journeys of faith. As always, my views are my views, and I’m not here to preach, but I am here to share. Art can do so much good, and there has been so much music in my life that has reshaped what I thought about people, about God, about history. The only one that has been more helpful in teaching me about the world was my mother, which is why I’m dedicating this piece to her (hi Mom!).

See you Thursday, 8pm Harper Hall, Lawrence University! (yes, of course there will be a recording)

UPDATE: The concert happened and it was absolutely amazing. Thank you Kathleen Baudendistel and Derrick Hahn for your incredibly hard work on this piece! You both are the best!

And here’s a recording