Saudi Aramco World September/October 2014 - page 5

September/October 2014
3
T
onight you will be hearing the product
of this inaugural program with these
fine young students from the Woodward
Academy,” said Ibrahim as he turned
to face his chorus: 20 fourth- to eighth-
graders standing, self-consciously, on
risers behind the musicians. Most had
never performed on any stage, let alone sung with
a professional orchestra. Ibrahim raised his baton,
and the students burst into a spirited rendition
of “Zuruni,” a classic ballad from Lebanon, which
they sang entirely in Arabic. The audience erupted
in applause and rose to give the students a standing
ovation throughout their performance. For their
second number, they sang Pharell Williams’s
contemporary hit “Happy” using Ibrahim’s
arrangement for Arab instruments as well as the
students’ own hand and dance moves.
“I was about to cry when they sang,” recalls
Sachi Yoshimoto, a Los Angeles-based violinist
who has played with the
nao
since 2012. “Their
performance was an inspiration and touched
everyone in the audience as well as in the
orchestra.” Noting her own Japanese heritage,
she adds that “witnessing African-American
school kids skillfully and joyfully sing ‘Zuruni’
made me proud of studying Arabic music and
of keeping the heritage alive as a non-Arab
musician. This type of cross-cultural exchange is
precisely the reason why I joined the orchestra.”
Percussionist Sam Parsons believes that
the dynamic performance “was one of those
experiences that define people.” A jazz musician
by trade, he has performed with the
nao
since
2011, when he was an undergraduate at the
University of Michigan. “When the Woodward
Academy students walked on stage, it rekindled
the exact same electrifying feeling I had the first few
times I played with the orchestra,” he says. “They
were amazing.”
The stories behind both Building Bridges through
Music and the
nao
itself begin with Michael Ibrahim.
A Syrian-American, born and raised in Sterling
Heights, Michigan, Ibrahim, 30, began studying the
‘ud,
or Arab lute, at age 10, and he soon discovered
a passion for classical Arab music. In 2009, while a
student at Eastern Michigan University, he formed
his first ensemble, a
takht,
or traditional Arab
chamber group, of seven student musicians playing
the ’ud,
violin,
qanun, riqq
and
nay
(Arab zither,
tambourine and reed flute, respectively). That same
R IGHT
NOT E S
Left:
Conductor and
nao
founder Michael Ibrahim,
left,
leads the orchestra and the chorus of Building Bridges
through Music students on May 31 at the Detroit
Music Hall,
above,
which opened in 1928 and is now
the home venue for the
nao
.
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