Saudi Aramco World September/October 2014 - page 9

September/October 2014
way cultural exchange.
Every week, the
students practiced the
Arabic lyrics to
“Zuruni,” learned a
few basic Arabic words
and were taught how
to recognize some
musical notes. Ibrahim
introduced them to the
’ud, the qanun and the
nay; he exposed them to
his own background and
culture. By mid-May, the
students knew all the
words. They were ready.
Cheyenne Williams
and Jaya Pullen, both
in seventh grade, say
they enjoyed the class
and that they would do
it again if they could.
Cheyenne says she
plans to major in music
education in college, and
she liked being able to
sing every week. “It was
really interesting to sing
in a new language, and it
makes me want to learn
more about the Arab language and the culture,” she adds.
“There is something about music that breaks down barriers,”
observes Woodward Academy superintendent William Jackson,
who praises the program that “exceeded my expectations.” Arts,
he says, “bring in the right-brain element. Instead of putting our
kids to sleep, let’s expose them to things that liven them up, like
music and dance.” Indeed, as the night of the performance came
near, the school’s survey of test scores for the Building Bridges
through Music students showed overall improvement in their
math and reading grades.
On the night of the concert, Jackson, Mitchell and many other
Woodward teachers, staff and parents attended. “The kids really
made me proud,” exclaims Mitchell. “Not only was the concert
excellent, but they sang beautifully, and they were wonderful
representatives for Woodward Academy.” What pleases her as
much as their performance is the shift in their attitudes. “At
the beginning of the program, they were not at all interested in
singing in Arabic,” she recalls, “and now they are talking about
wanting to come back and sing again.”
“I loved the sense of accomplishment and joy I saw in the kids
as they performed,” comments van Dusen. “I was sitting in my
chair on stage wishing everyone could understand how cool it is
that we have a choir full of African-American kids performing
with an Arab orchestra for this audience in downtown Detroit.
Here is an authentic and meaningful portrait of Detroit and its
musical culture presented in a way that facilitates relationships
across cultural boundaries.”
“The program was a huge success, and it opened up a
fraction of the world to [the students],” says Ibrahim. “In the
beginning, they started off kicking and screaming,” he recalls.
They thought Arabic “was weird because it was a different
culture and something they hadn’t experienced before. Once
they performed in the concert, all of them wanted to do it again.
They loved it, and they really felt good about themselves after
being up onstage.”
The students weren’t the only ones feeling good. Reflecting
on his own youth, Ibrahim says he “had a lot of people telling
me ‘you can’t, you won’t, you shouldn’t.’ The philosophy that
helped me get out of my rut is what I tried to teach the kids
every week. I told them, I started off just like you, and I’m the
proof that you can do anything you want as long as you are
willing to work hard for it.” And that, he believes, would be the
best note any of them could hit.
Related articles at
Arab-American National Museum: S/O 05
Arabic music retreat: S/O 02
Piney Kesting
is a Boston-based
freelance writer and consultant who specializes in the Middle
East. She is currently working on a book about
women entrepreneurs in the Middle East, Paki-
stan and Turkey.
Ryan Garza is a staff photographer for the Detroit Free Press and
the 2013 Michigan Press Photographer of the Year.
“It was really interesting to sing in a new language, and it makes me want to learn more about the Arab
language and the culture,” says seventh-grader Cheyenne Williams.
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