Interning at Al-Bustan: A Synthesis of My Passions and Interests

Playing the guitar (top center, next to cellist Kinan Abou-afach) with the Philadelphia Arab Music Ensemble.

As a junior double majoring in Music and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, it took me a long time to find a place where I could gain hands-on experience in both areas. Not only was I looking for an organization in which I could learn professional skills, but I also wanted to be engaged creatively and personally.  After an extensive search, I am very glad to have found Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture.

I first encountered Al-Bustan when I signed up to play the guitar in the Philadelphia Arab Music Ensemble class at UPenn.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I would be playing with their world-renowned resident musicians, as well as members of the broader Philadelphia community. It was even more surprising to know that we would play both canonical and original compositions (such as compositions by cellist Kinan Abou-afach), and perform alongside famous Arab artists, such as Oumeima El Khalil.

Given my experience in tutoring and music, and how much I enjoyed playing Arab music, I decided to apply for an internship as soon as I learned about Al-Bustan’s many programs. On my first week, I was assigned as a teaching assistant to the After-school Arab Arts Program at Moffet School. Working with children can be hard, but there is no better way to ensure that our efforts will be impactful and long-lasting. In addition to helping our teaching artists, I had the opportunity to record the Moffet choir singing, which you can listen to on SoundCloud. Recording the kids was a great way for me to put into practice techniques I have learned at UPenn, while also helping provide a way for more people to hear Moffet students’ singing.

Preparing the City Hall exhibit with program coordinator Max Dugan and Mazin Blaik (seated)

In addition to the year-long Moffet program, I have also worked with Al-Bustan helping implement various events, which range from exhibits of audiovisual works made by children, to concerts showcasing international stars.  In fact, many of these events involve our students as primary performers, showcasing their mastery of the materials learned. I am glad to help this organization broaden the cultural experiences of the broader Philadelphia community.

Although I have just joined the Al-Bustan team, my long search for the right internship is certainly over. I am currently a student, a teacher, a musician, and an intern, and I feel fulfilled in every one of these aspects. I hope to give this organization at least as much as I am sure it will give me. Meanwhile, we all work together to spread understanding in this world that needs it so badly.

Henrique Nakamura
University of Pennsylvania
Class of 2016

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