Weaving Arab Music and Cultural Education at Comley Elementary

After visiting Maura Diberardinis’s choir class on Monday, March 30th, I left with two observations: (1) We at Al-Bustan are very lucky to have Maura in our fold and (2) Hanna Khoury, Al-Bustan’s Music Director and

Weaving Arab Music and Cultural Education at Comley Elementary
Maura Driberdinis (2nd row, third from left) at Al-Bustan’s professional development course in June 2014

PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, does a great job of weaving Arab culture into music education in a way that feels seamless and natural. About the latter point, Hanna’s lesson at Comley School exemplified the way that a teaching artist can use Arab music as a vehicle to educate students about Arabic language and culture. By interweaving diction training, cultural anecdotes, and translation, Hanna simultaneously taught culture, Arabic, and music in a way that engages children regardless of their experience with the language or culture.That said, I was first struck by how effectively Maura taught her students Nassam ‘Alayna al-Hawa, and, furthermore, by how well her 80 students engaged with the music during our visit. I first met Maura last summer during Al-Bustan’s professional development course; she was highly engaged and eager to get the most from the course so that she could introduce her students to new material. One of the songs which the participants learned was Nassam, a classic Arab song made famous by Fairuz. When I found out that Maura had begun teaching her students Nassam and wanted Hanna Khoury, who was the lead teacher in the summer course, to work further with her students, I was simply excited! Despite having seen a fair number of these educational visits, the teacher’s and students’ positive energy always surprises me. A visit to Comley Elementary was extra-exciting because it offered the opportunity to work more with Maura and to meet her diverse and talented student choir.

Weaving Arab Music and Cultural Education at Comley Elementary

Hanna Khoury answering questions from eager Comley students 

In addition to the wonderful students, I was very impressed by how Hanna taught Nassam, which concisely and naturally blended Arab culture education with music education. He began by asking the students about their origins, and explaining how the song’s lyrics speak to the emotional challenges of immigration. From there, he worked on the students’ diction by using fun vocal games and song excerpts to keep everyone engaged. For example, he had the students sing “fi-mantoura…” a little softer because, as Hanna explained, mantoura is a small picture, so you must reflect that smallness in song. Then, during the following Q&A period, Hanna ended up giving a mini-lesson on traditional Arab classical music. Consider everything that was covered in one class visit!

I’m excited to see Maura’s students perform Nassam on May 21 accompanied by Hanna Khoury and percussionist Hafez Kotain at an all-school assembly for students and parents.

– Max Dugan

Al-Bustan Program Coordinator