Drum Culture Workshop with renowned Egyptian Composer Halim El Dabh
Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, and Egypt.

July 25, August 1, August 8, August 15, 2004. 4 consecutive Sundays, 2 - 5pm at the The North Water Street Gallery, 257 N. Water Street, Kent, OH.


This is a fascinating workshop taught by 82 year old Halim El-Dabh. Students are encouraged to bring drums and participate. There will be drums and other instruments available to those who do not have them. For those interested in learning about African culture, this workshop offers a rare and exciting chance to experience it with a man who has traveled extensively throughout the continent.

Images from the Workshop



Halim El-Dabh
(b. Halim Abdul Messieh El-Dabh, Cairo, 4 March 1921)

Composer, performer, ethnomusicologist, and educator Halim El-Dabh is
internationally regarded as Egypt's foremost living composer of classical
music, and one of the major composers of the twentieth century. His
numerous musical and dramatic works have been performed throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

Among his compositions are eleven operas, four symphonies, numerous ballets, concertos, and orchestral pieces, works for band and chorus, film scores, incidental music for plays; chamber, electronic, rock and jazz works, pieces for young performers, and pieces for various combinations of African, Asian, and Western instruments.

His extensive ethnomusicological researches, conducted on
several continents, have led to unique creative syntheses in his works,
which, while utilizing contemporary compositional techniques and new systems of notation, are frequently imbued with Near Eastern, African, or ancient Egyptian aesthetics.

Born into a musical family in Cairo, El-Dabh studied piano and derabucca
(goblet-shaped ceramic drum), and began composing at an early age. Although trained for a career as an agricultural engineer, his musical talent and immersion in Egypt's cosmopolitan musical life (including village drumming and local festivals, Arabic and European classical music, and the jazz clubs of Alexandria) increasingly led him toward a life in music. An early introduction to contemporary music came in 1932, when the young El-Dabh was able to meet the composers Béla Bartók and Paul Hindemith at an
international music conference organized by King Fuad in Cairo. By 1949
El-Dabh had gained such notoriety for his avant-garde compositions and piano playing--among both the general public and the royal family--that the cultural attachés of various nations began to invite him to pursue further musical studies in their countries. El-Dabh chose to apply to study music in the United States, and was one of only seven Egyptians (out of 500 applicants) to receive a Fulbright grant in that year.

Arriving in the United States in the summer of 1950 (and later acquiring
U.S. citizenship), El-Dabh traveled to the Aspen Music Center in Colorado,
where he met and assisted Igor Stravinsky. After researching Native
American music in New Mexico, he began studies with Aaron Copland and Irving Fine at the Berkshire Music Center in Massachusetts. Later, in New York's vibrant musical scene, he developed close associations with many prominent and like-minded figures in twentieth-century music, including Henry Cowell, John Cage, Alan Hovhaness, Leonard Bernstein, Edgard Varèse, Otto Luening, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Ernst Křenek, and Luigi Dallapiccola. During the 1950s and ‘60s, El-Dabh was grouped with fellow composers Hovhaness, Lou Harrison, Colin McPhee, Paul Bowles, and Peggy Glanville-Hicks, under the rubric "Les Six d’Orient" (the term coined by Glanville-Hicks), representing the vanguard of contemporary composers writing music inspired by musics of the East.

Having also achieved renown for his virtuoso derabucca playing, in 1958
El-Dabh played the solo part in the premiere of his Fantasia-Tahmeel (for
derabucca and strings), with the American Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski. Also in 1958, he began working closely with the great American choreographer Martha Graham, composing the epic opera-ballet Clytemnestra (1958), which is considered Graham’s masterpiece; he eventually composed three more ballet scores for her. El-Dabh’s orchestral/choral score for the light show at the pyramids of Giza has been played there each evening since 1961, and is probably his most frequently heard work. His Opera Flies (1971) is the only opera to have been composed on the theme of the Kent State tragedy of May 1970.

In addition to his compositional activity, El-Dabh has also conducted
musical field research and recording throughout Egypt and Ethiopia, as well
as in Eritrea, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zaire, Central African
Republic, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Morocco,
Greece, Macedonia, Uzbekistan, Brazil, Mexico, and Jamaica. He has also
studied the Native American cultures of the American Southwest and the
African American cultures of the southeastern U.S.
El-Dabh is also considered an expert on the subject of traditional Egyptian and African puppetry, and has helped to present a number of such puppetry troupes in the United States. While in Ethiopia (1962-64), he formed the Orchestra Ethiopia, the first pan-Ethiopian performing group.

In his works, El-Dabh frequently draws on his Egyptian heritage, as in
Mekta' in the Art of Kita' (1955), The Eye of Horus (1967), Ptahmose and the
Magic Spell (1972), Ramesses the Great (Symphony no. 9) (1987), and many
others. He has created new systems of notation for the derabucca, and has
revived interest in ancient Egyptian language and musical notation. Many of
his works from the 1960s on are also heavily influenced by West African
traditional musics, such as Black Epic (1968) and Kyrie for the Bishop of
Ghana (1968), and still other works bear the influences of the musics of
Ethiopia, Brazil, India, China, and other nations.

Also a pioneer in the field of electronic music, El-Dabh began early sonic
experiments with wire recorders at the Middle East Radio Station of Cairo in
1944. In 1959 he was among the first group of composers to be invited to
work at the famed Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York,
where he created a number of significant works. His Leiyla and the Poet
(1959-61), recorded for Columbia Masterworks in 1964, is considered a
classic of the genre. A long-awaited CD compilation of many of these
pioneering electronic works, entitled Crossing Into the Electric Magnetic,
was released in 2001 by Without Fear Recordings.

El-Dabh's recent works include the ballet score In the Valley of the Nile
(1999), composed for the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Company; the piano
concerto Surrr-Rah (2000), written for pianist Tuyen Tonnu; and Ogún: Let
Him, Let Her Have the Iron (2001), for soprano and chamber ensemble. His
most recent project, the opera/theater piece Blue Sky Transmission: A
Tibetan Book of the Dead, was presented in September 2002 in Cleveland, Ohio and in New York.

El-Dabh has served on the faculty of Kent State University's School of Music
since 1969, and has also taught at Haile Selassie I University in Ethiopia
(1962-64) and Howard University in Washington, D.C. (1966-69) He is one of
only eight Kent State University faculty members to hold the title of
University Professor, Kent State's highest faculty distinction, and is a
recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award (1988). Retiring in 1991,
Emeritus Professor El-Dabh continues to teach and compose prolifically, in
addition to conducting workshops for children. Presently, El-Dabh is an
adjunct professor at Kent State University's Department of Pan-African
Studies, where he teaches a course entitled African Cultural Expression. In
this course, students are immersed in and participate in a holistic
experience of music, art, song, dance, and drama as it is found in the
environment of a pristine African village (which El-Dabh experienced during
his years of living in villages while traveling throughout Africa).

El-Dabh's music is published by C. F. Peters, and his works have been
recorded by the Columbia Masterworks, Folkways, Egyptian Ministry of Culture and National Guidance, Auricular, Pointless Music, Luna Bisonte, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe, NCG, Without Fear, Tedium House (Bananafish), Association for Consciousness Exploration, and Innova labels. There are entries on El-Dabh in nearly all major musical reference works, and his work is discussed in books by Akin Euba, Adel Kamel, Gardner Read, and others. The first-ever biography of the composer, The Musical World of Halim El-Dabh, by Kent State University professor Denise A. Seachrist, was released by the Kent State University Press in April 2003.

El-Dabh holds degrees from Cairo University, the New England Conservatory of Music, and Brandeis University. He has served as a cultural and
ethnomusicological consultant to the Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife
Program (1974-1981), and his numerous grants and awards include two
Guggenheim Fellowships (1959-60 and 1961-62), two Fulbright Fellowships
(1950 and 1967), two Rockefeller Fellowships (1961 and 2001), the Cleveland
Arts Prize (1990), a Meet-the-Composer grant (1999), and an Ohio Arts
Council grant (2000). In May 2001 he received an honorary doctorate from
Kent State University. In 2001, the composer celebrated his eightieth
birthday with a festival of his music, which included more than 15 concerts
and lectures, both in the U.S. and around the world. In March 2002 he was
invited to celebrate his eighty-first birthday with a series of four
concerts of his music at the recently reconstructed Bibliotheca Alexandrina
(Library of Alexandria) in Alexandria, Egypt.

-- David Badagnani