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Halim_El-Dabh

Halim El-Dabh

Halim Abdul Messieh El-Dabh (Arabic: حليم عبد المسيح الضبع; born in Sakakini, Cairo, Egypt on March 4, 1921) is an Egyptian-born U.S. composer, performer, ethnomusicologist, and educator.

Early life

El-Dabh grew up in Cairo, Egypt, a member of a large and affluent Coptic family that had earlier emigrated from Abutig in the Upper Egyptian province of Asyut. The family name means "the hyena" and is not uncommon in Egypt. In 1932 the family relocated to the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. Following his father's profession of agriculture, he graduated from Fuad I University (now Cairo University) in 1945 with a degree in agricultural engineering, while also studying, performing, and composing music on an informal basis. Although his main income was derived from his job as an agricultural consultant, he achieved recognition in Egypt from the mid- to late 1940s for his innovative compositions and piano technique. Following a well received 1949 performance at the All Saints Cathedral in Cairo, he was invited by an official of the U.S. embassy to study in the United States.

Move to the United States

Coming to the United States in 1950 on a Fulbright fellowship (as expanded to include Egypt via the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948), El-Dabh studied composition with John Donald Robb and Ernst Krenek at the University of New Mexico; with Francis Judd Cooke at the New England Conservatory of Music; with Aaron Copland, Irving Fine, and Luigi Dallapiccola at the Berkshire Music Center; and with Irving Fine at Brandeis University.

El-Dabh soon became a part of the New York new music scene of the 1950s, alongside such like-minded composers as Henry Cowell, John Cage, Edgard Varèse, Alan Hovhaness, and Peggy Glanville-Hicks. He obtained U.S. citizenship in 1961.

Among El-Dabh's works are four ballet scores for Martha Graham, including her masterpiece Clytemnestra (1958), as well as One More Gaudy Night (1961), A Look at Lightning (1962), and Lucifer (1975). Many of his compositions draw on Ancient Egyptian themes or texts, and one such work is his orchestral/choral score for the Sound and Light show at the site of the Pyramids at Giza, which has been performed there each evening since 1961.

El-Dabh's primary instruments are the piano and darabukha (an Egyptian goblet- or vase-shaped hand drum with a body made of fire-hardened clay), and consequently many of his works are composed for these instruments. In 1958 he performed the demanding solo part in the New York City premiere of his Fantasia-Tahmeel for darabukha and string orchestra (probably the first orchestral work to feature this instrument), with an orchestra under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. In 1959 he composed several works for an ensemble of percussion instruments from India, for the New York Percussion Trio.

Also a pioneer in the field of electronic music, El-Dabh first conducted experiments in sound manipulation with wire recorders in Cairo in 1944. In 1959, he was invited by Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky to work at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. He worked there sporadically until 1961, creating several tape works including at least two in collaboration with Luening. His electronic drama Leiyla and the Poet (released in 1964 on the LP Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center) is considered a classic of the genre.

Like Béla Bartók before him, El-Dabh has also conducted numerous research trips in various nations, recording and otherwise documenting traditional musics and using the results to enrich his compositions and teaching. From 1959 to 1964 the most significant of these trips included investigations of the musics across the length and breadth of Egypt and Ethiopia, with later fieldwork being conducted in Mali, Senegal, Niger, Guinea, Zaire, Brazil, and several other nations. During the 1970s, El-Dabh served as a consultant to the Smithsonian Institution and conducted research on the traditional puppetry of Egypt and Guinea.

El-Dabh served as associate professor of music at Haile Selassie I University (now Addis Ababa University) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, professor of African studies at Howard University (1966-69), and professor of music and pan-African studies at Kent State University (1969-91); he continues to teach courses in African studies there on a part-time basis. Among the awards and honors he has received are two Fulbright awards (1950 and 1967), three MacDowell Colony residencies (1954, 1956, and 1957), two Guggenheim Fellowships (1959-60 and 1961-62), two Rockefeller Foundation fellowships (1961 and 2001), a Meet-the-Composer grant (1999), an Ohio Arts Council grant (2000), and two honorary doctorates (Kent State University, 2001; and New England Conservatory, 2007).

El-Dabh is probably the best known composer of Arabic descent and his works are highly regarded in Egypt, where he is considered the foremost living composer among that nation's "second generation" of contemporary composers. He was invited back to his homeland in April 2002 for a festival of his music at the newly constructed Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt; most of the compositions presented were heard by the Egyptian public for the first time.

Many of El-Dabh's scores are published by the C. F. Peters Corporation and his music has been recorded by the Folkways and Columbia labels. The first biography of the composer, The Musical World of Halim El-Dabh by Denise A. Seachrist, was published by the Kent State University Press in 2003.

He has been a frequent performer and speaker at both the WinterStar Symposium and the Starwood Festival, where he performed with life-long friend and master drummer Babatunde Olatunji in 1997, and where El-Dabh's concert of traditional sacred African music was recorded in 2002. In 2003 he was part of a three-day tribute to the late Olatunji called the SpiritDrum Festival, with Muruga Booker, Badal Roy, Sikiru Adepoju, Jeff Rosenbaum, and Jim Donovan of Rusted Root In 2005 he performed and ran workshops at Unyazi 2005 in Johannesburg , which was the first electronic music symposium and festival to be hosted in Africa.

He lives with his wife in Kent, Ohio, and has three grown children.

Discography

Audio

  • 1957 - Sounds of New Music. New York: Folkways.
  • 1964 - Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. New York: Columbia Masterworks.
  • 1989 - The Self in Transformation: A Panel Discussion. Cassette tape: Features Donald Michael Kraig, Jeff Rosenbaum, Joseph Rothenberg, and Robert Anton Wilson. ACE.
  • 2000 - Gilbertson, Nancy. Mediterranean Magic. Moravia, New York: Nancy Cody Gilbertson Includes Mekta' in the Art of Kita', Book 3.
  • 2000 - Olatunji Live at Starwood - Babatunde Olatunji & Drums of Passion (guest Halim El-Dabh). CD: Recorded at the 17th Starwood Festival in July 1997. ACE
  • 2001 - El-Dabh, Halim. Crossing Into the Electric Magnetic. Lakewood, Ohio: Without Fear.
  • 2002 - Halim El-Dabh Live at Starwood - Halim El-Dabh (With: Seeds of Time) CD: Recorded at the 22nd Starwood Festival in July 2002. ACE
  • 2002 - El-Dabh, Halim Blue Sky Transmission: A Tibetan Book of the Dead (original cast recording) Cleveland Public Theatre, Halim El-Dabh, and Raymond Bobgan
  • 2006 - Fan, Joel. World Keys. San Francisco, California: Reference Recordings. Includes "Sayera" from Mekta' in the Art of Kita', Book 3.

Films

  • 1960 - Yuriko: Creation of a Dance. Features a rehearsal of The Ghost, with score by El-Dabh
  • 1967 - Herostratus. Directed by Don Levy. One scene features audio of El-Dabh's Spectrum no. 1: Symphonies in Sonic Vibration
  • 2000 - Olatunji Live at Starwood - Babatunde Olatunji & Drums of Passion (guest Halim El-Dabh). DVD: Filmed at the 17th Starwood Festival in July 1997. ACE.
  • 2002 - Halim El-Dabh Live at Starwood - Halim El-Dabh (With: Seeds of Time) DVD: Filmed at the 22nd Starwood Festival in July 2002. ACE.

Notes

References

  • Bibliographic Guide to Dance by New York Public Library Dance Collection
  • Freedman, Russell Martha Graham: A Dancer's Life
  • Gilbert, Chase America's Music, From the Pilgrims to the Present
  • Gill, Michael (2005) Circle of Ash Free Times article referencing Starwood Festival appearance
  • Hartsock, Ralph & Carl John Rahkonen Vladimir Ussachevsky: A Bio-Bibliography
  • Holmes, Thomas B. Electronic and Experimental Music: Pioneers in Technology and Composition
  • Horne, Aaron Brass Music of Black Composers: A Bibliography
  • Horne, Aaron Woodwind Music of Black Composers
  • Howard, John Tasker Our American Music: A Comprehensive History from 1620 to the Present
  • Landis, Beth & Eunice Boardman Exploring Music
  • Seachrist, Denise A. (2003). The Musical World of Halim El-Dabh. Includes compact disc. Kent, Ohio, United States: Kent State University Press.
  • Shelemay, Kay Kaufman & Peter Jeffery Ethiopian Christian Liturgical Chant
  • Smith, Gordon Ernest (1950) Istvan Anhalt: Pathways and Memory
  • South, Aloha P. Guide to Non-Federal Archives and Manuscripts in the United States Relating to Africa

External links

Listening

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