Home Within: Kinan Azmeh’s Musical Prayer for Syria

MusicUnitesUS brings the Syrian composer to campus for a residency and a performance

Kinan Azmeh with a sound map projected behind him during a live performance.

Kinan Azmeh performs Oct. 31 at Slosberg Music Center. Tickets are available online, by phone at 781-736-3400, or at the Shapiro Campus Center box office. This article originally appeared in the fall issue of State of the Arts. The article's author, Judith Eissenberg is a professor of the practice of music and director of MusicUnitesUS.

A few years ago, composer and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh began every day by listening to the news of the civil war in his native Syria with his hand on his heart. Based in New York City, he was performing to great acclaim around the world—but was barred from traveling to Syria. Unwilling to turn away, he expressed his anger and sadness through music.

Azmeh composed the mournful tune “A Sad Morning, Every Morning” in 2012 and has opened every performance since then with it, often joined by Syrian-Armenian visual artist Kevork Mourad. The piece forms the cornerstone of their multimedia project Home Within, which they bring to Brandeis Oct. 31.

Watch: Kinan Azmeh's "A Sad Morning Every Morning"

Home Within is an impressionistic reflection on the Syrian revolution and its aftermath. By pulling specific aural elements, such as the chants of the peaceful demonstrations, into a collaborative sound map, Azmeh and Mourad are able to express the emotional content of the Syrian conflict.

For Azmeh, born in 1976 in Damascus, the sound map includes his generation’s sonic memory of nationalist slogans and songs. “As children, we would recite them without knowing what they really meant,” he recalls. “Today, many Syrians can identify these slogans from their pitch and intonation alone.” 

The composer and the artist will be joined by Damascus-born Khalil Younes, a visual artist and writer recognized for challenging social norms and the desensitization of society. 

They will be brought to campus from Oct. 26 to 31 for a MusicUnitesUS residency, a program that looks to make cultural connections and further understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures through music. Established at Brandeis in 2003, MusicUnitesUS has three tiers: the intercultural residencies, a public school program and the world music concert series.

During their residency, the artists will work with Brandeis undergraduates on their own sound-mapping projects. Their Oct. 31 concert will include “Home Within” and a new work for string quartet, clarinet, electronics and film created for the Lydian String Quartet.

In addition to these rich multidisciplinary creations, this residency offers so much about how we might approach difficult situations in an artistic way. Beauty and creativity in answer to crushing and relentless violence, the power of improvisation and collaboration in the face of stifling repression, finding hope through making--these are things artists can teach us.

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