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Halim El-Dabh

Halim El-Dabh, an internationally recognized composer, educator, and ethnomusicologist, has served on the faculty of Kent State University's Hugh A. Glauser School of Music since 1969. He is one of only eight Kent State University faculty members to hold the title of University Professor, Kent State's highest faculty distinction. His numerous musical and dramatic works have been performed in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Japan, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, and throughout Europe. He is featured in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, International Dictionary of Black Composers, International Who's Who in Music, and Who's Who in American Music.

Born in Cairo, Egypt on March 4, 1921, El-Dabh came to the United States in 1950, acquiring U.S. citizenship in 1961. After studies of Native American music in the American Southwest, 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 such composers as Otto Luening, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Henry Cowell, John Cage, Alan Hovhaness, and Leonard Bernstein.

Among his compositions are eleven operas, four symphonies, numerous ballets and orchestral pieces, chamber and electronic works, and works for various combinations of African, Asian, and Western instruments. His 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 even Ancient Egyptian aesthetics.

El-Dabh holds degrees from Cairo University, the New England Conservatory of Music, and Brandeis University, and has also taught at Haile Selassie University in Ethiopia, Kinshasa University in Zaire (Congo), and Howard University. His numerous grants and awards include two Guggenheim Fellowships (1959-60 and 1961-62), two Fulbright Fellowships (1950 and 1967), a Rockefeller Fellowship (1961), a Meet-the-Composer grant (1999), and an Ohio Arts Council grant (2000). In 1959, he played the solo part in the premiere of his Fantasia-Tahmeel: Concerto for Derabucca (Egyptian drum) and Strings, with the American Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. He worked closely with choreographer Martha Graham, composing four ballets for her, including the opera-ballet Clytemnestra (1958), which remained in the Graham repertoire for decades. His orchestral score for "Sound and Lights of the Pyramids of Giza" has been heard daily at the site of the Great Pyramid in Egypt since 1961. His Opera Flies (1971) is the only opera to have been composed about the Kent State tragedy of May 4, 1970. A pioneer in the field of electronic music, El-Dabh began early sonic experiments in Cairo in 1944, and in the late 1950s and early 1960s worked at the famed Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.

Retiring in 1991, Emeritus Professor El-Dabh continues to teach and compose prolifically for all media. Recent premieres 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), composed for pianist Tuyen Tonnu; and Ogún (2001), for soprano and chamber ensemble. His biography, recently completed by Kent State University Professor Denise Seachrist, will be published by the Kent State University Press later this year and a compact disc recording of his early electronic works will be released by Without Fear Recordings in the spring of 2000. Halim El-Dabh's music is published by C. F. Peters, and his works have been recorded by the Columbia, Folkways, Egyptian Ministry of Culture and National Guidance, and Pointless Music labels.

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 traveling throughout Africa).

In celebration of Professor El-Dabh's eightieth birthday (March 4, 2001), a multi-concert festival of his music (with works composed from the 1940s through the year 2001) will take place throughout the Spring 2001 semester. The festival, which will involve nearly all Kent State University musical ensembles, will culminate in an evening-length concert of his chamber works on April 17, 2001. For a full schedule, email David Badagnani at dbadagna@kent.edu or call (330) 673-1352.


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