Mohamed Abozekry and Karkadé play for John Paul II School students on Wednesday. They performed at Union Church as part of the West Claremont Center for Music and Arts later that day. (PHOTO: JEFF EPSTEIN)

Students get a taste of Egyptian music from 4-piece band

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CLAREMONT — A group of students at the new John Paul II Academy (also known locally as St. Mary School) got a rare opportunity Wednesday to enjoy a concert of Egyptian music, presented in conjunction with the West Claremont Center for Music and the Arts (WCCMA).

A group of about 15 students of various ages sat on the floor of the school’s main hall, enraptured by the fluid sounds of the music played by Mohamed Abozekry and Karkadé, a group of traveling Egyptian musicians. The group is touring around the U.S. sponsored in part by local and national arts programs. 

Abozekry played an oud, a seven-string instrument with a fretless neck in the lute family. Five of the strings are doubled, however, and with two bass strings, the instrument actually has a dozen tuners. Although Abozekry is only in his mid-20s, he is considered a master at the instrument. Three musicians playing violin, flute and a percussion instrument similar to a djembe accompanied him.

During the program of Egyptian music, the oud and the flute largely handled melody, while the violin and percussion provided rhythm and texture. The music, according to the band’s promotional literature, is a fusion of “Egypt’s popular and classical music traditions with virtuosity and mystique.”

The students clearly enjoyed the show, which preceded a formal concert for the general public later in the day. The kids had the opportunity after the show to ask the musicians questions. They mostly asked about the instruments. For example, they noticed that the flutist actually had several flutes at his disposal, some long and some short. Abozekry explained that the flutes were in different keys, to work with different songs. All the instruments were made in Egypt, he said.

When Abozekry asked his audience if they had enjoyed the show, the kids responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!” followed by their thanks to the band.

“It’s incredible to have these traveling musicians,” said Melissa Richman, executive director of the WCCMA, which provides a series of similar world-music acts designed to provide the public with exposure to culture and arts opportunities. That caught the attention of Roxanne Raeside Wilton, the headmaster of the new John Paul II Academy that recently launched on the site of the former New England Classical Academy (and before that the old St. Mary School). The revived parochial school is for preK through 12th grades, and Wilton is determined, she said, to offer students “a whole lot of enrichment opportunities.” Thus, a creative educational collaboration was born. 

More such shows for students are coming, they say, although not all of WCCMA’s public programs will necessarily have corollary shows at the school. WCCMA recently presented shows by the Burlington Taiko Group Trio (taiko drumming) and Indian dancer Mouli Pal. Coming up Oct. 8 is another Egyptian musician Youssra El Hawary, followed Oct. 12 by the Dinuk Wijeratne Trio.


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