A student of Anthropology and Linguistics at Montana State University, Gabe Lavin is a 2012-2013 academic year student on AMIDEAST’s Area & Arabic Language Studies Program in Egypt. In this submission, Gabe discusses his involvement with the music community in Cairo and the development of his oud skills.
I came to Egypt to pursue my interest in Arabic music and studies on the guitar-like instrument called the ‘oud’ that I began playing two years before my arrival in Cairo in August of 2012. I immediately jumped into the music scene in Cairo by attending concerts and trying to become acquainted with a diversity of local musicians. AMIDEAST gave me many opportunities to pursue these interests as well through the Community-Based Learning course where I volunteered with the NGO called ‘Makan:’ Egyptian Center for Culture and Art. The organization focuses on the preservation on traditional Egyptian music. However, after having been in Cairo for about month, and often expressing my interest in the oud and Arabic music, I heard a lot about a place called Beit El Oud and the world famous Iraqi oud virtuoso Naseer Shama who runs the place.
Having played the oud for two years I was familiar with Naseer Shama and his music, but I was not expecting to find out that there would be a potential opportunity to study with him. So, accompanied by one of my friends who I met through the AMIDEAST language buddy program, I set out for Beit El Oud to see what the place was all about. We showed up a little early and met some of the professors and students there and ended up spending the better part of the day there. Later in the evening Naseer Shama showed up and, after enjoying my oud playing, the students there encouraged me to play something for Dr. Shama and inquire about starting lessons and classes. Long story short, I played a little for Naseer Shama, told him I would be in town for about seven more months, and he told me to come in the following Monday to begin my studies.
Beit El Oud El Araby (Arabic oud house) from that day has become central to my experience here in Egypt. Aside from my involvement with ‘Makan’ and AMIDEAST, Beit El Oud is core to my social activities and has provided me with many opportunities to meet people with similar interests – musically and otherwise. All instruction is also in Arabic so I have to use my Arabic in lessons and in music reading classes – not to mention speaking Arabic with all of the friends I have made there. I go to Beit El Oud about three or four times a week and study sight reading and oud technique. In addition, there is a group seminar/rehearsal class with Naseer Shama himself. One of the most amazing things has been forming a personal connection with such a world renowned musician as Dr. Shama, and not to mention the other countless amazing musicians that teach and attend courses at Beit El Oud – many of whom are now my close friends. Overall the environment of Beit El Oud is very relaxing and inviting, as it is meant to be, and it has been the perfect place to create a social life to compliment my studies at AMIDEAST. Some highlights from experiences there so far were playing two concerts, one with Naseer Shama and his orchestra in the Sawy Culture Wheel in Cairo and another in Beit El Oud showcasing the talent of ‘excelling’ students in their program.