The NIU Middle Eastern Music Ensemble provides an opportunity for students to learn the theoretical, practical, and historical perspectives of Pan-Arabic music traditions. Throughout the course, students will be introduced to a wide range of Pan-Arabic music styles, with an emphasis on irregular rhythmic modes and maqams (tonal/melodic systems). Aural skills are highly enhanced by the training in the ensemble as a result of immersion in listening to and reproducing microtonal intervals and irregular meters, such as 5/8, 7/8, and 10/8. The ensemble’s repertoire ranges from classical music to folk, popular, and children’s songs from the Middle East. Guest artists from the Middle East (Turkey, Syria, and Morocco) are regularly invited to give concerts, master classes, and workshops. Since 2013, this ensemble has been directed by renowned frame drum artist Professor Omar al Musfi.
Born in Syria, al Musfi began his musical training at a very young age. By the time he was ten, he had won several national competitions as an elementary school student. After graduating from the Syrian Conservatory of Music with a degree in percussion performance, al Musfi started performing extensively with the Syrian National Orchestra. In the United States, he earned a Masters in Performance degree at Northern Illinois University specializing in world music percussion. Al Musfi has toured throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Europe, East Asia, and the United States. He has performed in prestigious venues such as the Kennedy Center, Symphony Center in Chicago, and at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention. He has collaborated with groups from a broad range of musical backgrounds, including classical, Middle Eastern and Fusion Jazz. Among them are the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Project, and contemporary pop artists such as Sting and Shakira, as well as many other groups representing a great diversity of styles.