Dr. Donia Jarrar is an Arab and Muslim-American composer, pianist, scholar and interdisciplinary artist. Her music spans the genres of classical, electronic, experimental and pop, with improvisation as a key element of her performance practice. Born to a Palestinian father and an Egyptian-Greek mother, who grew up between Kuwait, Egypt, the West Bank, and the United States, her personal experiences have strongly shaped her compositional voice, leading her to explore themes of intergenerational memory, trauma, identity, exile, displacement, and cultural narrative in her work.
She received her Doctor of Musical Arts and Master of Musical Arts degrees from the University of Michigan.
Jarrar’s multimedia musical documentary project Seamstress, based on the collected oral histories of Palestinian women, premiered at the 6th DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival. Her music has been featured in Reorient Magazine and MidEast Tunes: Music for Social Change, and her solo piano work “Perpetual Dance” was recently released on disk and iTunes on the compilation album project Letters to Palestine. Whether recording audio samples and interviews on the streets of Cairo in Tahrir Square or between the bars of a caged turnstile at a military checkpoint, her electronic music heavily features found sound within occupied public spaces, and has been published online at Textsound and featured in documentary shorts including Egyptian filmmaker Laura ElTantaway’s “Crazy for Sisi.” Jarrar has presented at several panels, forums and festivals in the U.S. and abroad, most recently in an interdisciplinary dance and multimedia improvisational work as part of the New Arab American Avant Garde panel at DIWAN’s forum for the Arts, and her work as a translator during the January 25 Egyptian Revolution led to her being invited to present as a TEDx Fellow at the University of Michigan. She is also a juror for the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival.
Jarrar is the only woman to be awarded First Prize in the Marcel Khalife Competition for the Young Palestinian Composer (40 and Under) for her work “Border Crossings,” a programmatic piece for voice, spoken word and orchestra describing her family’s flight out of Kuwait as refugees of the Gulf War. This led to commissions from local and international artists for new works highlighting Palestinian culture, displacement and narrative identity, including the Palestine National Orchestra, the Ars Festival in Brussels, and the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s Doris Duke’s Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape and Islamic Art exhibit.
Jarrar has also taught theory and piano at the Edward Said Conservatory of Birzeit University in Ramallah, as well as the non profit organization of Al-Kamandjati(the violist), where she worked with Palestinian youth from refugee camps, as well as different villages and cities across the West Bank. She also served as a music appreciation teacher for UNRWA elementary school children in Jalazon and Qalandia refugee camps as a part of the Terre Des Hommes project “Music bridges West Bank, Italy and France," giving workshops to United Nations Relief Works Agency school teachers on how to teach music in primary schools. She is the only Palestinian woman to date with a doctorate in her field, and hopes to be able to change that through continued outreach, educational and organizational communal efforts.