Seamstress: a documentary multimedia song-cycle based on the collected oral histories of Palestinian women (2017-ongoing) composed and produced by Donia Jarrar and conducted by Arianne Abela

Choir: Tanner Porter, Dory Mead, Paolo Debuque, Samuel Kidd Violins: Grace Kawamura and Anita Dumar Viola: Erin Napier Cello: Julia Knowles
Bass: Tommy Hawthorne Percussion: Julian Bridges and Ian Lang Piano: Melissa Coppola Flute: Anna Thompson Clarinet: Kelsey Stewart Oboe: Kinsey Fournier Bassoon: Matthew Wildman Screen Dance Direction: Yusuf Karajah

Perpetual Dance, Hijaz Kar Theme & Variations (2016) for solo piano
performed and recorded by Donia Jarrar

I composed, performed, and recorded Perpetual Dance (Hijaz Kar Kurd Theme and Variations) in Nablus as part of the collaborative piano project Letters to Palestine. The seeds of this project were first planted in Ramallah with my colleague, pianist and composer Dina Shilleh. Our goal was to provide new repertoire for pianists within Palestine in an attempt to fill the gap of contemporary piano literature composed by Palestinian artists, both locally and globally among the Diaspora.

While working on the research and compilation process, I also had the pleasure of mentoring several of the young composers featured on the project.

The piece itself began as an improvisation with friends in the traditional Arabic Dawr Hindi rhythm of 7 (3+2+2), when the percussionist Ibrahim suddenly switched to the Turkish form (2+2+3). I was inspired by his playing and by the traditional maqam of Hijaz Kar Kurd (Hijaz-Hijaz), or in Western music, what we know to be the phrygian dominant scale, only in this case it is the bottom half of that scale twice over. My improvisation on this scale combined with Ibrahim's lively percussion playing carried me off into a dance-like fantasy and I immediately came up with the theme you will hear today. This then evolves into different variations of the melody channeled through pop, jazz and classical forms. Though the piece is fully notated, much of it is based in improvisation, and there is room for the performer to improvise over the given harmonies and within the provided melodic motifs.

Qalandia Checkpoint: an aural image of occupation (2015)

Saxophonist Freya Aquarone and I worked on this piece, her collection and mine of children's choirs, the recorded interviews of young Palestinian's experiences of shame and anger regarding Israeli occupation and land theft, of going through one of the most dehumanizing checkpoints in the West Bank, Qalandia Checkpoint. Field recordings include sounds of the soldiers, the sound of the caged turnstile spinning and the echoes of the saxophone on the other side of the checkpoint where Freya could be heard playing as I waited to cross. As a Palestinian with a West-Bank ID, I am not allowed to enter Jerusalem without going through this humiliating checkpoint, and on that day I was denied entry. This piece is currently being developed to include an installation component with photographic and video elements.

1896, composed by Donia Jarrar and Huda Asfour, and performed by Donia Jarrar and Huda Asfour

I wanted to feature an improvisation and score of incredibly powerful footage from 1896 Palestine with something quintessentially Palestinian: the voice and lyrics of queer Palestinian composer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Huda Asfour from Gaza. You can read more about Huda at seamstressproject.com/huda

This becomes the ultimate resistance to that kind of mystical colonial narrative of “The Holy Land”. With her voice and my piano playing, Huda and I aimed to reclaim our own subtle, magical realism. Huda sings about how she feels she does not belong anywhere. She is a stranger. She is between East and West. She is between Ramallah, Gaza, Tunis, Lebanon.

Music by Donia Jarrar. "Crazy for Sisi" explores the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution of January 25, 2011 and the unrealistic high expectations placed on Egyptian General Abdelfattah al-Sisi, one of two candidates running for the post of Egyptian President in the May 26 and 27, 2014 elections. Egypt’s last three years of political transition have been turbulent and bloody. Instability and economic devastation left Egyptians disillusioned with the idea of democracy and hungry for a sense of normality. General Sisi rose to prominence after heading the movement to remove the country’s first democratically elected President, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi in July 2013. People began to look at Sisi as a "hero", "savior"and the only answer to Egypt's problems. copyright © Laura El-Tantawy 2017 / www.lauraeltantawy.com

Seamstress is a documentary song-cycle based on the collected oral histories of Palestinian women and girls. Blending audio interviews, photography, and raw footage with live chamber orchestra and dance performances, Seamstress aims to create a moving and powerful portrait of love, strength, and resistance in the face of injustice and misinformation.

Interlude from Seamstress (2016)

Batn el Hawa (2013)

Batn El-Hawa for electronic playback and piano and video, was recorded at Al Kamandjati, Ramallah and Al-Ammari and Jalazon refugee camps' child centers out of tune upright pianos. Timelapse video was recorded by Palestinian photographer and designer Ahmad Odeh, of Hosrom photography. The electronic playback was recorded with Mohamed Najem and Suby Raman on oboes, and the sequenced elements from prepared upright pianos at Al Ammari and Jalazon camps. 

Life exists beyond what we see, even if it seems to be fading before us, or far off in the distance. When you look west standing in the valley of Batn el Hawa, you can see the sea sparkling in the distance. 

The Return (2014)
performed by Donia Jarrar, Laith Al Attar, Diana Sussman & Melissa Coppola

In The Return (2014), a woman struggles to cope with issues of conflicted identity and the pain of grief and loss while yearning to find a place to call home. The second movement ends with my arrangement of Tunisian composer Anuar Brahem’s “Le pas du chat noir,” which I first arranged to perform with two of my dear friends working at Al Kamandjati in Palestine: Palestinian composer and accordionist Mohammad Bassam, and Greek composer and oud virtuoso Dimitri Mikelis.  

I. Your love ambushed me
II. Hold me above the sound of sorrow
III. Beyond the vintage skies

Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted. And while it is true that literature and history contain heroic, romantic, glorious, even triumphant episodes in an exile’s life, these are no more than efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement...Exiles look at non-exiles with resentment. They belong in their surroundings, you feel, whereas an exile is always out of place. What it is like to be born in a place, to stay and live there, to know that you are of it, more or less forever? 

-Edward Said

Cairo, I love you for two pianos (2012)
performed by Donia Jarrar & Aya Yamamoto

This piece was inspired by what began as a night -time drive with friends beneath the desert sky on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. We would drive out into the desert, with nothing but the moon and stars, the bedus lights, to guide our way. Leaving the heavily polluted city sky behind us, the stars would appear one by one as the curtain of pollution was slowly lifted. The constant whir of the car engine was like a steady pulse that put us to sleep.
In the morning when we returned to the city, the traffic and disorderly, overcrowded streets welcomed us. Driving in that city is a constant brush with death, with cars driving the wrong way down one-way streets as policemen yawn and turn their heads, horse and donkey-drawn carriages blocking the sides of the highways, children hopping rides on the backs of buses, women driving with their babies on their laps, three or four men on one motorcycle, and pedestrians getting injured on a daily basis. Drivers will not even stop or move out of the way for an ambulance.
Eventually we made it to Khan El-Khalili, Cairos famous bazaar and souk in the Islamic District. The souk is filled with coffee shops and hookah bars, where we spent the day. Its narrow alleys and cobblestoned streets are filled with beautiful Egyptian silver jewelry stands, gold, spices, perfumes, accessories, oils and dessert shops where lokmit aadi, deep fried doughnut holes, are made.
My friends and I ended the day with a visit to Cairo Jazz Club, one of the best venues for live music in the city. There was dancing, there were drinks, and then there was dawn. We walked along the Nile. There were no stars, only a reflection of the citys lights on the river water.

Tahrir Squares # 1 (2011)

I composed the piano part of this as improvisation over some of the most powerful voicemails I had translated from speak2tweet during the start of the Jan25 revolution. The rest of the material comes from my cousin's wedding in Cairo the weekend of April 22-24 and other field sounds taken from Tahrir Square that I recorded as well as Khan El Khalili and Naguib Mahfouz Cafe. 


Border Crossings, for voice and orchestra (2011)

World Premiere of my piece for Voice and Orchestra. Performed by myself, Donia Jarrar and the University of Michigan Philharmonia Orchestra