Skip to main content

New Arabic music degree program attracts Palestinian students

Birzeit University in the West Bank has launched a new bachelor's degree program that allows students to learn more than just music theory.
Palestinan oud band "Le Trio Joubran" perform on stage during a Guinness World Record attempt at the Ramallah Cultural Centre in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 26, 2016.
The band will play their ouds for 12 hours without any break to draw attention to breast cancer and to set a Guinness World Record / AFP / ABBAS MOMANI        (Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian university students can now enroll in classes specializing in Arabic music — a first in Palestine. Birzeit University, located just outside Ramallah in the West Bank, launched a bachelor's degree program in music to provide Palestinians with advanced music learning and place Palestine on the map of regional and international music study.

Classes in the newly created program started Sept. 26, and the degree includes 132 course hours accredited by the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education. The program was launched in cooperation with the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music (NCM) in Ramallah, which is one of the main music institutes in Palestine aimed at spreading creative and vibrant musical culture among Palestinian youths.

This bachelor's degree program is part of Birzeit University's faculty of literature, as the university has no fine arts department.

Bashir Abdel Razzaq, the administrative assistant of the dean of the faculty of literature, told Al-Monitor, “There are many universities and institutes that teach music in Palestine, but what is new in this program is that it emphasizes musical performance rather than music education alone. Palestine is the third Arab country teaching the science of musical performance, after Tunisia and Egypt.”

Razzaq said that the program was launched mainly to give students the opportunity to acquire new, refined skills in Arabic music and introduce them to the music of other Arab countries, while encouraging them to develop their talents. Therefore, the Arabic music program at Birzeit University is suitable not only for Palestinian students, but also for Arab students.

Razzaq noted that students will receive theoretical and practical education during which they will learn to play several instruments, such as the oud, the buzuq and the qanun. He added that there are 15 students registered currently in the music program, and the enrollment is set to rise.

He added that studying music opens the door for graduates to work as music teachers at music centers in the Arab world and allows them to create a competitive industry regionally and globally. Besides, it puts them on the road to composing and arranging music.

NCM Managing Director George Ghattas said that the institute wanted to launch this new academic program — in cooperation with Birzeit University — to foster music culture in Palestinian society, which suffers from weakness and lack of interest in this field.

Ghattas told Al-Monitor, “The program aims at elevating the music experience in Palestine by attracting music professionals from across the world to benefit from their experience and expertise, and pass them on to Palestinian students.”

He added, “Launching this program is the first step to forming a fine arts faculty in Birzeit. For this reason we supported this idea. Until then [the formation of a fine arts faculty], the students will be taught at the conservatory that is technically and artistically equipped.” He said that the special academic plan related to Arabic music was set by music teachers at the institute after four years of hard work.

Charlie Rishmawi, a music teacher at NCM, described the Arabic music program at Birzeit University as “a brilliant idea.” He told Al-Monitor, “Palestinian students can now learn Arabic music without needing to travel abroad.”

Rishmawi said that music institutes and centers in the Palestinian territories “teach students how to play musical instruments, but that this new program allows them to enjoy scientific research to discover Arabic music patterns and develop them, and to entrench Palestinian origins of popular arts such as folklore.”

He added, “As teachers, we aim at offering students academic depth through this program. We teach all aspects of oriental music such as rhythm and maqam [melodic mode] of Arab countries. We also teach them to perform individually and collectively and introduce them to music technology.”

Munir al-Jaghoub, a student at the business and economics faculty at Birzeit University, told Al-Monitor, “I am thinking about dropping out and joining the new Arabic music program.” Jaghoub, 19, is passionate about music, but he complained about the high fee per hour for the program compared to the fees for other degree programs.

He said, “The university set the fee per hour in the Arabic music program at 95 Jordanian dinars [$133]. This is a high price compared to the price per hour at the business and economics faculty, which is 48 Jordanian dinars [$67]. I think that this is a huge obstacle facing music students and music lovers like myself, and it impedes us from enrolling in this course.”

Razzaq commented on the high tuition of the Arabic music program compared to other degree programs, saying, “This program relies on individual private teaching. The teacher dedicates time for each student to teach them individually how to play the instruments. This is where the high educational cost comes from.”

He added, “Nevertheless, the university wants to encourage this new program, and it has decided to include it in the scholarship scheme that allows students to pay half the tuition only.”

This newly created bachelor's degree program in music at Birzeit University has the potential to spread advanced music culture among young Palestinians who are growing up in an occupied land.

More from Rasha Abou Jalal