DOHA, Qatar --
Few things on Earth are able to transcend regional or cultural norms. Mathematics, chemistry and music have that capability, each with their own rules and lexicon. However, music is known for evoking an emotional connection that can leave a lasting impact far beyond a singular event.
The U.S. Air Forces Central Band, assigned to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, was fortunate enough to create some of those lasting emotional connections through a live, in-person musical performance and workshop with the Qatar Music Academy in Doha, March 24, 2021.
“The cultural exchange with Qatar Music Academy's Takht Ensemble really provided us with a unique opportunity to explore our cultural similarities and differences,” said Master Sgt. Lisa Drefke, USAFCENT Band superintendent. “Through music, we were able to gain a deeper perspective of Qatar's heritage, and there was mutual appreciation for each other’s backgrounds and culture. Events such as this truly connect the world and bring people together, which is one of the many Year of Culture highlights.”
Members of the USAFCENT Band along with the QMA students played percussion, jazz, and improv music together in a musical dance between two distinct cultures and styles.
“[The event] was another opportunity for us to demonstrate and explain some of the American humanities during the Qatar-USA 2021, Year of Culture,” said 1st Lt. Brian O’Donnel, USAFCENT Band officer in charge. “This is a chance for us to learn from each other in an open and inviting forum fueled by the love and passion of music.
Arabic music is typically characterized by an emphasis on melody and rhythm, as opposed to Western music, which focuses on harmony and chords.
The students were armed with traditional Arabic instruments like the Qanun, Oud, specially tuned violins, and a hand-held goblet drum.
However, it wasn’t about differences in music style or how they intertwined together, it was about the people. The band worked with the students and created a warm connection with one of the most universal of languages.
“It’s important for us to have these shared experiences in different genres of music from other cultures,” said Taoufik Mirkhan, Qatar Music Academy’s Head of Arab Music Department. “We plan to do other workshops and concerts throughout the year with other American musicians with Arabic backgrounds.”
The Qatar-USA 2021 Year of Culture is a year-long initiative that celebrates relations between Qatar and the United States.
However, with COVID-19 hitting the world hard, live performances have taken a significant hit, prohibiting large gatherings and preventing most musicians from being able to perform with an audience. This led O’Donnell and his team of eight to look for different avenues to engage in the region.
COVID is always on the forefront of their minds while exploring opportunities to perform, said O’Donnell. “Our musicians are extremely flexible, and as restrictions loosen and tighten, we modify our presence to ensure we bring meaning to each engagement, while doing our part to slow the spread.
“When restrictions heightened in Qatar, we performed at smaller venues that utilized fewer musicians and were able to distribute our personnel to cover a number of requests,” he added. “While it means we will be performing for fewer total people, we use these opportunities to engage on a more personal level. This allows us to get to know the people we are performing for, teaching, or working with, in ways large performances in stadiums or town squares usually do not permit.”
These smaller venues allowed the band to spread the joy that comes with music to our regional partners
The United States regularly works with partner nations to promote regional stability and to protect shared interests.
“These workshops at the Qatar Music Academy are a prime example of what we can accomplish together,” O’Donnell said. “We have divided our capabilities to reach a vital audience while maintaining the highest degree of safety for our members and the audiences.”