University News

Music Faculty Travel to Palestinian Conservatory

(From left) Richard DeRosa, Carol Frierson-Campbell, David Demsey, all William Paterson music faculty, and Armen Donelian, adjunct professor of jazz studies

For music faculty members David Demsey, Rich DeRosa, and Carol Frierson-Campbell,
a recent journey to the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Ramallah in March
was a life-changing experience.

Their trip was part of a ground-breaking faculty exchange initiated a year ago when Raymond
Torres-Santos, dean of the College of the Arts and Communication, visited the conservatory. Implementation of the partnership began when Heather Bursheh, director of the conservatory’s bachelor’s degree program, visited the University last fall to discuss
strengthening its undergraduate program in music education and Arabic music. The project was funded as part of a grant from the Muna and Basem Hishmeh Foundation designed to allow faculty from both institutions to participate in a music and cultural exchange program.

During the ten-day trip, Demsey and DeRosa, joined by adjunct faculty members Steve LaSpina and Armen Donelian, worked with eighteen students in a jazz workshop at the
conservatory, modeled after the University’s successful summer jazz workshop for high school and college students. They also presented concerts at the conservatory’s three campuses in
Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem.

“Our goal was to bring them into the world of American jazz,” says Demsey. “We spent a lot of time playing together with the students, as well as teaching ear training. It was learning
by doing.”

For DeRosa, the challenge was working with a unique combination of instrumentalists in a jazz setting, including two flutes, a cello, and two Arabic instruments, the oud, which is like a lute, and the qanoun, similar to a zither. “I deliberately chose a piece of
music that was adaptable,” he says.

Frierson-Campbell, who is helping the conservatory develop its degree in music education, visited Mar Yousef (St. Joseph) School in Bethlehem, Radat al-Zuhour School in the Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem, and two government schools for girls in Ramallah, where she observed music teachers. “To my knowledge, no other American music educator has visited Palestinian schools to conduct this research and get a sense of what is really happening there,” she says. “It was a truly moving experience to see how music and education have been used to help Palestinians develop a positive identity.”

All three faculty say the trip was a life-changing experience. “The conservatory would be first-class anywhere,” says Demsey. “The level of the student dedication to music in view of what they have to endure to get to school every day was amazing,” adds DeRosa.

“One of the concerts was at the Bethlehem Peace Center on Manger Square, just a few steps from the Church of the Nativity,” says Demsey. “It was so moving to visit the site, and then walk a few steps to play jazz.”

Frierson-Campbell says the goal is to further the partnership by initiating an exchange of student ensembles from the conservatory and the University and continuing to help with the development of the music education degree.