The Penn Arab Music Ensemble

Open to all students of the Penn community, this ensemble explores a wide range of Arab music genres and provides students with the opportunity to learn through coachings provided by professional performers of Arab music. The Penn Arab Music Ensemble participates in performances hosted and organized by the Department of Music and members will have the opportunity to perform at functions and events at Penn.

The Penn Arab Music Ensemble is modeled after Firqat Al-Musiqa Al-Aarabiyya (Arab Music Ensemble), an ensemble formed in Cairo in 1967 to preserve and disseminate a category of music commonly referred to as traditional Arab Music. Due to the wide public reception of this ensemble, it was replicated in many cities in Egypt and across the Arab world. Today, this ensemble remains the dominant mechanism for the performance and preservation of traditional Arab music.

The ensemble consists of a choir and an instrumental section. In the choir, students will learn songs in their historical contexts. Students will experience the linguistic diversity by singing in classical Arabic and colloquial dialects in addition to the intricate melodic and rhythmic modes that are popular in Arab music. The Arabic choir is ideal for students interested in the region's history, language, and music. A select number of qualified singers will get the opportunity to appear as soloists with the ensemble. Solo vocalists will get the opportunity to work one-on-one with the instructor throughout the semester. In the instrumental section, we will explore performance practices, musical forms and genres, instruments, and melodic/rhythmic modes central in Traditional Arab Music. This section is ideal for musicians wishing to explore the Arab musical tradition.

Finally, students seeking to learn a musical instrument indigenous to the region can join the percussion ensemble. In the percussion ensemble, students will learn the Durbakke - a goblet shaped drum popular in Arab music, and will explore a world of rhythms emanating from the Arab world. This ensemble is divided into two sections - beginners and advanced.

Rehearsal Schedule

Vocal and Percussion Sections: Thursdays from 5:15 PM to 8:30 PM; Lerner Center 101, 102

Instrumental Section: Wednesdays from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM; Lerner Center 210

Upcoming Events

Penn Arab Music Ensemble

Fall Concert
Dec 7, 2023 at - | Houston Hall - Bodek Lounge, 3417 Spruce Street Philadelphia, PA 19104

Please come back in the fall for more program information.

Ensemble Director

Philadelphia based Arab music specialist Hanna Khoury is a violin virtuoso trained in the western and the Arab music idioms. During his tenure with Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, Khoury led the longest standing Arab music concert series in the U.S. featuring some of the most renowned singers/performers from the Arab world in partnership with local choirs, and a takht ensemble. Additionally, Khoury toured with Algerian Rai singer Cheb Khaled, Lebanese superstar Fairuz, and played lead violin with Iraqi singer Kazem Al-Saher, Grammy winner Youssou N'Dour and American Actor, Singer and activist Mandy Patinkin. In addition, Khoury can be heard on several pop recordings including Grammy-nominated song "Beautiful Liar" (featuring Beyonce and Shakira), and "Love and Compassion" (featuring Paula Cole and Kazem Al-Saher). Khoury graduated Magna Cum Laude with departmental honors from UCLA with a Bachelor's in Economics and Music Performance, and obtained his Master's degree in Music from Temple University.  He received his PhD in Ethnomusicology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018.


Portrait of Hanna Khoury
Percussion Director

Hafez Kotain is the owner and chief executive officer at Hafez Percussion Inc. Kotain is also the percussion director at Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture and the Arab Percussion Ensemble at the University of Pennsylvania. He is an accomplished master percussionist with fluency in both Arab and Latin rhythms. He is a recipient of the prestigious 2013 Pew Fellowship in the Arts, which is awarded each year to 12 Philadelphia artists who are of exemplary talent. Kotain began studying the doumbek at the age of seven, first performed on stage at age nine, and went on to study with master percussionist Hady Jazan, winning the national percussion competitions in Syria for several years. Kotain first began his career as an educator, teaching a variety of percussion styles to dedicated students, musicians and music teachers. In 2010 and 2011, Kotain taught at the Arab Music Retreat led by the internationally acclaimed Arab music performer, Simon Shaheen. He has performed with Lebanese composer/musician Marcel Khalife and Al Mayadine Ensemble in their latest US and Canada tour for “Fall of the Moon: An Homage to the Poet Mahmoud Darwish.” Kotain has also toured with singer George Wassouf in Canada and the US, and has performed with acclaimed artist Sting, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Kareem Roustom and with actor and tenor Mandy Patinkin. Throughout the year Kotain teaches with Al-Bustan in various school and community-based programs, including a summer camp for youth, and a weekly course in percussion at the University of Pennsylvania.


Portrait of Hafez Kotain