Gems of the Middle East: Belly Dance Favori 1
The Musicians Mary Ellen Donald has been performing on Middle Eastern percussion for over 30 years, and teaching for over 25 years. Her Doumbec Delight, Mastering Finger Cymbals and Arabic Tambourine, with their companion tapes, laid the foundation. Her four Middle Eastern Rhythms recordings built and furnished the house. Now, the Gems of the Middle East series of three recordings and books are filling the house with those who dance and sing in celebration of this awesome gift of life. Much of Mimi Spencer's life has been devoted to performing, promoting and teaching the music of the Middle East, not by conscious choice, but due (in retrospect) to an invisible, overwhelming imperative. She edits The Near Eastern Music Calendar and has published a series of books of musical transcriptions of the pieces on this recording and others. The Instruments The qanun (also spelled kanun, kanoon) is a 77-stringed zither popular in the Middle East. It is plucked with two picks attached by rings to the forefingers. The strings are arranged in courses of three (like a piano), and each course passes, at the left-hand side, over a series of small levers that may be raised or lowered to alter the pitch. The word qanun means 'law' or 'rule', and exists in English as 'canon.' The doumbec (also known as darbukka, derbeki, or tabla) is the most popular drum in the Middle East. It is goblet shaped, with the head stretched over the bowl, and can produce an amazing variety of bass and treble sounds. The tambourine (known as daff or riqq) is considered a serious percussion instrument in the Middle East. Bass and treble sounds are produced by striking the head in different positions, and the cymbals are also struck as well as shaken to vary the sound. More About Mary Ellen Donald Biography Mary Ellen Donald grew up in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. There she studied piano, voice, and guitar. She received her BA in Spanish, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1965, after having spent her junior year studying at the University of Madrid in Spain. She received her Masters in psychiatric social work from the University of California at Berkeley in 1968, and became a licensed marriage, family and child counselor in 1973. Mary Ellen began studying belly dance and doumbec in 1969. In 1974 she began teaching doumbec, finger cymbals and dance rhythm in the Bay Area. Mary Ellen also is legally blind. Personal Note I am very fortunate: my avocation has become my vocation. The many hours I spent studying piano, voice, folk guitar, and flamenco guitar set the stage for the exciting drama which began unfolding for me many years ago. My quest for sensuous movement, poise, grace, and the exotic - my first belly dance class! At first I had to work very hard so that I could execute the essential movements and build up stamina. During these first months of arduous practice, there was one aspect of belly dance that came easy to me -the rhythm. I found that I could hear the accents clearly, move in time with the music, and improvise with my finger cymbals. It wasn't long before my rhythmical horizon expanded to make room for the doumbec. Again I worked hard, taking weekly classes for a year, familiarizing myself with Middle Eastern rhythms, picking up a wide array of drumming techniques, and passing beyond the swollen finger and aching arm stage. Around this time I finally let go of my fantasy of becoming a professional belly dancer and continued working full time in the profession for which I was trained - psychotherapy. I kept on beating that drum just for the fun of it. Becoming a mother in 1972, I left that job behind. I had my hands full with John. My drum drooped from neglect. Two years passed. Then one bright day as I was sneaking in a little drum practice, a young college student walking nearby came to the door, introduced herself, and asked if I could teach her how to play the doumbec like that. I said that I thought I could, and immediately began organizing my hodge-podge of technique, rhythms, and style. (Actually, at that time I didn't know that I even had a particular style.) Greatly encouraged by my belly dance instructor and friend Bert Balladine, I soon announced to a group of his students that I was a drum teacher and open for business. Later I began teaching dancers how to make their cymbal playing and dancing more rhythmically interesting. My teaching was enriched as I began playing shows with musicians accompanying dancers. My goal in teaching was to combine my rhythmic expertise with a good understanding of the learning process, a love of precise language, and a sense of humor. Soon the idea of extending my teaching to a larger number of students caught my attention. Not one for letting such dreams lie dormant for very long, I undertook the task of putting my methods into book form. A year later, I published Doumbec Delight and Mastering Finger Cymbals and produced companion cassette tapes to complete these courses. In writing for the serious-minded, I knew I was taking a risk. I am aware that music theory at first seems burdensome but that later on it is liberating because the student who masters it can discover the riches of his or her own imagination. I've been gratified by the response of belly dancers, instructors, and folk dance enthusiasts to my unique approach. I love Middle Eastern music and get a particular thrill from making it comprehensible to the American student. I am very fortunate. My fingers dance with my cymbals, my hands dance on my drum, and I happily await the next step. Recent Update on Mary Ellen Donald Most recently Mary Ellen Donald has performed Middle Eastern Percussion at the Clarion Music Center in San Francisco and the Chabot College Performing Arts Series. She has also been combining her Middle Eastern Percussion with jazz bands, including M.B. Hanif and the Sound Voyagers, and has been performing as a jazz singer at various venues in the Bay Area. And, of course, she maintains a rigorous teaching schedule at her home studio in San Francisco. 1990 - present Mary Ellen performs as the lead drummer at the Spiral Dance Samhain Celebration at Fort Mason in San Francisco. A pagan and wikka ritual held around Halloween time, sponsored by the Reclaiming Organization of the Bay Area. 1991 - present Twice a year Mary Ellen organizes a four-hour drumming marathon for her students. Twice a year Mary Ellen produces an elaborate student recital and professional concert, featuring Middle Eastern music, dance, and guest artists from other cultures including Indian, African, flamenco and jazz. The event is held at the Noe Valley Ministry in San Francisco Mary Ellen presents lecture demonstrations at Skyline College of San Bruno and San Francisco State University. 1993 -present Mary Ellen performs weekly with Mimi Spencer at Amira restaurant in San Francisco, playing classical, popular and folk music from Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece.