Duration ca. 35 minutes
Instrumentation: Narrator, Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Viola & Cello
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A modern telling of an old Arab folk tale from a collection edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi. Ridha is a clever girl with average looks who wishes for beauty and Alwan is a prince who seeks the hand of a beautiful bride whom he’s never laid eyes. Seven djinn sisters intervene to grant Ridha’s and Alwan’s wishes, but at what price?
World premiere took place on March 12, 2011 Péroy-lès-Gombries, France & the American premiere was on February 28th 2012 Philadelphia.
This work was co-commissioned by the French ensemble Alba and Al-Bustan. The French premiere was given in March of 2011 in Oise, France. When it became clear that the commission called for a work that was based on an Arabic folk tale, I immediately thought of a wonderful collection titled Abu Jmeel’s Daughter and Other Stories: Arab Folk Tales from Palestine and Lebanon (published by Interlink Books). After reading many tales from this collection I chose “Abu Jmeel’s Daughter” for a number of reasons. First of all, it lends itself well to being set to music in that it has a clear sectional structure, a compelling narrative flow and the super natural elements in the story allow for a certain type of musical scoring that appealed to me. The mix of humor and darkness was also appealing, as was its simple lesson: foolish wishes that are realized will have difficult consequences.
I was also intrigued by the story behind these tales. This collection was edited by Dr. Salma Khadra Jayyusi, a poet, critic, literary historian, anthologist, and founder & director of East-West Nexus/PROTA, the Project for the dissemination of Arabic literature and Arab/Islamic culture and history. Dr. Jayyusi, widely regarded as a major Palestinian and Arab literary and cultural figure, was raised on these stories, as told to her by her aunt and mother. As she wrote in the introduction of this book, “[these tales] were part of the fascinating atmosphere that surrounded our upbringing, the mixture of fun and curiosity about the world around us, the constant desire for a well told story, which [my whole family] was so eminently capable of providing.”
It can be easy to trivialize folk tales a relic of a bygone era, a backwards way of thinking with antiquated and often politically incorrect world-views on race, gender or other such topics. However, tales such as these lend themselves to multiple interpretations, and carry multiple meanings, depending on the circumstances in which they were told, or even the individual storyteller. This is clearly the case with Dr. Jayyusi’s early encounters with these tales. She writes “It was fascinating for me, reading these stories now, to recall how different my aunt’s treatment of them was from my mother’s. My aunt stressed the moral significance of a story, its ethical message, its more serious aspects. My mother’s treatment was romantic, fun-loving, humorous and light. But both were always humane, emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and personal achievement.” While some might decry the sometimes misogynistic portrayal of women in these folk tales, Dr. Jayyusi argues that these are stories “that celebrate cleverness too, the capacity of the protagonists, especially the women, to save themselves and their own in the face of life’s dilemmas and puzzling surprises. These stories are certainly many centuries old, yet they almost always portray women as doers, achievers and movers, capable of independent decisions. I think this had a great influence on several of the seven female cousins nourished on the stories. The patience and persistence with which the characters, especially the women, dealt with life’s problems also left a strong impression on me.”
Our heroine, Rida, is precisely such a character, using cleverness and patience (a good deal of it) to overcome one difficult situation after the next. My aim in composing the musical accompaniment for this story included elements from the interpretations of these stories offered by both Dr. Jayyusi’s mother and aunt. I hope my music will heighten the sense of humor, the darkness, the supernatural elements of the seven djinn sisters that Rida encounters, as well as the sincere expression of patience during hardship and, ultimately, true love that survives through these difficulties. Dr. Jayyusi wrote that “for decades [these tales] had lain dormant, following television’s intrusion into the world of children.” With this musical re-telling of a centuries-old tale I invite the audience, young and old, to allow the charm of this tale to take them back to a time when a well told tale was enough to captivate an audience for an entire evening and to engage the imagination for an entire lifetime.
© 2011 Layali Music Publishing, BMI