Spring 2004


  Taisser Haddad, Lecturer and Composer, Makes Musical Bridges

The synthesizer would be the best musical instrument to describe Taisser Haddad.   This has more to do with the name of the instrument, for Haddad applies his talent to integrating two cultures to create a common language.  The language is music, and the synthesis is needed for an understanding and appreciation of both musical worlds, classic Arab and Western.

        It is little wonder that Haddad, a composer, instrumentalist, conductor, and researcher who has taught in the Dept. of Music since 2000, feels this way.  Nor that his synthesis is in fact creating a new style in music. 

        The household in which he grew up in the northern Arab village of Tarshihah was one in which “we ate, slept, and breathed music.”  His father was a music teacher, and their home was a magnet for Arab musicians from all over.  The music that surrounded him was classic Arab music.

        That was the background that he took to the music conservatory in Haifa when his father discovered that young Taisser had a decided musical bent.  By the age of eight, he had learned to play the piano.  The conservatory trained its students in classic Western music.  The piano, however, was also an inappropriate instrument for four-tone Arab music.

        The two different styles eventually merged in Haddad’s compositions to the point, as he described it, that he did not have to rely on one or the other, but that he could “feel the inspiration of both.”  He admits, though, that he is perhaps the only one he knows who writes this style music for the piano.  He has, in fact, written two major compositions for piano.  Other composers who try to create an integrated melody do so for instruments that are more suitable for Arab music.

        Haddad’s method is to take those scales that are common to both musical traditions and to improvise.  He also tries to interpret Arab music with Mediterranean emotion, as he put it.  His arrangements combine a range of genres, resulting in an eclectic body of music.

        Apparently his brand of music has much appeal, for he has appeared as a performer or conductor of his own works and arrangements on both sides of the Mediterranean, from the Egyptian Opera House in Cairo to Greece, England, and the United States.  He has plans to go as a composer and instrumentalist to Jordan and France in the near future.

        Up to now, the 36-year-old musician has composed mostly instrumental music.  He is now preparing two vocals based on Arabic texts and would like to have these texts translated into Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language that has an affinity to Moslem culture.   A year ago he did the arrangements for a score accompanying poetry by the pre-State Hebrew poet Chernichovsky that was composed by Prof. Arik Shapiro, an Israel Prize Laureate in Music who is on the staff of the UH Music Department.     In 1997 Haddad arranged the music for a disc of Easter songs in the Christian liturgy.  He has also done modern musical arrangements for Arab folklore songs uncovered by a researcher.

        He does not appreciate what he calls the “new wave” of integrated modern Arab music, which he thinks betrays classic Arab music and even any theory of Arab music.  His own approach, he readily concedes, relies on the concert level, not the popular level of music.

        Most modern-style Arab music is written for the synthesizer and the accordion, two instruments that were adapted, or reinvented, in the 1960s and 1970s to play classic Arab music.  He himself learned to play the accordion at a young age, when he learned that the piano was inappropriate for this music.

        At the University, Haddad teaches Arab music, but his students are both Jews and Arabs.  He established and conducts the Jewish-Arab Orchestra, which specializes in the integrated style whose foundations he is striving to lay down in Israel.

        Though a musician, he also wants to be known as a researcher and to stay in the academic framework, encouraging creative musical thinking.  He is now completing an M.A. in musicology at the Hebrew University, where he is writing a thesis on how the special genre of Arab women songs, their liturgy and performance, were influenced after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.  He had earned his B.A. at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem, majoring in all styles of keyboarding. He would like to continue with research, particularly in the area of Arab folklore and music, and earn a doctorate.

        Perhaps most of all, Taisser Haddad hopes his music will reach a broad circle of listeners and serve as a nucleus for a new music that relates to all cultures.

        In the meantime, his own progeny are carrying on the family’s musical tradition.  His two children both play instruments, his daughter the piano, and his son, whom he thinks extremely talented, the flute. 


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