NYUAD Music Program picks up tempo

This semester carries new rhythm: the faculty count at NYU Abu Dhabi’s music program jumped from two professors last spring to six this fall. By the ...

Sep 28, 2013

 This semester carries new rhythm: the faculty count at NYU Abu Dhabi’s music program jumped from two professors last spring to six this fall. By the end of this academic year, there will be eight professors committed to the program.
The future music major at Saadiyat
Accompanying the expansion, Carlos Guedes, head of the music program and associate music professor, spoke of his ambitious vision for the future. At the forefront of his plan is an interdisciplinary approach, encouraging convergences between music, film, technology and theater. Guedes also wants to orient the program away from the classical Western canon and embrace the entire world of music in its stead.
“We’re dedicated to form[ing] a new breed of musicians that can understand music in a much more global way, with a much wider scope … [and that] are proficient in terms of technology,” said Guedes. “To become the musicians from the 21st century, that’s what we’re trying here to educate.”
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Courtesy of Celina Charlier
The program will soon have two tracks — Arts Practice and History, Theory and Criticism. Collaborations across majors will be largely sustained by the new Performing Arts Center at the Saadiyat Island campus, which will provide the space that Sama Tower and the Downtown Campus currently lack.
“I’m under the impression that the music program started this year, with [Guedes] coming in,” said sophomore Juliana Bello, an undeclared music major. “Now there’s finally a direction.”
Music performance, however, will not be central to the program. Guedes said that it will take a lot of resources to have a fully developed music performance program, and training people to become concert performers will not be implemented.
Guedes is also aiming to transform the performance arts center that will be built at the Saadiyat campus into a central hub for the arts within the Middle East. The Saadiyat campus may even see the arrival of a gamelan, a large musical ensemble of xylophones, gongs, drums and other instruments that hail from Indonesia. Furthermore, Guedes hopes to launch workshops and music festivals in the spring, as well as create more partnerships with interested organizations and initiatives in the area.
Ilana Webster-Kogen, another new faculty member, added that the music festivals could make Abu Dhabi a big center for music tourism.
“That’s one of the biggest possible contributions that NYU could be making to the local community,” said Webster-Kogen.
Humble beginnings
The program’s launch stands on a foundation that has been in the works for the past three years. Senior Manuel Nivia has been set on studying music since graduating high school. When he arrived at NYUAD, however, it was unclear whether his passion could be fostered.
“My mentor was Walter Feldman, and when I came here, he asked me ‘are you sure you don’t have any other interests?’” Nivia said of his mentor, who was the only music faculty member in the fall of 2010. “I knew what was being given wasn’t too concrete, and I knew it wasn’t going to be your structured conservatory-style, but I was willing to fight to make it something.”
In the beginning, there were only a handful of music classes, and the minimal music scene in Abu Dhabi did not make performance or immersion easily accessible. Thanks to the perseverance of Nivia, the other music majors and the proactive faculty, the music scene at NYUAD began to take form.
“I think this is [like the] model of building the plane as you fly it,” said Diana Chester, an arts lecturer and Capstone instructor.
“There’s a strong sense at the university across the board that students do have — and have had — a really big hand in raising their interests and concerns around their educational experience because we are so young and so new,” Chester added.
Music performance at NYUAD
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Professor Celina Charlier. By Costanza Maio/The Gazelle
Celina Charlier, director of music performance, joined NYUAD in the fall of 2011 to launch the music performance program. Charlier put together 13 to 15 ensembles each semester, taught flute lessons and theory classes and directed many student performances.
“Music performance was … what formed a music community within our campus and what triggered a necessity for growth in the music program,” said Charlier.
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By Costanza Maio/The Gazelle
Additionally, Charlier established the Telematic project with Chester. The Telematic studio is located in the fifth floor of Sama Tower, boasting a high-quality program that works similarly to Skype. It helps to provide NYUAD students with opportunities for private music lessons with NYU New York professors, to foster collaborations with musicians across the global network university, and impart lessons on the technological aspect of musicianship.
Jules Bello said that the path has not always been easy.
“The classes can’t be that specific”, said Bello. “They can’t really have a music composition class because that’s such a specific thing, even among music majors, that to do it in a school with only two music majors to begin with — they couldn’t do that here.”
Looking forward
Nivia was excited for the arrival of new equipment, but wanted the program to be cautious in its ambitious spirit.
“There’s so many years of academia and history and information collected already about Western classical music or jazz, for example,” said Nivia. “Use that first foundation, train people in this one general thing that kind of translates — it’s kind of global already. Use that as a start before you push people in this mesh of ‘let’s study different types of theories.’”
Charlier echoed the same concerns.
“Since we are at a Western institution and we use English as the language … what I’ve been advocating for is that there is a bulk of theory that doesn’t need to be conservatory model but needs to provide minimum literacy so that people can look at centuries of Western repertoire with an informed vision,”  said Charlier.
She and Nivia both anticipated that there are going to be obstacles and disagreements.
“There’s going to be different visions, different ideas,”  said Nivia. “But it’s a unique opportunity, that’s why we’re here … here you have that opportunity of creating something new.”
Costanza Maio is a staff writer. Email her at 
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