Kent State to honor faculty member’s 85th birthday with series of musical celebrations

Meredith Compton

It’s not every day that a member of Kent State’s faculty turns 85. This milestone of a birthday is usually celebrated with cake and gifts, but in the case of Pan-African Studies Instructor Halim El-Dabh, there will be much more than that.

The Hugh A. Glauser School of Music is planning a series of concerts in celebration of El-Dabh’s birthday, including a gala concert at 8 p.m. tonight in the University Auditorium. The concert is free and open to the public.

“I’m going to enjoy it very much,” El-Dabh said. “I’m grateful. I am honored, humbled and grateful. It feels good to be 85 here at Kent State.”

The gala concert will feature many pieces composed and arranged by El-Dabh himself. It will also feature guest artists, including the La Catrina String Quartet from Michigan, the Kent Bassoon Ensemble and the Kent State University Jazz Ensemble.

Two films will also be shown, one by Mark Wiitanen, a Kent State alumnus and filmmaker, and the other by Kent State alumnus and director Cory Lash.

The Kent Bassoon Ensemble will play a piece entitled “Ceremonial Fattening for Death and Resurrection” that was composed for the Bassoon Ensemble by El-Dabh in 1991. The piece comments on political events such as the Gulf War.

“It refers to history,” El-Dabh said. “I look at it from ancient history to present history.”

There will still be the usual birthday party flourishes during the gala. Middle Eastern food will be served in recognition of El-Dabh’s Egyptian heritage as well a traditional cake.

The gala concert is not the only event planned to celebrate El-Dabh’s birthday. The Kent Brass Quintet, the Kent State Men’s Chorus, the Kent State University Orchestra and the Kent State Concert Band will also perform some of El-Dabh’s pieces during their spring concerts. Performances by the African Community Theatre are also planned.

Kent State is not the only place these events will be held. Many locations including New York, Cleveland, Edinburgh, Scotland, and St. Louis, Mo. will be celebrating El-Dabh’s music.

“When you’re a famous composer, your work gets around,” Kent State Stark music instructor David Badagnani said.

Many of the events feature premieres of new pieces, including a piece El-Dabh composed in honor of Kent State President Carol Cartwright. The piece titled “The Quest,” focuses on what is happening in the land beyond Kent State and Kent State’s continuing efforts at global education, said el-Dabh.

Even with that global focus, El-Dabh said he feels a great connection to Kent.

“No matter where I go, I come back to Kent. It’s like my world center,” El-Dabh said. “It feels good here; it’s always felt good at Kent.”

El-Dabh has had many accomplishments within his 85 years. El-Dabh is one of only 11 faculty members to hold the title of University Professor, Kent State’s highest faculty distinction. He received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1988. El-Dabh retired in 1991, but he continues to teach and compose, including writing new symphonies for the upcoming concerts.

El-Dabh said he plans to remain at Kent State and continue his musical research. He also has a simple plan: “To finish the huge amount of music I have.”

Contact performing arts reporter Meredith Compton at [email protected].