Sawt al-Wadi comes to Morristown this January

Sawt al-Wadi, formerly known as the University of Tennessee Middle East Ensemble, directed by ensemble member, Dr. Lillie Gordon is coming to Rose Center.

Rose Center invites Lakeway residents to immerse themselves in the vibrant sounds of the Middle East with a Music at the Rose performance by Sawt al-Wadi, formerly known as the University of Tennessee Middle East Ensemble, directed by ensemble member, Dr. Lillie Gordon.

The ensemble was formed by Gordon in 2016. She established the group to give students and community members the chance to get practical knowledge of and exposure to the music of the region and to bring that music to the Knoxville community.

Gordon explains her motivation this way, “I think playing or hearing this music, let’s say a love song from Syria, helps remind people of the humanity of the people who live in these areas, as they can sometimes be dehumanized in the American media.”

Sawt al-Wadi translates to “Voice of the Valley,” a name which seems to ground the ensemble to their roots right here in East Tennessee.

Joining Gordon for the January concert are the following ensemble members, along with their instruments/role:

Abdullah Algamdi, ‘ud

Summer Awad, vocals

Kenneth Dale Disney, percussion

Lillie Gordon, violin, ‘ud, and vocals

Anna Helms, clarinet and saxophone

Dakota Johnson, cello, accordion, and vocals

J Miller, percussion

David Peeples, bass

Karim Sleiman, vocals

Emily Williams, violin

Since 2016, the group has performed at university and local events, including Knoxville Arabfest, the Rossini Festival, the Knoxville Community Thanksgiving, and the World Refugee Day celebration. Sawt al-Wadi has also been featured on WDVX and WUOT radio stations in Knoxville.

Regarding the January concert at Rose Center, Gordon admits the full line-up is still being developed. However, she describes what has been decided this way, “Our concert will definitely include a beloved, classic love song from 1955 Egyptian film that is also widely known in the Arab American community, a Turkish song about a neighborhood in Istanbul that also exists in many different versions throughout Southeastern Europe and the Middle East, a suite of beloved folk songs from Syria, and a contemporary Lebanese song popular at weddings.”

Candy Durman, Music at the Rose coordinator, says she is excited about the performance.

“This is such a special opportunity to learn about what we have in common with the people in that geographical region. Music, dance, and sharing our cultures with each other is a time-tested pathway to greater understanding and compassion. And, I personally think we could all use a little more understanding these days. Thankfully, we have organizations like Rose Center and our community partners to create opportunities for us to do just that. And, great things are already happening as a result of this performance.

“I can personally attest to the fact that new friendships are already being built as a direct result of this show. At the close of the December Java Jive, a Jefferson County resident originally from Lebanon saw the flyer for the upcoming performance, and became so very excited. He has been living here with his wife for the past five years, but has had to travel to Knoxville or farther to enjoy the sounds of his country of origin. His face absolutely lit up with joy that he would finally have an opportunity to share his home culture with his new friends right here in the Lakeway Area.’

Tickets for the concert are $10 in advance through 5 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 23, then $12 at the door. The concert will take place in Prater Hall with table seating. Guests are permitted to bring their favorite beverages and snacks. Music at the Rose is supported by the Friends of Music at the Rose and a grant from the East Tennessee Foundation. Additional sponsorship opportunities are available. Inquiries should be directed to the Rose Center business office at 423-581-4330.