Breaking New Musical Ground
Dr. Jay Kawarsky, holding Lili Perkins, and Dr. John Perkins at Ras Al Hamra on the Arabian Gulf.
Shortly after beginning his post as assistant professor of Music at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), Dr. John Perkins '00 turned to one of his former professors at Westminster for advice.
Perkins and his colleagues wanted to create a music theater program at the university located in Sharjah (the city-state next to Dubai), one of the emirates in the United Arab Emirates. So, he reached out to Dr. Jay Kawarsky, professor of Music Composition, History and Theory and one of the founders of the Music Theater program at Westminster Choir College.
During the winter break, Kawarsky visited the American University of Sharjah, where he shared the history and insights of music theater degrees/programs in the United States with faculty and students. In addition, Perkins invited Kawarsky to present a lecture on the place of music theater in higher education, to give a verbal and written review of the concert and to play keyboards in the orchestra for Blood Brothers – the university's first musical. Perkins conducted the orchestra for the production and his wife, Emily Good Perkins, trained the singers in her capacity as a voice instructor.
"For a first production for a university, it was very good," he said. "These kids are growing up in a society where taking acting, singing or dancing lessons is not something that they grow up doing."
Kawarsky said that the American University of Sharjah is a relatively young university that was created 12 years ago. While Perkins is the university's choral director, choir is new in itself in the United Arab Emirates.
"Choir in the Muslim religion doesn't exist,” Kawarsky said. “The next step for the university to implement a music theater program is to create a basic course about the history of the musical. Students will learn the songs that we here in the United States grew up on."
Kawarsky hopes to share his experiences from the trip with his students at Westminster.
"It certainly gave me a different perspective on where those students are coming from. The students there are very eager to learn," he explained. "There are other opportunities for our students to help those students who are yearning to learn. There are opportunities for our students to share their knowledge with those overseas."
There is a rich musical theatre tradition in the Arab world as well (especially from Lebanon). AUS will perform the musical Summer 840 by Marwan Rahbani in Arabic this May.