Simon Shaheen (1955) is a Palestinian-American oud and violin virtuoso and composer. The Shaheen family is known for its musicality with music instructor and father Hikmat, oud-playing and instrument-making brother Najib, violinist and oud playing William, and singing sisters Laura and Rosette. He began playing the oud at 5, and the violin shortly thereafter. After graduating from the Academy of Music in Jerusalem in 1978, Shaheen was appointed its instructor of Arab music, performance, and theory. Two years later he moved to New York City to complete his graduate studies in performance at the Manhattan School of Music, and later in performance and music education at Columbia University.
He founded the Near Eastern Music Ensemble and organizes arts festivals and retreats. Shaheen also heads the Arabic Music Retreat, held annually at Mt. Holyoke College’s campus in Massachusetts which brings together a large faculty instructing Arabic music for a week and concludes with a concert.
In 1982, Shaheen formed the Near Eastern Music Ensemble in New York, establishing a group that would perform the highest standard of traditional Arab music. This time also marked the beginning of Shaheen’s workshops and lecture/demonstrations in schools, colleges, and universities to educate the younger generation. As a champion and guardian of Arab music, Shaheen still devotes almost fifty percent of his time to working with schools and universities, including Julliard, Columbia, Princeton, Brown, Harvard, Yale, University of California in San Diego, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and many others.
His concert credits are a veritable compendium of the world’s greatest venues: Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Cairo’s Opera House, Theatre de la Ville in Beirut, and Belgium’s Le Palais des Arts. In May of 2004, Shaheen appeared at Quincy Jones’ “We Are The Future,” fundraising concert in Rome in front of a half million strong crowd.
As a composer, Shaheen has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, Meet the Composer, the Jerome Foundation, Continental Harmony, and Yellow Springs Institute. In addition to his recorded work, his theatrical repertoire includes Majnun Layla, (performances included the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, and The Museum of Natural History in New York), The Book and the Stranger (from Kalilah Wa-Dimanah), Possible City, and Collateral Damage with actress Vanessa Redgrave. He has also written the music for the documentary of the British Museum’s Egyptian collection, which has toured U.S. museums.
Since 1994, Shaheen has produced the Annual Arab Festival of Arts, called “Mahrajan al-Fan.” Held in New York, the festival showcases the work of the finest Arab artists, while presenting the scope, depth and quality of Arab culture. To continue this exposure to Arab music and culture, Shaheen founded the Annual Arabic Music Retreat in 1997. Held each summer at Mount Holyoke College, this weeklong intensive program of Arabic music studies draws participants from the U.S. and abroad.
For the past six years, though, Shaheen has focused much of his energies on Qantara . The band, whose name means arch in Arabic, brings to life Shaheen’s vision for the unbridled fusion of Arab, jazz, Western classical, and Latin American music, a perfect alchemy for music to transcend the boundaries of genre and geography.
1990 – Music of Waheeb, Mango/Island/PolyGram
1990 – The Music of Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Axiom/Island/PolyGram
1992 – Turath (Heritage), CMP
1993 – Taqasim: Art of Improvisation in Arabic Music
1996 – Saltanah (with V. M. Bhatt), Water Lily Acoustics
2001 – Blue Flame, Ark 21/Universal
Simon Shaheen Performs ‘Ibnil Balad’