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A concert Saturday in Toledo featuring the National Arab Orchestra, a Syrian opera singer, and the Toledo Symphony performing classical Arab music reaffirmed the value of cultural pluralism.

Lubana Al Quntar told The Blade editorial board that the Syrian regime threatened her because she spoke out against its treatment of protesters. It wanted to use her in propaganda, but she would say she had concerts outside the country — if you directly refused the government, she said, “they would take you.”

She got asylum here and is now a permanent resident, she said. “I have no home now except here.” But “I’m afraid again” because of some sentiment against Syrian refugees.

The concert was not just Western and Arab music, though there was both; it was most notable for music tied to both worlds. There was a selection from Scheherazade in which Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov used European musical language to, as Sara Jobin, the Toledo Symphony’s conductor, explained, depict the bustle of Baghdad. There was Kareem Roustom’s “Hewar for Takht and Orchestra,” featuring NAO and symphony performers and Arab and Western musical themes. There was a Mozart selection in which the symphony, led by NAO conductor Michael Ibrahim, was joined by three NAO percussionists, giving the piece a new, Arab flavor.

Mr. Ibrahim conducted the audience in clapping along during some of the Arab music. “Arab music,” he explained, “is contingent upon audience participation.”

Preserving traditions is valuable. It gives people a sense of their own roots — and an opportunity to step beyond them by experiencing other people’s traditions. Americans can form ourselves as stronger, spiritually richer individuals and communities by drawing on diverse sources.

In Toledo, and in this part of the country — the NAO is based in Detroit — Arabs have long been part of the community, and their heritage is one of those sources. The concert was a reaffirmation of that and an opportunity, both for Arab-Americans and people of other backgrounds, to experience the distinctive qualities of an Arab musical performance.

By bringing together Western and Arab traditions in the same performance and even the same pieces, the concert underscored that cultural preservation in America is not and should not be about simply sticking with what your ancestors did. It’s about being able to learn from a variety of traditions.

Written by The Blade

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