In Conversations- Sense and Sensibility with Layth Sidiq
It is a palette of luminous sound when Layth plays; whether as a soloist, in a quartet, among a large ensemble, or within a symphony orchestra. There are these waves of reverberations offset in silence and stream with emotions. They manifest in a thoughtful articulation, traverse through graceful ebbs and flows, gravitate in an unfathomable energy, and dominate the tranquil landscape. It’s like a river that riffs with leaps and bounds, outburst with highs and lows, and is at once both serene yet dynamic with its force and destination.
Layth Sidiq Al Rubaye was born in Baghdad, Iraq and raised in Amman Jordan. Growing up in a “house of music”, Layth started to play the violin at age four. His mother plays the violin and his father is a composer and a pianist, and he is also the conductor of the Jordanian National Orchestra and director of the Jordanian National Music Conservatory. Layth fondly remarks “I could not have asked for a better childhood, growing up in a house filled with music and art is definitely the reason I’m the musician I am today. When asked about his choice of instrument, Layth said it was rather serendipitous – “Since I started playing the violin when I was four years old, I have no recollection of the moment I picked it up, I think it picked me up actually, and with the encouragement of my family and my teacher, I grew to like it very quickly.”
It was at the National Music Conservatory in Amman where Layth was trained classically under Timur Ibrahimov; he then went on to study with Adrian Levine at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, England. After auditioning with the Berklee School of Music, Layth was offered a full scholarship to study in America. While at Berklee, Layth continued his violin studies with the Palestinian violinist/oudist, Simon Shaheen. He made it on the Dean’s List and graduated from Berklee with high honors. With a music education from the East to the West and rich Middle Eastern culture influences, Layth translates his passion and dedication to music with his own unique voice. “Since I have been trained in Classical Music from a very young age, while growing up surrounded by Arabic music; these influences have become part of my sound and my style as a performer now. I feel that culturally, technically, and stylistically, both approaches are very different from each other, while if you want to compare the emotional aspect you could say that they are almost identical because both culture and music come from profound human experiences – I consider both an extension of my music and my sound.”
While studying at Berklee School of Music, Layth performed in diverse world music festivals, played and collaborated among many of his peers and professors, and was featured in albums with others. He performed alongside many renowned artists including Ron Carter, Simon Shaheen, Lalah Hathaway, Jorge Drexler, Ivan Lins, Lutfi Boushnaq, Raul Midon, Eric Whitacre, Clinton Cerejo, Mario Frangoulis, A. R. Rahman, Javier Limón, and with Alejandro Sanz at the 2013 Latin Grammy Awards Gala. Layth was featured on the album, Love Songs for Humanity, by the Voices of Afghanistan with Ustad Farida Mahwash. When I asked him about his goals in music and what sets him apart from others, Layth had these words: “I have worked hard all my life to accomplish what I have achieved and I believe that with hard work, honesty and a little bit of luck, good opportunities will come your way. My knowledge in different styles and musical languages, plus my willingness to experiment and to put myself in different situations and musical environments contribute to who I am as a musician.”
“My goal in music is to build on art and develop it, to take it somewhere new and challenge it, and at the same time to respect the old tradition where it all came from. Being a musician I am humbled with a responsibility, a responsibility of being a musical and cultural ambassador to my country, to represent it and introduce it to different parts of the world.”
After reading about a trip Layth took to Zambia for the project “More Music More Love”; I realized this it was actually an ongoing project for Layth as a trio with Eleftherios Mukuka, and Lu Gari. I asked Layth to share some of his thoughts.
“More Music More Love is a very important project to me because it focuses on the globalization of music education. With the help of the American International School of Lusaka and other music houses and friends, we made our way to Zambia. While we were there, we met many talented young kids, but the ones that really moved us the most, were the kids that came from areas filled with drugs, rape and murder. After working with these kids and donating some of the instruments we fund-raised for, it was very inspiring to see how these kids have made music their priority so they can escape their difficult lives. That was very encouraging for us, and made us realize that we are making a difference. What was even more amazing is that when we went back the following year, we found that these kids were still inspired and were still following the same path, and that kept us going. This year we are going to Mexico to continue our mission to educate and to inspire.”
Something that many people don’t know about Layth is that he actually also plays the French horn and has been playing it for 10 years now alongside the violin. Occasionally, he plays other Middle Eastern instruments and sings. In this short video produced with his friend Shubh Saran, Layth provides his voice besides the violin and the guitar. In terms of other interests in life, Layth listed photography, traveling, writing, cooking, and simply being inspired by everything he observes. Life after graduating from Berklee is a continuation of a journey in music.
“Life has been very fruitful since graduating. I am now teaching a string master class as well as some private lessons for Arabic music at Boston College, as well as having the opportunity to perform with and for incredible musicians like the legendary drummer Jack Dejohnette in New York, and the Indian composer and music producer A.R Rahman at the Boston Symphony Hall, as well as many other concerts and opportunities in the East and West coast.
“I am now in the process of releasing two albums/EPs. One is with my dear friend and wonderful colleague, Naseem Alatrash, we’re releasing a violin/cello duet album that features my composition and arrangements of other pieces. And the second album is with ‘The Four Corners Quartet’, which is a string quartet that was formed in Berklee College of Music. Our album project is called Four Corners Connect and it seeks to challenge cultural perceptions through music. The Four Corners Quartet aims to enrich listeners with a unique perception of other cultures whilst shattering the traditional impressions of their national music.”
As our conversation drew to a close, I can’t help but to believe that Layth, in so many ways, represents the definition of music: “vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion”. In his case, he is actually an innovator and an ambassador through art, culture, and music.
Just the other night, when I visited Eric Jackson at the WGBH studio we chatted about Layth. Eric told me that the name “Sidiq” stands for truthful, upright and honesty while I know the name Layth stands for Lion. Staying true to who he is and where he was from, we wish Layth the best on his musical voyage. We leave you these words from the Irish philosopher and poet, John O’Donohue –
As the wind loves to call things to dance,
May your gravity by lightened by grace.
Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.
As water takes whatever shape it is in,
So free may you be about who you become.
As silence smiles on the other side of what’s said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.
As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.
Here is a video of Layth playing a piece his father, Mohammed Othman Sidiq, composed for the Ney( an Arabic instrument). Layth adapted the piece for violin with string quartet and performed it at the Boston String Players concert in Cambridge. It was a concert that celebrated different culture and music.
The Four Corners Quartet, “Maracaibo” composed by Eugene Friesen, with Layth Sidiq Al Rubaye and Ellen Melissa Story on Violin, Alliz Nicholas on Viola, and Naseem Alatrash on Cello. Founded in 2013 at Berklee College of Music,The Four Corners Quartet represents an exceptional new generation of young musicians who are inspiring a change in cultural perceptions through music.
With the Berklee Indian Ensemble, a cover for A. R. Rahman’s “Jiya Jale”
Layth featured on the album Mi Unica Llave with Jose Mercé.
In Promesas de Tierra with Javier Limón.
On the track Yala A Bailar, by Eleftherios Mukuka & Adam Cooper, on the album Blue Tempest with the band AERS, with Tasha Abbott and Zach Nestel-Patt.http://aers.bandcamp.com/, on the album with The Four Corners Quartet for Nando Michelin: Juana de America.
* The video “Movie” was a cover of Stephen Warbeck’s soundtrack for the movie Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, with Shubh Saran on guitar.