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> Aliyyeh Nuseibeh: school principal
> Abdel-Hamid Hamam: A composer and a scholar
> Jumana El-Husseini: painter
> Salma Khadra Jayyusi, poet and critic
> Badrans: A Century of Tradition and Innovation
> Dr. Naseeb Shaheen, historian
> Amin Nasser, composer
> Khalil Rabah, artist
> Fr. Gaudentius Orfali of Nazareth
> Amoun Sleem, community organizer
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> Fayeq [Mike} Nasser
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> Augustine Lama, composer
> Talal Nasereddin, CEO
Palestine’s Abu El-Musiqa (Father of Music)
The man was of medium height, moderately well-built, and dressed in a western suit and tie. He wore a fez (red tarbush) on his big head. He greeted the king politely. The king smiled and asked him: “Why you are wearing this fez, Augustine? Surely this is not yours? It is too small for your head!” The young man, embarrassed, smiled politely and said, “No, your majesty … It is not mine. I had to borrow it from a friend, as I could not visit you without wearing one.” After sipping coffee together, the king asked him about Beethoven and whether the composer was fond of nature and forests. Shortly afterwards, the young man removed his fez, started to play the Adagio sostenuto of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, and ended with its inspiringly forceful Presto agitato.
This image portrays a modern version of how composers and musicians of the 18th and 19th centuries used to perform in the courts of kings and emperors. Indeed it is. The friendship that developed between King Abdullah I of Jordan and Augustine Lama in many ways resembles the friendship between Bach, for example, and the Margrave Ludwig of Brandenburg.
On August 28, 1902, in the city of Ramleh, the young Augustine was born into a family that was originally from Bethlehem. His parents and uncles left Palestine and migrated to South America. There the family name changed from Al ‘Ama to Lama. At the end of the 19th century, some family members returned to Palestine, notably the brothers Ibrahim and Bader Lama, who afterwards moved to Alexandria, Egypt, where they acted in and produced the first Arab cinema film called “A Kiss in the Desert” in 1928. Augustine’s father decided to settle in Jerusalem, so he moved from Ramleh.
As a child, Augustine attended St. Saviour Franciscan School and immersed himself in music. He used to skip sports and other extracurricular activities in order to stay behind in the classroom and play the piano alone without interruptions. An Italian Franciscan priest was his teacher and mentor. At the start of World War I, the priest decided to go back to Italy. The young Augustine was then asked to replace the priest as church organist. When he turned 20, he became the chief organist for the Catholic churches in the Holy Land. It was then that he fell eternally in love with music, especially sacred music. He also mastered several languages, including English, French, Spanish, and Italian, in addition to his native Arabic.
Augustine Lama was a true gentleman whose amiable character endeared him to young and old alike. His life was dedicated to serving God, his family, his church, and his society. His exceptional skills in playing the organ led him to be considered a world-class virtuoso. He also excelled in choral conducting and focused much of his energy on encouraging choral and voice performance of Arab music. Although his specialty was classical music, he was a genuinely versatile musician.
As Augustine approached the age of 80, he became more fragile and almost unable to walk. Many people wondered what would happen when Augustine retired. At that time, Augustine often exclaimed, “If I could only get another leg, I would play the organ for many years to come …” In fact, he retired at age 83! For a number of years after his death, churches in Jerusalem held their services without organ music accompaniment.
Augustine was attentive to and cared for the young generation of his time. He helped them and even his own peers to stride confidently into the world of music and to develop their skills. Some of his students went on to become celebrated Palestinian composers. Among them, of course, are the most important two: Yousef Khasho and Salvador Arnita. He also taught and encouraged many other young composers such as Patrick Lama (his son), Francois Nicodeme, and others.
We cannot claim that Lama’s music is versatile in structure. As a professional, he remained faithful to his particular trend of music. He believed that he could excel, and so he did. He wrote chorales and many keyboard pieces, mostly for organ. He wrote fugues as well. His harmony, however, was indeed versatile, and the musicologist could easily find examples of the colourful mastery of different harmonies rather than traditional counterpoint. His music included 18th-century styles as well as those of late-romanticism.
Augustine passed away on July 19, 1988. His works include chorale music for organ, other choral pieces, masses for two and four voices, sacred music and chants for various occasions, organ instrumental music, and others. Some of his works are published in Europe.
One of his remarkable compositions is a piece for organ called “Post Laudio.” He wrote it in November 1948, after he realized that his country, Palestine, had been torn by war and that his Jerusalem had been shattered. The piece eloquently expresses deep despair and sorrow.
Augustine’s “Cognoverunt Discipuli” (Emmaus) chorale is a wonderful example of his fugal technique in a liberated structure. If Bach had been alive in the 20th century, he would not have done it otherwise. The “Velum Templi” chorale is another structure that is exceptionally vivid.
The Vatican made him an honorary member of the Franciscan Order, an honour that was bestowed upon only four people in the world at that time. In 1934, King Abdullah I of Jordan visited Terra Sancta College in Jerusalem and awarded him the Independence medal.
When I was a young amateur of music in 1977, I heard the wonderful music of Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata coming from one of the halls of St. Joseph School in Bethlehem. I noticed an old, fat man wearing glasses, who was seated and seemed to hardly move. One of the Christian Brothers was turning the pages of an old music score. I could not believe that this extraordinary piano music was coming from such an old man who showed no sign of life except for his fingers. That was the only time that I saw Augustine.
This is how I would remember this great man: a modest, kind gentleman, who was understanding and caring, calm and serene - the opposite of pompous. A great musician and composer. He played music from the depths of his heart. Even when his heart stopped, his funeral service was filled with his music.
He truly was the father of Palestinian music.
Dr. Saleem Zougbi, Bethlehem Academy of Music
This Week in Palestine