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    JANUARY 26, 2006
 
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Senior awarded prestigious Marshall Scholarship

Mena Hanna, a composition major at the Boyer College, will study for two years at Oxford University.

Senior composition major Mena Hanna is one of only 40 students nationwide to receive a Marshall Scholarship. Hanna, an Honors student, plans to study musicology and composition at Oxford University.

Mena Hanna, a senior majoring in composition in the Boyer College of Music and Dance, has been chosen to receive a highly coveted Marshall Scholarship. He is one of just 40 students selected nationwide for what is recognized as one of the world’s most prestigious scholarships.
Winners pursue two years of post-baccalaureate study in their chosen field at an institution in the United Kingdom. Hanna, an Honors student who expects to graduate summa cum laude in May 2006, will study musicology and composition at Oxford University.

The Marshall Scholarships are awarded annually to college seniors from throughout the United States. Established by an Act of Parliament in 1953, the scholarships are funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth office and administered by the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission in the United Kingdom.

“Mena Hanna is a brilliant young composer of striking originality,” said Ray Raymond of the British Consulate-General office. “He has the potential to become an important new voice not only in classical music, but in building better mutual understanding between Islamic and Western civilizations.”

Hanna has already been recognized for his work. He was commissioned to set to music “La storia di un ciliegio,” an Umbrian fairy tale that he conducted at its premiere in Cittá della Pieve, Italy (recorded on DVD by RAI), and at a series of concerts in Umbria last summer. The piece will have its U.S. premiere on April 5, in Philadelphia, as the inaugural event for the annual Temple Undergraduate Research Forum and Creative Works Symposium.

Hanna, whose parents are Egyptian, was born in London. When he was a youngster, the family moved around the world, due to his father’s career in the hotel industry and international commerce. When he was 8, the family settled in the Philadelphia area, and he joined the Philadelphia Boys Choir.

Music, he said, has always been a part of his life — according to family legend, he sang “Happy Birthday” in its entirety when he was 2.

“My mom is an amateur musician, my great-grandmother was a concert pianist in Egypt, my aunt a famous opera singer — and we had a piano in the house,” he recalled. “My sister and I both took lessons, and then I taught myself.”

As a soprano soloist with the Philadelphia Boys Choir, he again traveled the world, giving concerts in Australia, France, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, sometimes for heads of state.
“Then my voice changed,” he said. “I was 12. When you’re a star soprano and that happens, your world sort of crumbles around you. That’s when I started composing.”

But it was politics, not music, that Hanna thought he would pursue. At Lenape High School in South Jersey, he was drawn to political activism, serving on student government and as president of his class. He earned a scholarship to George Washington University, where he planned to study political science and law.

“It was during my freshman orientation at GW that I suddenly realized the mistake I was about to make,” he said. “I left orientation, abandoned life as a future politician and embraced life as a composer. To my parents’ dismay, I enrolled in the composition program at Temple’s Boyer College.”

Maurice Wright, the Laura H. Carnell Professor of Music Composition at the Boyer College, met Hanna during his freshman year. “I still remember the concert at which the first Temple performance of his work took place,” he recalled. “It was an exciting, well-structured and musically expressive work for solo piano. A colleague from the music theory department who attended shook his head and said, ‘This is a freshman?’”

“Mena is not only a young composer of outstanding ability and promise, he is also the kind of student a teacher loves to work with, because he’s so passionate about his chosen field,” said Richard Brodhead, associate dean and associate professor of music composition at the Boyer College. “He’s made a commitment to himself to learn all he can about music so that he can bring all his talent and knowledge to bear on what he does. This is a remarkable commitment for a person of his age.”

His passion for music has launched Hanna on not just a career path as a composer but also a personal crusade. “I want to be able to reconcile the misunderstandings between Eastern and Western societies through music,” he stated. “And I want to extend the reach of classical music to a wider range of listeners. Audiences for classical music are dwindling. When I look back at the Romantic period, everybody either wanted to be a musician or philosophized about it, it seems. I think, what was it about that music that attracted listeners, and what is it about today’s music that doesn’t?

“I’m trying to elicit that same Romantic fervor in my music.”

The Marshall Scholarships are named for George C. Marshall, a former secretary of state and general and the architect of the European Recovery Act. They were created as a British gesture of thanks to the people of the United States for the assistance received after World War II under the Marshall Plan. Prominent former Marshall scholars include Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, New York Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman and scientist/inventor Ray Dolby.

Harriet Goodheart

Hanna’s professors on the Marshall Scholar
 
Hanna’s thoughts ...

“Mena is a person who sees the arts as a powerful force for good: for the individual and for society, not as some kind of self-contained field or an entertainment in the superficial sense of the word. He wants not only to compose, but to teach — and teaching will give him another opportunity to use the arts to do good.

“He has worked with all of us in the composition department and has sought out what each of us can give him as a composer. I think he has grown from encountering the different perspectives of our faculty.

“I believe firmly that we will be hearing a lot from and about Mena in the years ahead.”

— Richard Brodhead, associate dean and associate professor of music composition at the Boyer College

 

On his faculty mentors: “Maurice Wright was so encouraging, especially my freshman year when I didn’t officially have lessons with him. I’d stop by his office and bring him these atrociously hideous pieces of music, and he was so supportive. He’d tell me what to read, what to study, what pieces to look at. …

“Matthew Greenbaum pushes the way I think about music and sound. We both love reading philosophy and are able to digress into politics. It’s fun to have intellectual discourse with him. …

“I never really wrote a good piece of music until I studied with Richard Brodhead. He was very encouraging and told me to write what I heard.”

     

“When I met Mena his freshman year, he was not enrolled in a composition class but he was composing a work for performance and had a few questions about the form of his piece, an energetic composition for solo piano. The music was emerging at a furious rate, with page after page of arpeggios and scales, but he wanted results that were more detailed and delicate. Yet Mena’s method for revision was to tear up the music and start over — needless to say, a tiring way to work.

“We talked about politics, religion and counterpoint, and partly as a result of our discussions, he was about to invent a way of composing that put some filters in place to moderate his stream of ideas. He then had time to shape the music, and it culminated in that excellent performance — the first at Temple of his work — on a Sunday afternoon in Rock Hall auditorium.”

— Maurice Wright, the Laura H. Carnell Professor of Music Composition at the Boyer College

  On composing: “When I was a freshman, I could pop out a piece a week. Since I’ve matured as a composer, I’m able to take a lot more time and mold exactly what I hear in my head. Everything I read and watch and write is a conduit into my music. The process of composing is like raising a child: It can be really beautiful, but it can also be very painful, spiritually and emotionally draining, but eventually, you have a child. Music is my one passion in life.”

 

 

 


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