The Zaki Nassif Program for Music Celebrates 20 Years

Vol. XXII, No. 1, 2024

The Zaki Nassif Program for Music (ZNPM) has transformed the musical landscape at AUB and in Lebanon. The program, which bears the name of the renowned Lebanese music composer and singer Zaki Nassif (1916–2004), is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2024. Zaki Nassif’s association with AUB, however, dates back to 1936, when he attended the AUB Institute of Music for five years.

There was no longer an AUB Institute of Music when Zaki Nassif (shown in the middle photo on the right) passed away in 2004, but there were enthusiastic and dedicated faculty and staff who were determined to honor his memory and to do so in a way that would set a standard for what should be done to preserve the musical heritage of other cultural giants: by organizing activities in Lebanon and the region to encourage and promote an appreciation of this glorious music, and by supporting the development of music education programs and courses at AUB. “The goal,” remembers Associate Vice President Salma Dannawi Oueida, who has championed and guided ZNPM activities at AUB since 2004, “was to ensure that this music would always be a part of our lives.”

Members of the ZNPM Friends Committee: Leila Bissat, Salma Oueida, Sawsan Maktabi, and Nabil Nassif

The program is a labor of love for Oueida and others, including Professor of Mathematics Nabil Nassif, who is a nephew of the composer and ZNPM director. “At the end of my uncle’s national funeral, I made a promise to myself to work towards preserving the enormous musical heritage he left behind,” says Nassif. One of the primary achievements of the program has been an extraordinary donation of 1,100 compositions to the Jafet Library from Zaki Nassif’s 23 heirs in January 2008. The archives were further enriched by a donation in 2017 from the widow of the late Dr. Walid Gholmieh, who was director of the Lebanese National Higher Conservatory of Music for many years. (The Zaki Nassif and Walid Gholmieh archives, along with other treasured collections, can be accessed at the library and at the QR code below.)

Since 2009, the program has organized A Choir from Every School, a competition that brings an average of 25 schools in Lebanon to the AUB campus. The program has also supported the expansion of the music curriculum at AUB’s Continuing Education Center (CEC).

Zaki Nassif (1916—2004)

None of this would be possible without the support of donors like the late Trustee Emeritus Ali Ghandour, who launched the ZNPM Friends Club in 2014. After his passing, Ghandour’s family established the Ali Ghandour Fund to support CEC music students and AUB students majoring in music, cultural seminars and academic lectures, and an annual concert.

The year-long 20th anniversary celebration of the passing of Zaki Nassif and the founding of ZNPM features diverse concerts that include Arabic and Western styles, a major performance by the program’s Arabic Ensemble, and a significant increase in the number of CEC instructors and courses.

Reflecting on the achievements of the past 20 years, former Trustee Leila Bissat, who is a long-time supporter of ZNPM and the current ZNPM Friends Club president, comments, “From the very beginning, it was our goal to make this program a steppingstone in efforts to preserve the rich heritage of Oriental classical music, to ensure its development through time, and to make this music a part of the lives of the youth of today. I am proud of what we have accomplished in spite of the difficulties and the chaotic situation we are faced with in Lebanon. Through it all, AUB has kept its doors open and its heart beating to the sounds of pure melodies and authentic culture.” (Bissat is on the far left in the top photo with the other members of the ZNPM Friends Club Committee: Salma Oueida, Sawsan Maktabi, and Nabil Nassif.)

The Zaki Nassif and Walid Gholmieh archives, along with other treasured collections, can be accessed at the library and digitally here.