Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Issa Boulos

PhD candidate

I.I. Boulos
+31 71 527 2999

Issa Boulos holds a bachelor’s degree in music composition from Columbia College and a master’s degree from Roosevelt University. He is the Harper College Community Music and Arts Center program director. Boulos composes for internationally-acclaimed orchestras, chamber groups, and ensembles including the Chicago Symphony, Qatar Philharmonic, Youth Symphony of Bremen, Athens Symphony, Palestine National Orchestra and Silk Road Ensemble. Many documentaries feature his original scores, including the award-winning “Nice Bombs” and PBS’s “The New Americans.” He was previously a lecturer at the University of Chicago and the Head of Music at the Qatar Music Academy.

More information about Issa Boulos


At the time where the story of Palestinian music and its lyricists, singers, composers is still unknown to many, we currently have within reach a reasonable collection of historical material that is sufficient to establish a narrative; one that will shed the light on the evolution of Palestinian music during this specific period and examine its state and impact. The research will focus on music-making in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, from 1967-1993, a historical period with a wide range of musical productions that was defined by politics, cultural policy, exile, class, and socioeconomic factors. It will explore music-making as processes linked to the conditions that musicians adhered to while under military occupation and the experiences they went through. These processes may be reflected through form, maqam selection, melodic structures, rhythms, social function, context, lyrics, and venues. While focusing on musicians, lyricists, trends, groups and bands, I shall examine how and what musical instruments are used and how musicians utilize compositional and instrumental techniques. I’ll also investigate how and when they apply ornaments and embellishments, how they perceive rhythms, timbre and textures. My focus on maqams (scales and modes), pitches, selected tempo and dynamics, will help understand the reason that make musicians choose to perform in a certain way in any context, including folk or classical genres. I will examine how they negotiate their own point of reference, i.e., the classical traditions that preceded them and track how they as individuals change in terms of their sense of identity and artistry.

My active role as a Palestinian musician working in the West Bank as well as my academic training and my involvement in education and research are exemplified through my works and publications and are marked by an objective approach that is based on inquiry, asking critical question, and attempting to provide a truthful overview of issues. Subsequently, I shall conduct my study in person through interviewing artists, composers, activists and witnesses who were directly linked to music-making in the West Bank during those years. I’ll be responsible for traveling from one country to another and from region to another when needed. The areas that I will cover will be Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, France, U.K., Tunisia, the U.S.A., Canada and other countries if needed. I shall engage in interviews with composers, lyricists, performers, and organizers and will ultimately hear the stories of those who participated in making music and go into more details about their own works. These interviews will provide clarity on how music-making in the West Bank was carried and explore who and what and where and when. Some of this fieldwork has already taken place and currently archived by the Palestinian Institute for Cultural Development NAWA, a research organization that I co-founded in 2001. My final doctoral submission will be in book form and will be organized as follows: 1- Introduction; 2- Music and song in Palestine during the first half of the 20th century; 3- The impact of Pan-Arabism on Palestinian music-making; 4- Cultural policy in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), since 1968; 5- Music in the West Bank since 1978 to Oslo.
It will be primarily text while utilizing other supporting material as references and primary source materials such as musical transcriptions, images, videos, and audio.

Professional Experience

2014~Present Director, Community Music and Arts Center, Harper College, Palatine, IL

2010~2014 Head of Music, Qatar Music Academy, Doha, Qatar

2002~2010 Lecturer of Music, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

2002~2004 Adjunct Faculty, Columbia College, Chicago, IL

1999~2004 Faculty, Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, IL

Courses Taught

Music Appreciation, a course for non-music majors investigating music making in its social and global contexts and exploring various periods from baroque to hip-hop.

History of Western Music, a course for music majors investigating music in historical and anthropological contexts.

Music Technology, a course for music majors exploring how to utilize technology in various production settings. The course covers various notation, recording and editing software.

Music Theory, a course for music majors covers basic Western music theory.

Musics of the World, a course for music and non-music majors exploring how the various musical traditions in the world shaped by and give shape to their host cultures.

Music Composition: humanities private sessions in music composition.

World Music Ensemble I, II, III, VI: 4-section group class dedicated for the study and performance of music from throughout the world (Middle East, Greece, Asia, Eastern Europe, North America). Forms, rhythms are genres are explored.

Music Theory I, II: 2-term intermediate music theory course with analysis of traditional and contemporary concepts of harmony, form, and composition techniques. Emphasis on connections within improvisation practices across diverse eras and styles.

The Art of Improvisation: upper level course in improvisation in all genres. Analysis of improvisation practices through student projects and performances.

World Music Choir: introductory course to singing Middle Eastern music. Folk and classical vocal genres repertoire are explored.

Medieval-Andalusian Music: upper level course for music majors investigating issues in ethnomusicology. Case studies discussions include Arab maqam, issues of intonations and temperament, modes, poetry and the study of diction.

Hand Drumming: 2-section group class dedicated for the study and performance of hand drumming from the Middle East, Africa and South American.

Private Instruction

Music composition, orchestration, ‘ud, maqam, voice, hand drumming, improvisation, buzuq, nay; coaching on piano and guitar.

Notable Residencies

Oxford University, Yale University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Chicago, Northern Illinois University, Chicago Oriental Institute, Oberlin College, Oakton College, North Central College, Wilber Wright College, Hamline University, Miami University, Marquette University, Kalamazoo College, and Prairie State College.

Selected Compositions

2010 Streets 1, Streets 2, for orchestra.
2008 Southern Dance, Manfa, for orchestra and qanun.
2007 Exile and Longa, for orchestra and qanun.
2005 Nice Bombs, original music for independent documentary.
2003 New Americans, original music for PBS documentary.
2000 Shortly After Life, for orchestra.
1999 Samar, twenty jazz pieces for, ‘ud, percussion, jazz guitar, clarinet, violin and cello.
1998 Sama, six pieces for string quartet & harp.
1998 Pastiche, for chamber orchestra.

Selected Recordings

2013 Little Composers, children songs. Nawa Records.
2012 Sunny and Breezy, original instrumental works. Nawa Records.
2009 Being Peace, original songs. Nawa Records.
2008 The Middle East, Enchanted, arranged traditional songs for full ensemble, U of C.
2008 Al-‘Hallaj, eight original songs for mixed Ensemble, Nawa Records.
2007 Rif, original compositions for Turkish kemence, Sama Records.
2003 One World, One Language, original composition for Lingua Musica.
1998 Samar, original instrumental jazz compositions.
1993 Another Planet, original instrumental compositions.
1989 Side Street, original songs.
1986 al-Ashiq, folk songs.

Selected Recordings as Significant Ensemble Member

2004 Boonie Ba-Boona, Assyrian Market Records.
2002 Il y a un pays Palestine, Musique du monde.
2002 Ida y Vuelta. Flamenco, Sweet Pickle Music.
2002 Songs for Swinging Sophisticates, Jazz, Sideways Entertainment.

Notable Commissions

Silk Road Ensemble, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, Youth Symphony Orchestra Bremen, Athens Symphony Orchestra, Mediterranean Youth Orchestra and many others.

Other Skills

Facility with all programs within the Microsoft Office suite, including extensive experience inusing music programs such as ProTools, Cubase, Logic, etc., sound design, scoring for film, arrangements, orchestration and directing ensembles; experience in using audio equipment
indoors and outdoors.


The American Society for Ethnomusicology
The American College Music Society
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers
The American Federation of Musicians
The Harry Fox Agency


2000 Master of Music Composition. Roosevelt University, Chicago.
1998 Bachelor of Music Composition. Columbia College Chicago.

Grants and awards

2013 A. J. Racy Fellowship for Ethnomusicological Music Studies
2010 The Cultural Fund: support for Little Composers album
2000/2009 Qatan Foundation: support for fieldwork
2007 University of Chicago Faculty Development Grant: support for field work
2007 University of Chicago Women Board: support for Ensemble
2006 The Norwegian Fund. Support for recording newly composed works
2000/2003 Illinois Arts Council: Ethnic and Folk Arts Fellowship

PhD candidate

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Academie der Kunsten


This website uses cookies.  More information.