Alumna’s cross-cultural composition goes viral

Posted on Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Laura Hawley on stage directing the musicians.

Alumna Laura Hawley’s song is a YouTube sensation. Photo: Peter Farris-Manning

By Aida Stratas

Alumna Laura Hawley’s blend of Arabic and French melodies performed by a children’s choir has attracted more than 1.3 million views on YouTube.

Hawley (BMus ʼ05) and MA [Music] ʼ07) is an Ottawa-based musician, composer and educator who was commissioned over a year ago by choir director Robert Filion to compose a hybrid song for the children’s choir festival, which features a different culture each year.

Hawley spent hours pouring energy and emotion into composing Alhamdulillah, which blends a traditional Arabic song Tala' al-Badru 'Alayna with contemporary music that she wrote, inspired by a French poem by Jacques Prévert.

The song’s Arabic title expresses feelings of “gratitude, welcoming and gratefulness…living, loving, understanding and sharing,” says Hawley.

A choir of 285 students sang Alhamdulillah at a Christmas pageant performed at De La Salle high school in Ottawa. Soon afterwards, a video of the performance was uploaded to YouTube. It rapidly found its way into the hearts of over a million people from around the world, getting over 700,000 views on the MuslimFest Facebook page.

The video even caught the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who tweeted about it.

Laura Hawley

Laura Hawley. Photo: Peter Farris-Manning

Hawley says she believes her composition and the video touched a chord because it came out as Syrian refugees began to arrive in Canada. Many listeners believed it was intended as a kind gesture for a warm welcome. Although the timing was coincidental, the song shows how music can cross cultural and linguistic boundaries and inspire feelings of inclusiveness and peace.

“Music, especially choral music, is a universal language that we can all share,” says Hawley. “When people sing together, there isn’t anything better. We’re breathing together, we’re feeling together—all in the same language.”

Since the success of her song, Hawley has been busy putting on choral performances and being interviewed by various news organizations.

She will appear on campus in the spring to speak about her experience as an accomplished artist. Stay tuned for updates about her by following @uOttawa Arts on Twitter and the uOttawa Arts Facebook page.

In the meantime, Hawley offers the following words of advice to aspiring student musicians.

“When you’re embarking on a career in music, it’s important to be diverse and open to many different opportunities and experiences, because you never know what you’ll end up really loving.”

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