John Baboukis, director of the music program, has a motto:“If you have a voice, you can sing.” Teaching courses in music history and performance for the past years at AUC, Baboukis has taken on the challenge of revitalizing the university’s music program by raising the level of participation, hiring more faculty to accommodate the increased demand and putting on regular performances with student and community choirs and instrumental ensembles.“Music is as important as purely pragmatic things in the world, like people keeping the streets clean or curing cancer,” Baboukis said.“Those are things that are important, but they’re technical. Music is aesthetic; it’s a different part of us and it’s an equally important part that also has to be nourished.”
In addition to teaching, Baboukis directs the AUC Chamber Singers and is the conductor of the Cairo Choral Society, one of the premier choral ensembles in Cairo. Before coming to AUC, he taught music and directed ensembles at McGill University, the College of St. Catherine, the University of Georgia and Illinois State University. Baboukis holds a Doctor of Music degree from the School of Music at Indiana University, the largest music school in the world.A recipient of the McKnight Composition Fellowship, he is a specialist in medieval and renaissance music and was the founder and director of the Saint Paul Early Music Ensemble and Les Voix Médiévales de Montréal. He has also been trained in the performance of Byzantine Chant and has served for many years as a chanter in the Orthodox Church.
|Barbershop quartet of Baboukis, along with students Yasmin Eid, Melanie
Bradshaw and Mary Victor Shoukry, performing in Moliere’s School for Wives, photographed by Amira Gabr
At AUC, Baboukis has tirelessly poured his energy
into generating enthusiasm in the music program. When he first came to the university, there were four part-
time faculty members in music, in addition to himself. Now there are 23, with approximately 400 students enrolled
in music courses.“Everything I’ve asked for,
the university has given to me,” Baboukis uminated.
“They have bent over backwards to support the endeavors
I’ve tried to make.”
He started by redesigning the music minor,
introducing a mandatory Introduction to Music course and revising the curriculum.“The first measure of
success was when I started overhearing conversations
in the hallways,‘Don’t take Intro to Music; it’s hard,’
and I thought,‘We’ve arrived!’” Baboukis recalled, chuckling.
He also petitioned for private instrumental or voice instruction classes to be allotted as for-credit courses. Now, they count for one credit per semester, where students study the guitar, piano, voice, saxophone and other instruments oneon- one with an instructor.
In addition to teaching, Baboukis worked with the AUC Chamber Singers, an ensemble that is also a course for credit and which performs every semester. In Spring 2009, they performed in the university’s first opera production Dido and Aeneas, by English composer Henry Purcell.The show was a huge success, drawing a large audience for each of the four renditions. Baboukis hired a professional orchestral ensemble, but the singers were entirely students. “More than half of the chorus had never sung before they came to AUC,” Baboukis said.“It’s remarkable what kind of progress and what kind of result you can obtain from intelligent, motivated students who are willing to work hard,” he marveled.
The Cairo Choral Society, another of Baboukis’s projects, is a community chorus sponsored by the university. In it, students and members of the community sing together.A quarter of the participants –– who range from 75 to 90, depending on the performance –– are Egyptian. Many of the others are AUC faculty members or foreign residents of the community.With two performances per semester, the Cairo Choral Society is accompanied by the Cairo Festival Orchestra, an ensemble drawn from the Cairo Symphony and Cairo Opera House.
|"Conducting the orchestra, chorus and soloists in the
performance of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, photographed by Ahmad El-Nemr
Despite his accomplishments, Baboukis’s aspirations for the department are far from complete. He hopes to institute a music major that would offer two different tracks: one in music technology and the other in voice, piano or guitar performance. As part of the major’s requirements, students would take one semester ofWestern and one of Arab music literature.“We are at an American university in Egypt,” Baboukis said.“We need to do something that is actually suited to this place, to this place in time, to this place in the world.”
The music-technology major track would also be the first in the Middle East.“Cairo is the center of the music broadcasting and music recording industries in the Arab world,” Baboukis explained.“This is an ideal situation in which to teach music technology.”
Baboukis has been deeply committed to music his entire life. He grew up attending the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States. He learned Byzantine chanting and continues to sing in the Orthodox Church in Cairo. In addition to conducting, he is also composing. During his time in Egypt, he has written a piano sonata, a piece for the organist at the University of Alabama and is working on a musical composition for the first bassoon in the Cairo Symphony Orchestra.
Baboukis is overjoyed to be teaching again, in addition to conducting and bringing music to the student community.“It makes them better people; it makes them humans; it teaches them,” Baboukis said.“ You do not go to university so that you can learn how to get a job as a banker.You go to university to prepare yourself to live, to make you better at living. Music does just that.”