A great friend and musician died recently: Ahmed Hassan, percussionist and composer.
I met Ahmed soon after moving to Toronto, after seeing a performance of Sable/Sand by Dancemakers (this was the shorter piece that he worked on with Maryem Tollar, Colin Couch and another musician whose name escapes me)). The full evening work of Sable/Sand was one that we (Ahmed, Ernie Tollar, Colin Couch, myself and Maryem Tollar) did a few years later. Anyhow, he invited me over to his house, where I met Maryem and his wife and now colleague Peggy Baker, and soon after I met everyone who I would end up playing music with for the next 8 years or so at Arabic music classes at his house. It was he and Peggy that told me about how drummers accompany dance classes, and Ahmed and I went around to various classes in Toronto to sit in. That was the start of a very important practice for me, playing for dance, and it continues today.
I spent a lot of time around Ahmed helping him (I was doing home care work at the time) and started to become more familiar with the work he and Peggy did together. Sanctum in particular held a certain fascination for me, but I was unable to articulate why. I realize now that that score and performance, which I have had the great fortune to perform with Peggy and with Helen Jones, was an actualization of everything that I try to bring to my creative practice in music, composition, and new media. The score, and the piece itself, is a beautiful and nuanced play with sound, silence, space, and (if I may) the humming of the universe. To perform it, one must become it—there is no simple “execution” of it, and the integration of the music and the performance in that piece is something that I think just came naturally to Ahmed. His music is a total abandoning of ego and self—he was someone who really gave himself over when he made music.
I remember learning this score with him and from him, and performing it with Peggy was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I know that he saw himself a little bit in me, and he always encouraged me to let go and just play, in every sense of the word. He was so generous with his time and his equipment, never once saying “no”. I sensed that, as his ability to play and motor control decreased, he found it difficult to sometimes be with me as my ability developed. But even so, he never, ever once put that burden on me, and chose instead to remain engaged to the moment and put his energies where he could, be it advocacy, seeking out new possibilities to deal with his health, or simply enjoying a cup of coffee or slice of pizza (and I mean really enjoying it!).
I learned much from my years with Ahmed, and it all resonates still.
Rest in peace, Ahmed, my friend, and I welcome the light you continue to shine on us.