Despite the fact that oppression and political turmoil seem so pervasive and entrenched modern-day in Egypt, one native took his musical talents to Stony Brook University to march to his own tune—literally.
Amr Selim is a 25-year-old doctorate student who plays the French horn, and was supposed to be one of the soloists at this year’s Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra Concert until it was cancelled because of the snow.
Selim hails from Cairo, from the district of Zeitoun, where he says his musical roots began.
“I come from a very musical family,” Selim said, as he recalled the quality time he spent with his family as a child. “It was in my blood.”
Selim remembers his family gathered together in one room, his father playing very traditional Arabic music in one corner, as his brother played Mozart on the cello in another.
Selim attributes some of his passion for music and performing from his siblings—his brother is a cellist and his sister is an ethnomusicologist, which in layman’s terms is the scientific study of music, through a cultural and historical context.
Selim decided to fuse his musical career with his academic career when he was just 10 years old and auditioned for the Cairo Conservatoire, which is Egypt’s globally acclaimed and primary music conservatory.
Selim originally wanted to play percussion, but was only given the option of playing either the trumpet or the French horn.
“There is no particular reason as to why I chose the French horn,” he said. “I guess I chose it because it was big like me.”
Selim attended the Cairo Conservatoire until the end of his undergraduate education, where he mastered his instrument and proved his musical talents and abilities at several performances and ensembles based in Egypt.
Though he was an exceptionally gifted musician, Selim originally wanted to be a politician. However, he described it as a “very hard path to follow.”
“The fact that I couldn’t do it meant something,” he said. “It meant that I should stick with my music.”
After graduating from the Conservatoire, Selim decided that in order to thrive at playing his particular type and style of music, he would have to venture out of Egypt.
“People back home don’t appreciate classical music as much as Arabic music,” Selim said. “Egypt is not the greatest environment for classical musicians.”
This drove the doctorate student to move to Florida in 2009 with his wife, Seba, who he met while both were attending the Cairo Conservatoire. There, the two musicians would receive their Professional Performance Certificate at the Conservatory of Music at Lynn University in Boca Raton, both on full scholarship.
Still, Selim was hungry for a bigger and better musical opportunity, and decided to pack and take his talents to none other than New York. In 2011, he and his wife moved to enroll at Stony Brook University to pursue their master’s degrees and doctorates in the Department of Music, once again on full scholarship.
The French horn player says that there is no better word to describe him and his wife attending a school like Stony Brook than “lucky.”
Selim also serves as a teaching assistant for wind ensemble and provides horn lessons for both majors and minors.
He was supposed to perform as a soloist at the Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra Concert Saturday, after competing and advancing through several rounds, in order to make it as one of the final four. For his solo, Selim was scheduled to perform the Hindemith Horn Concerto, an intricate piece that has only been played three times in the state of New York, including his performance at the concert.
He described the piece as “complex in structure with a texture full of melody,” and “more lyrical than technical.” The Hindemith Horn Concerto has never been performed in Egypt.
Although he is content and successful here in the United States, Selim says he would one day like to return to his home country, despite its current political state.
“It’s hard to be away from Egypt and all of your family and friends every day for nonsense,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m doing more for my country here than I would if I were still there.”
Although he says it will be difficult to return to Egypt and its less organized educational system, Selim remains hopeful.
“I’d like to think that me being abroad will help,” he said. “I plan to take what I’ve learned here and return to Egypt in order to rebuild it through music.”