Boston-based Iraqi/Jordanian violinist and composer Layth Sidiq has been featured on Latin Grammy–nominated albums and performed with some of the top people in the industry. Thanks to his extraordinary skills and qualities, he received a full scholarship to the master's degree program at the Berklee Global Jazz Institute. He recently won second place at the Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition; he was the first Arab to ever compete.
What made you decide to attend Berklee?
Deciding to attend Berklee was a life-changing experience for me, literally. From the age of 4, I was brought up as a classical violinist with a determined career path in conservatories and orchestras. Berklee was going to be a very different place for me, and it frightened me. However, from the moment I walked through the doors and met the diverse student body and took my first classes, I knew this place would be special.
How did you find out about the BGJI, and why did you decide to apply?
During my time at Berklee, I had some friends who were members of the BGJI undergraduate program. I always heard good things about it, but I knew it was not the place for me because I'm not a jazz musician. I had already graduated when the master's degree program opened, and after reading about it, I thought I would give it a try and see if they would accept an Arab violinist. I was at a point in my life where I was ready to challenge myself and go into unknown territories. I was full of fear, but it seems now that that same fear was necessary for me to grow. I'm very thankful to have been accepted.
How has your personal voice as an artist and musician changed through your experience with the BGJI?
My personal voice never changed: it [had been] masked by years of demanding musical training that focused on the instrument and not on the music. The experience at the BGJI helped guide me back to my personal voice and strengthen it, which in turn made me aware of the different responsibilities that an artist has. Being around the weekly guest artists and hearing about their musical experiences and how they always maintained their strong artistic voice despite all the challenges around them was inspiring. It also morphed my priorities from only wanting to be a performer into an artist that values teaching, creating, and striving for social change.
How has the BGJI impacted your personal life?
It humbled me. It made me aware of the power of music in an educational setting and shed a light on musical ambassadorship and the slow but significant change we can do in a community. It put me in challenging situations, which helped me mature into a better human being and gave me the space and opportunity to dig deeper into my identity and let it flow through me. It impacted the way I look at music and at the world around me.
What are you doing now?
As an educator, I'm currently the director of two programs: the Tufts Arab Music Ensemble and the Center for Arabic Culture's Children Orchestra Program. I'm also a faculty member at Simon Shaheen's Arabic Music Retreat as well as the director of various smaller ensembles that present Arab music and showcase it to new audiences. As a performer, I'm a member of Danilo Pérez's Global Messengers, a new sextet with a social change mission that presents music from folklore with the fingerprints of jazz and improvisation. Finally, I'm working on my own educational and musical projects. They're still in the construction phase, so I'll share more news about them soon.