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Mary Ellen Donald, Percussionist

Insights from a long life performing Middle Eastern Music for generations of dancers and enthusiasts. Keep up with a FREE subscription to the BABA YAGA newsletter.
Mary Ellen Donald is an acclaimed author, instructor, and performer in Middle Eastern Percussion.

Mary Ellen Donald is described in the Gilded Serpent as beginning her study of belly dance in 1969, studying with Jamila Salimpour and Bert Balladine for six years and falling in love with both the dance and the Middle Eastern music it is traditionally performed with. She took up the study of finger cymbals, doumbec (drum), riqq (Middle Eastern tambourine) and tar (wooden frame drum). Since then she has taught and produced books, videos and CDs on performing Middle Eastern percussion. She has both taught and sponsored workshops and performed with Middle Eastern bands in most of the major cities throughout the U.S. while maintaining a large student body in the San Francisco Bay Area and collaborating with local orchestras and universities on a variety of events.

September 1989 interview in Middle Eastern Dancer: "If you know the different rhythms, what to listen for, what to expect, and if you know how to execute steps and zills, then as these rhythms change in the accompaniment, you can change the rhythm. It's much more exciting for the audience to see and hear the alignment of rhythm, drummer and body than when a dancer repeats steps and constantly plays cymbals RLR even while the music is going from masmoudi to beledi to chifte-telli, back out to ayyub and maybe back to a fast maqsum... There is high energy generated by multi-changes in rhythm. You just can't intuitively know these changes, you really have to be trained."

Gilded Serpent

Mary Ellen has written widely on music performance, dance and event production for many years. Her website,, sells her books and CDS and includes links to some of her articles on music, performance and business.

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