Life’s Soundtrack had the great pleasure to interview West Virginian Violinist, Alasha (Ah-lay-SHA) Al-Qudwah. We talked about everything from how motherhood forces the prioritization of time, how full circle life is with the musical Groce Family (Mountain Stage), touring with Qiet, and how her Palestinian heritage informs her musical stylings.
Around the age of nine, Alasha Al-Qudwah’s love for music began to unfold when the Montclair String Quartet visited her public elementary school. She began learning cello, but due to its bulkiness, switched to violin. This change proved to be the perfect fit and she soon began private violin lessons with the talented Sandra Groce. After being chosen to perform a solo in Vivaldi’s Spring in front of her entire school at age 11, Alasha knew the stage was her home.
Alasha’s teen years took her to Tennessee for the Mark O’Connor fiddle camp, studying with Darrell Murray and Amelia Chan of West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, and absorbing all styles from Appalachian fiddling, Jazz, Klezmer, Classical, Chinese folk and more. She studied Music Therapy and Performance at Ohio University and earned her BA from WV State University.
Alasha’s daughter, Avalee Marie was born in March of 2011. Alasha’s describes her daughter’s entrance into this world and the impact it had on her music.
Her arrival affected my music in a way that it became deeper and more meaningful. She gave me more of a purpose to reach my dreams and a reason to believe in myself. She gave me strength through all of those very tired nights of staying awake to breastfeed. I don’t know how, but after those long nights, I still somehow managed to capture enough energy to approach a full day of work and study. I remember her being less than a year old at an Easter cantata I was performing viola in- just feeling her energy in the audience infused my performance with a warmness I had not yet experienced in my life.
The West Virginia based band Qiet has an eclectic vibrant sound, blending 1920’s jazz with the energy of punk rock. Touring non-stop and winning over fans are hallmarks of these stalwart musicians. Alasha describes how she became a part of one of West Virginia’s hardest working bands.
I was breastfeeding my daughter in the coziest of rocking chairs. My phone rang with a strange number I didn’t recognize – if you know me, you know I NEVER answer my phone outside of work, let alone answer weird numbers. Reluctantly, I answered the phone, and this mysterious male voice asked if I was “Alasha, you know, the violin player.” Once I confirmed my identity, he identified himself as the singer of Qiet (Christopher Vincent) and I was recommended as an option for playing violin in their band. I’ll never forget the series of questions – the most interesting being “Would you play in your underwear?” I said, “Absolutely not,”, and somehow the end of that conversation led to the next 5 years of my life touring, recording, and reaching monumental performance goals I daydreamed about in that rocking chair with my newborn.
Touring As A Parent
Qiet’s success has undoubtedly been earned on the road. Rigorously touring the region proved both exciting and emotional for Alasha as a new mother. Unfortunately, bringing children in tow isn’t conducive in most touring situations. Late night shows, convenient store diets and unpredictable vehicles make it so touring parents have to strategically plan childcare while they are away. Alasha tells us her experiences of touring while mothering a young child:
It wasn’t always easy, but with help from family I found a way to make it work. I have been to many amazing cities and venues thanks to Qiet. Our touring was mostly regional in the beginning, therefore it wasn’t as big of a deal to go away for a chunk of hours and come back late at night/early morning after the shows. Once Avalee was finished breastfeeding, I was able to open up my possibilities of staying out on the road with Qiet. It was never easy leaving my baby to go play a show. In fact, I remember there were a few times I’d have to walk away from everyone and sulk from missing her. I had questioned myself a thousand times as to if this were the right decision for me to be touring instead of being home with her. It was very hard for me to psychologically balance if what I was doing was the right decision. Luckily, the opportunities that came into my life would have never had happened if it weren’t for touring with Qiet. It’s now easy to look back and say “Yes, you were absolutely supposed to be playing those shows.”
Once Avalee started developing language skills, she began to understand that my job was playing music. It’s a powerful feeling as a mother to look into the audience and see your young daughter idolizing you. Being a mother already warrants them idolizing you, but being a parent enjoying their job and dreams brings it to a whole new level. I’ve never played better shows than the ones she was able to attend. She is my biggest muse and I am glad she gets to be part of my accomplishments.
After five years of amazing collaborative musicianship, Alasha made a difficult decision to leave Qiet.
This was undoubtedly one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in my life. I will forever respect, appreciate, and love the growth Qiet brought into my life. The biggest factor that led to leaving, was Avalee and bettering my overall lifestyle. Avalee started developing her own interests and hobbies, such as ballet and piano. I found myself wanting to put more of my energy into building her artistic successes. Following years of successive touring, playing tons of venues, garnering an ever growing fan base, as well as changing flat fires and dealing with breakdowns on the road, the toll it took on me became *quite* tremendous. I wasn’t taking good care of myself.
I started finding the balance difficult to maintain between home life, work life, and Qiet/tour life. I had accepted a full time position at Charleston Montessori School, as well as directing a summer arts camp. I found myself burning the candle at both ends and realized it was time for a change.
Family and the Future
Alasha’s tells the story of her father, a Palestinian, who came to America from Gaza in the 1980’s with little resources, but big dreams of becoming an engineer. He met and married her mother in West Virginia and soon after Alasha was born. She feels that both her Palestinian and Caucasian heritage color her musical improvisation. From Appalachian folk to one of her favorite styles of music, Oriental music (Middle Eastern) along with its close relative, Klezmer, helped to define the essence of what she would call her “sound”.
The Phrygian Dominant scale is what I love to improvise in and is a scale used prominently in Arabic music. On a personal note, in this time we live in, when I warm up to practice a sheet of music or a new song from a songwriter, I find myself improvising as an homage to all of the Palestinians’ and other Middle Eastern citizens that are suffering. While I do not practice Islam as do the rest of my Palestinian family, I still deeply respect their values and their strength. I tell Avalee that no one has ever worked as hard as my father and that we should always live by his example of perseverance, especially in a world that is very unstable at times. I surround myself with oriental stylings, and will often play this music on the world music radio show I co-host, Beats without Borders, which airs on WTSQ 88.1 FM (wtsq.org) in dedication to my father. His language is so musical to me. When he gets fired up on a topic and starts speaking in Arabic, I find myself wanting to sit at a piano and pick out the intonations that make his voice unique to my ears.
Since leaving Qiet, many opportunities have kept Alasha extremely busy. Between teaching at Montessouri, cultivating her own studio for teaching private lessons, Alasha has found time to create a new group and album with Beth Summers. The album, In with the New, is a fitting debut release for this stage in Alasha’s life. The album is a beautifully orchestrated collection of well written melodic songs. She’s also been performing with guitarist Spencer Elliott and working on her brand Violinista which centers around her original compositions.
In addition to keeping up with all her personal projects, Alasha is cultivating the love of music and the arts in her daughter. Avalee is taking piano lessons from Virginia Groce, the daughter of local musicians Larry (founder of Mountain Stage) and Sandra Groce (former violist in WVSO and also Alasha’s first private studies teacher). Full circle.
I would be remiss to not reiterate the amazing setting in which Alasha is able to be an artist: Charleston, West Virginia. This gorgeous place is home to the Mountain Stage radio program, the 12 day art celebration FestivALL, WTSQ 88.1. FM (the volunteer ran radio station), the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, the Charleston Chamber Orchestra, the West Virginia Youth Symphony and so much more!
To wrap up the intervew, we asked Alasha to share any big lessons that being a parent and musician has taught her and any advice that she would give other musicians and artists who have young children. This was her thoughtful response.
Prioritizing was a huge lesson for me to learn. I thought college would have nailed that lesson in place, and oh how it tried, but I didn’t understand how important it was until after my daughter Avalee came into my life. Live performance dates, private lessons for students, and recording projects started racking up on my calendar – I realized that prioritizing my time efficiently was important in order for me to maintain a balance in both being a parent and a musician.
My advice for other musicians/artists with young children is to stay strong, focused, and keep following your path. It’s so easy to become psychologically pressured to fit a certain mold of what a parent’s job should be – and so easy to become exhausted from the countless hours of practicing, preparing, traveling, and performing on top of keeping up with a young one. Keep pushing through, strive to inspire your children through your hard work, and stop doubting your good qualities. It will all pay off in the best ways.