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Alasha Al-Qudwah, an educator and freelance musician, is the first violinist of the David Bowie String Quintet and performs with the group Minor Swing.

“My state ... helped me to become the musician I am today”

A musician of Palestinian descent melds classical and Appalachian melodies to create a new sound that’s emblematic of what’s best in Postindustrial artistry these days.


By Alasha Al-Qudwah

There’s more than meets the eye with music in West Virginia. 

Growing up there, I had a rich musical upbringing inspired by many walks of life and styles.  

From the childhood sounds of my grandfather’s bluegrass band, to the Arabic melodies on my father’s radio, to the sounds of the West Virginia Symphony that inspired me to play the violin — I couldn’t help but fall in love with music. 

My journey began when the Symphony visited our school in fourth grade. I was mesmerized by the sounds of the stringed instruments. 

The first 17 years of my musical life were immersed in classical training. I fell in love with composers of the Baroque era in particular, finding passion in playing composers such as Bach, Corelli, and Vivaldi. The fast-paced rhythms, exciting runs, and energetic performances reminded me of the fiddle music performed all over the region. This was my first experience of bridging my love of Appalachian folk music with Western art music. 

My style began to shift in high school. I developed a love for jazz and blues improvisation that my teacher and mentor, Darrell Murray, taught me. Darrell noticed I found improvising to be easy and began to cultivate this new style of music I was falling in love with by providing opportunities that would later define my musical style. 

One experience was life-changing: Darrell applied for a grant that allowed me to attend the Mark O’Connor Fiddle Camp in Nashville. 

Violinists from all over the world gathered there to learn from instructors who played a variety of genres. I was accustomed to performing Scottish fiddle tunes, blues, jazz, old time tunes, and classical pieces. I did not expect to find myself in a lesson with a Klezmer violinist. 

I began learning scales, rhythms, and tunes that are characteristic of Arabic, Jewish, and Eastern European folk music. It came to not only define a style that I would bring back home, but also was a way to understand my heritage. 

There’s more than meets the eye — and the ears — in the Mountain State.

My father comes from the Palestinian Arafat-Alqudwah family and has a deep love for his culture. He was born in Gaza, Palestine but grew up in Kuwait until he emigrated to West Virginia in 1980 to study civil engineering. He met my mother, born and raised in Charleston, during his studies.

While attending Ohio University, as I matured through my sound, my style took on the tonality of eastern scales, the rhythms of Appalachian fiddle music, and the tone of classical music. 

After I moved back home, I collaborated with local musicians which led to my gypsy-jazz quartet, Minor Swing. 

My state — my city of Charleston, especially — lifted me, and helped me to become the musician I am today.

There’s more than meets the eye — and the ears — in the Mountain State. 

West Virginia helped to define who I am musically — melding my Appalachian and Palestinian heritage into my musical style. 

Alasha Al-Quwah is an educator and freelance musician. She is the first violinist of the David Bowie String Quintet and performs with the group Minor Swing. She has recorded more than 10 albums. She is based in Charleston.

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