Lebanese immigration traditions and
Lebanese/Eastern Orthodox chanting traditions, Cedar Rapids
Nick Abou-Assaly was born in Lebanon. After the start of Lebanon’s civil war in the early 1970s, he and his family moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His parents moved in November 1975, while he and his brothers and sister stayed with their grandparents and then arrived in February 1976. Many of his mother’s side as well as friends from the same area of Lebanon had settled previously in Cedar Rapids. Nick and his siblings grew up steeped in both Lebanese and Eastern Orthodox traditions. In fact, the two were nearly inseparable. His mother was and is an excellent traditional cook, and she still regularly supplies her family with khoubiz, a delicious homemade flatbread, as well as the dishes for which Lebanon is best known: homemade kibbee (beef, cracked wheat, onions, salt and pepper) and tabbouli (chopped parsley, mint, tomatoes, onion, and bulgar or cracked wheat seasoned with salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice).
Now an attorney and father of three, Abou-Assaly serves as the head chanter at the St. George Orthodox Church in Cedar Rapids. The church serves as spiritual and community center for the region’s Lebanese since there are no restaurants or markets. The Church has regular bake sales, festivals, community suppers, and traditional dance lessons as well as hosting regular Orthodox services in English, Greek, Lebanese, and Arabic.
Nick learned to chant as a child from hearing his father at church and on car trips to visit family in Michigan or Ohio. He memorized a lot of the hymns and melodies just from hearing them. Eventually, Nick started to chant along with his father. The melodies are very ancient, written a thousand years ago or more, which have been preserved and passed on over the centuries. While the words have been translated into different languages, the music has remained the same and alive today.
Contact: Nick Abou-Assaly, firstname.lastname@example.org, St. George Orthodox Church, 3650 Cottage Grove Ave SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52403, 319-363-1559, http://www.stgeorgecedarrapids.org/