Mena Mark Hanna was born in London of Coptic Egyptian parentage and moved to the U.S. as a young child. He went back to England for postgrad studies in Musicology and Music Composition, where he became aware of his identity in a post-colonial cultural diaspora and wrote a doctoral thesis on Coptic oral chant traditions in Egypt.
Now, he's a recovering composer, sometime essayist, very private poet, and Dean of the Barenboim-Said Akademie in Berlin, where he spends much time trying to speak German with a precision that annihilates (mostly due to his limited expressive vocabulary).
Mena and Lydia are new friends in Berlin, via their mutual friend Spiro, who lives not in Berlin but somewhat mysteriously between two continents. So far, Lydia and Mena have chatted about new music, old music, and ideal karaoke songs. (A discussion which recently turned from theory to practice: Lydia was surprised to discover at a birthday party last weekend that Mena delivers a powerful karaoke rendition of "We Are the Champions").
Minimalist or Maximalist?
Selective maximalist with minimalist aspirations. When I moved to Berlin, I imagined a lean and clean nordic lifestyle. I'm about halfway there and suspect that I'm there to stay.
When you last packed to move, what was the thing or collection of things you couldn’t leave without? Please tell us more!
I've been lucky enough to sustain a collection of books and music scores over the past decade, which I've mostly shuffled to Europe, back to the States, and then to Europe again. My most prized possessions from this collection include a 1907 piano-vocal score of Debussy's opera Pelléas et Mélisande, a first edition of W. H. Auden's poetry collection "City Without Walls" from 1969, and a first edition of the English translation of W. G. Sebald's "After Nature". A friend found the delicate Debussy score at a music school library giveaway, and the two first editions I found scouring old book shops in London and New York.
In 1999, I bought this tablah drum from the Khen-el-Khalili market, a traditional Arabic souk in central Cairo which is a bit of a tourist trap. I've dragged this thing around with me since; after joining me in Philadelphia, Oxford, Paris, NYC, and Houston, she is now residing restively in Berlin. The instrument has taken on some sort of paradoxical significance for me: I bought as a naive tourist in my native country; she's capable of very loud percussive rhythms, but is intricately inlaid with mother-of-pearl; she is both instrumental and ornamental. I will never part with her. Like my ancient mummified precursors, I'll take my tablah to my grave.
Despite having it for ten years, I never did get around to framing this canvas reproduction of an 1872 Russian lithograph of St. Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. The lithograph depicts the Greek Orthodox monastery at the base of the mountain with pilgrims trudging through the desert, a small chapel at the summit, and the heavenly firmament amongst the clouds in resplendent glory. I did the trek up Mt. Sinai early one morning and found no heavenly firmaments (perhaps I cannot be saved) but I did find a small stone-built chapel, an equally small mosque still used by local muslims, and a sublime Arcadian sunrise.
Thank you, Mena!
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