Souhail Kaspar | Near East Music

Mitch Earleywine
About Souhail as a teacher

Dear Colleagues:

It gives me great pleasure to write this letter of recommendation for Souhail Kaspar, master percussionist and master teacher. Mr. Kaspar’s teaching shows tremendous devotion to education and an infectious love of music, inspiring his students to work hard to develop exemplary technique and musicality at an impressive rate. His performances, with dancers, other musicians, and as a soloist, are unparalleled. These outstanding skills and abilities stem from his character. He is a sincere, dedicated, and devoted man who shows a unique mix of seriousness about music and education combined with a fun-loving attitude. Please allow me to elaborate.

Mr. Kaspar is an extraordinary instructor. I have taught at the University of Southern California since 1991 and have 11 teaching awards myself, so I know a good teacher when I see one. Mr. Kaspar has stellar intuitions about each student’s individual strengths. His mastery of percussion also gives him a superb understanding of the correct progression of skills that each student should develop in order to improve as rapidly as possible. He has an amazing ability to inspire each student to stretch a bit more with each lesson. Through his consistent and warm use of praise, correction, humor, and enthusiasm, he simultaneously demands absolute precision while maintaining a light and encouraging atmosphere. As training continues it becomes clear that he has a complex and detailed plan. Each student can not only become a disciplined percussionist and accomplished musician, but also a devoted enthusiast who can spread the joy associated with music. His approach to teaching and to music becomes an excellent model for how to approach any meaningful task in life.

Mr. Kaspar’s work with other musicians shows his dedication to music over all else. We’ve all seen showy drummers who often draw attention to themselves even when the music calls for subtlety. Souhail’s devotion to music would never let this happen. A prime example appears on his album ‘Khaliji,’ in a song called ‘Abki Ala Ma Jarah li.’ Even those of us who don’t speak the language of the lyrics can tell that this song is obviously about a broken heart. The rhythm is relatively quick in its expression of the singer’s exasperation. There are moments when Souhail could easily tear into an amazing solo, or simply add embellishments. But this kind of ornamentation would detract from the meaning of the song and actually limit the feeling it would create. Instead he maintains the steady but complex beat in a way that makes you feel as if the singer is ‘holding it together’ despite intense inner pain. Other songs on the album show his incredible virtuosity, precision, and speed, but again, only when it’s appropriate for the music.

His solo performances are truly flabbergasting. More than once I have asked myself how he can make so many sounds with a single instrument. He has an interactive style and seems to sense the audience’s reaction, improvising with the mood of everyone in the room in mind. He moves from traditional rhythms through novel variations onto complex and captivating beats that simultaneously feel outstandingly new but unmistakably familiar, warm, and comfortable. The music is moving and hypnotic, leaving the listener frozen in time. An hour passes and feels like a minute. Within one song you can feel tremendous joy, find yourself recalling distant lands or lost memories, and then suddenly long to dance. I am afraid I am not articulate enough to explain—you simply have to hear him.


Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Psychology
University of Southern California