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Anne Elise Thomas

Anne Elise Thomas

Anne Elise Thomas, wearing a black dress, stands outside in front of some trees, hold a qanun,  a 78-stringed zither. instrument.
Anne Elise Thomas, Director of Itraab Arabic Music Ensemble

School of Performing Arts

Anne Elise Thomas is an ethnomusicologist with expertise in Arab and other Middle Eastern musical styles. Her research for the PhD included several years of fieldwork in Amman, Jordan and Cairo, Egypt. She is an accomplished performer on multiple instruments, including qanun (78-stringed Arab zither), violin/fiddle, harpsichord, and piano.

Thomas’ research topics include music, identity, and community; discourses of music and development; transmission of musical styles; Arab music pedagogy and non-heritage learners of traditional music and dance. She has presented at conferences and universities around the U.S. and internationally and has published articles in Western Folklore and in the Journal of Performing Arts Leadership in Higher Education.

As a performer, Thomas has performed in ensembles with leading figures in Arab and Middle Eastern music including Simon Shaheen, Kayhan Kalhor, Bassam Saba, and Karim Nagi. Thomas is a founding member of the all-female Arab music ensemble al-Hawanim. She is a committed educator and actively seeks to promote understanding of Arab arts and cultures through presentations, workshops, and K-12 school programs.

Thomas is the founder and director of Itraab Arabic music ensemble at Virginia Tech and has been involved with various projects at Moss Arts Center and ICAT since 2014. Before that, she founded and directed the Brown Middle Eastern Music Ensemble from 2004-06. Her professional experience includes work in arts administration, grantwriting and community outreach with nonprofit organizations. She also dances with the Blacksburg Hoorah Cloggers. She is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Sweet Briar College in Amherst, Virginia.

  • Music cultures of the MENA region
  • Music, Nationalism and Modernity
  • Music, Identity, and Community
  • Appalachian Music and Dance
  • (Cross-Disciplinary) Music and Transportation Systems
  • PhD in Ethnomusicology, Brown University
  • MA in Ethnomusicology, Brown University
  • Studies in Arabic at Middlebury College and American University in Cairo
  • BA in Music, College of William and Mary
  • 2019  “Green Light Sonata: Improvisation at the Intersection of Art and Science.” Co-authored with Montasir Abbas, Charles Nichols, and Qichao Wang. GroundWorks, Online Journal of the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru). Debut edition.
  • 2018 “Salaam: Transforming Individuals and Communities through Arts-Based Intercultural Learning.” Journal of Performing Arts Leadership in Higher Education, 9.
  • 2001 “Practicing Tradition: History and Community in an Appalachian Dance Style,” in special issue on Dance and Community.  Western Folklore 60/2-3, 163-181.
  • 2020 “The Green Light SONATA: Foundations for Musical Agents Controlling Traffic Signals” by Abbas, M.; Wang, Q.; Nichols, C. and Thomas, A.E.  2020 IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems Conference, September 20-23, Rhodes, Greece (virtual).
  • 2007  “Intervention and reform of Arab music in 1932 and beyond.” Paper presented at the Conference on Music in the World of Islam, August 8-13, Assilah, Morocco.

2019    “Cube Dance: Square Dance Cubed,” utilizing motion capture sensors and infrared cameras to visualize paths of square dancers in real time, with Zach Duer, Hoorah Cloggers and the Happy Hollow String Band. Supported by ICAT and Crooked Road Mountains of Music Homecoming, June 8. 

2018    “The Traffic SONATA” with Montasir Abbas, Charles Nichols and Qichao Wang at DISIS concert, ICAT, Virginia Tech, May 1. Supported by ICAT

2018    “Salaam: Exploring Muslim Cultures” performance with Itraab Arabic Music Ensemble and guest artists Karim Nagi and Omar Offendum, Moss Arts Center, Virginia Tech, March 17. Supported by the Doris Duke Foundation through their Building Bridges program.