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A Global Connection to Heritage, Jazz and Capital

If you ask students why they chose to attend Capital, you’ll often hear the word “connection.”  Maybe it’s a connection with the campus, or the connection to a family member or friend who attended Capital. But every once in a while, the story behind the connection is so unique, it’s really pretty remarkable. 

One such story is that of Ayman Abi Kheir, a December 2020 graduate of the University’s Jazz Studies program.

Ayman was born and raised in Dhour Shweir, a mountainous village about 30 minutes northeast of Beirut, Lebanon. His parents encouraged the children to play an instrument as part of their education. Originally Ayman wanted to play guitar, but his older brother encouraged him to think about playing drums. After settling on drums, he started taking lessons from a cousin when he was 8.  Six years later, Ayman got his first smart phone and started listening to music that he liked. 

“I would pick songs and play the drum line along with the music. That is what got me practicing more and more.” While attending high school in Lebanon, Ayman joined a friend’s band called The Blue Avenue. 

“My first gig was when I was a freshman and we made $70. That’s when I got really excited about music and I thought, ‘Wow, I can really make money doing this!’”

While originally considering a career in engineering and music, by his junior year of high school Ayman had determined his career path. “I wanted to be a musician. It’s what I really love. And specifically, I wanted to be a jazz musician because for me it combines all sorts of world music.”

Fast forward to the Capital connection. 

Ayman enrolled at Notre Dame University–Louaize, a private Catholic university in Lebanon, where he was active in the local music scene. It was at this same time that he began taking drum lessons from Capital Jazz Studies alumnus Chris Michael ’92. Chris (who goes by Christopher Mikhayel professionally) has Lebanese ancestry and decided to move to Lebanon to teach at Notre Dame. Chris had often invited Capital Professor Bob Breithaupt to participate in drum camps, where they talked with Ayman about Capital’s jazz program and encouraged him to apply. 

“I always knew I wanted to study jazz in the country where it all began,” Ayman said. “Meeting Bob gave me a better perspective on what Capital’s jazz program was all about. I was accepted and received a generous scholarship, so I decided to transfer. In 2018, I flew all the way from Lebanon to Columbus, Ohio, to attend Capital.”

For Ayman, the benefits of studying at Capital were transformative. 

“Music students can use the recording studios for free. Because of this that I was able to release my first album in 2019. It was a joint effort with our Music Tech students,” he said. The album title “Zayzafoon” is the Lebanese word for the linden tree – whose leaves and wood are used for healing. 

“I chose the name Zayzafoon because it connects me to my heritage, and I like to think that my music can have those same healing properties.” Ayman also produced the Zayzafoon promo video in Capital’s studios.

Ayman hopes to attend graduate school in the United States before returning to Lebanon to teach and perform. “My hope is to also travel to Peru and Morocco to study the music of those two cultures. Their music and culture are rich and amazing.”

His advice to aspiring musicians? “Choose a college located in a city with a great music scene. Play lots of music and jam with fellow music students. Capital has a great music family and we’ve become close to each other. Take every opportunity to play and create as much music as possible.”

Take a listen to Zayzafoon.