NIU alum practices diplomacy in Pakistan through music

Aaron Dorfman

NIU alum Aaron Dorfman and his bandmates, the Henhouse Prowlers, recently returned from a trip to Pakistan as part of the American Music Abroad program—a government-sponsored initiative to foster cultural diplomacy by connecting people through the arts.

“The great thing about this kind of work is that it’s not just politicians and government people meeting each other and shaking hands,” said Dorfman. “It’s musicians and artists from around the world collaborating and making real connections while sharing music and culture.”

Since Dorfman joined the Henhouse Prowlers, he’s also traveled to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Uganda, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.

“Each place we visit is incredible and shows me a part of the world I never would have dreamed I’d see or experience,” he said. “Each place we go I’m reminded that people everywhere are all very similar.”

Dorfman said his favorite experience in Pakistan was the opportunity to collaborate with famous musician Hamza Akram and his traditional Qawwali band. The group plays traditional Pakistani music that goes back in Hamza’s family 400 years.

“Hamza is an absolutely astonishing singer and great harmonium player but what impressed me most was his charisma and enthusiasm onstage,” Dorfman said. “He led us and the audience in singing a Pakistani tune and we had so much fun challenging ourselves to play it and sing in the Urdu language.”

Dorfman said that being part of the Henhouse Prowlers is a dream come true, as he started out as a loyal fan of the group for many years before he was asked to join.

After Dorfman graduated from NIU with a bachelor degree in jazz guitar performance in 2007, he moved to Austin, TX, pulled there by their well-known music scene. During his time there, he began to love bluegrass music, so when he returned to Chicago a few years later, he was excited to see that the city had a robust and emerging bluegrass scene.

“The ‘bluegrass bug’ had bitten me, so naturally I was seeking out any and all bluegrass music in Chicago,” he said. “At the time, the buzz was all about the Henhouse Prowlers. They played often at the Abbey Pub, and I would go see them pretty much every week. When I think about that, I still kind of can’t believe I’m in the band now.”

Despite traveling the world since graduating, Dorfman’s ties to his faculty in the NIU music program have remained strong. Dorfman said he feels particularly influenced and inspired by Associate Professor of Music, Fareed Haque.

“Going through his guitar program was the best thing I could have done for my musicianship,” Dorfman said. “Fareed demands the absolute best of his students because he demands the absolute best of himself. I learned so much from him and am grateful beyond words for his help in honing the skills I needed to get to this point in my career.”

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