Mary Ellen Donald

The Gilded Serpent presents...

Mary Ellen Donald

Nationally Acclaimed Author, Instructor and Performer in Middle Eastern Percussion for over thirty years and Masters Degree in Psychiatric Social Work

Mary Ellen Donald was born and raised just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In her early days she studied classical piano, voice, and both folk and flamenco guitar. In 1969 she was introduced to the art of belly dance, which she studied with Jamila Salimpour and Bert Balladine for six years. Very soon she fell in love with the passionate Middle Eastern music that accompanies the dance. Also in 1969 she took up the study of finger cymbals and doumbec (clay or metal lap drum also known as darabouka and tabla). Several years later she added the riqq (Middle Eastern tambourine) and tar (wooden frame drum).

Soon Mary Ellen’s innate teaching ability came to the fore as she started teaching classes and putting her knowledge of Middle Eastern percussion into written form. In 1976 she self-published Doumbec Delight and Mastering Finger Cymbals, both firsts in their field, followed by Arabic Tambourine in 1985. Mary Ellen produced companion tapes for these books as she realized that students would learn more easily if they could hear her play the examples in the books a number of times. In the later ‘90s she expanded her educational and artistic materials with two series: Middle Eastern Rhythms (four recordings with booklets containing musical notation), and Gems of the Middle East (three volumes of recordings and books).

Mary Ellen has taught workshops and performed with Middle Eastern bands in most of the major cities throughout the U.S. For over twenty-five years she has maintained a large student body in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mary Ellen takes her fiery percussion performances into elementary schools under the auspices of Young Audiences of the Bay Area, and some years ago with Adventures in Music with the San Francisco Symphony. She brings her lecture demonstrations to colleges as well. Mary Ellen is acclaimed not only as author, instructor, and performer, but also as a producer of major Middle Eastern music and dance events over the past twenty-five years.

Mary Ellen Donald’s musical accomplishments are noteworthy and even more so because she is blind. She plays her drums and lives her life with joy in her heart. She is blessed with a large community of students and friends who love her. Her latest musical passion is that of jazz singing.

Note: For more details about Mary Ellen’s life, see her twenty-five page autobiography included in Volume One of Gems of the Middle East, or visit her website.

  • Performances
    Every Saturday night at the Amira Restaurant in San Francisco, California
  • Classes
    Doumbek Classes monthly In Oakland, California
  • All recordings now available on CD!
    GEMS OF THE MIDDLE EAST SERIES - Multiple CDs with matching songbooks
    MIDDLE EASTERN RHYTHMS SERIES -including beginning to advanced levels in drum, tambourine and finger cymbals

Articles on Gilded Serpent by or about Mary Ellen Donald

The Rhythm and Reason Series

Originally published in BellyDance Magazine in 1978 as part of an ongoing column.
This magazine was published by Jasmine Samra in Palo Alto, California.