Born and raised in Paris, Julien Weiss, of Swiss and Alsatian heritage, has become one of the few accomplished qanum players in the world.
After living and studying in various Arab countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, and Turkey, he settled in Aleppo, the capital of the northern region of Syria.
In 1983, Julien Jalal Eddine Weiss founded Al-Kindi Ensemble and, from their base in Aleppo, toured Europe and the Arab world.
Al-Kindi Ensemble teamed with Sheikh Hamza Shakkur and the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus on a U.S. tour. Weiss combined his Los Angeles concert with a two-week academic visit at UCLA, giving various seminars and lessons on the qanun.
The qanun is derived from the ancient Egyptian harp and has been used in Arab music since the tenth century. The Arabic name means 'rule' or 'law.' It was introduced to Europe as early as the 12th century, and became known in its European form during the 14th to the 16th century as a psaltery or zither.
The qanun consists of a trapezoid-shaped flat board over which 81 strings are stretched in groups of three to produce 24 treble chords consisting of three chords to each note.
The instrument is placed flat on the knees or table of the musician; the strings are plucked with the finger or with two plectra, one plectrum attached to the forefinger of each hand. .
The modern Arab qanun has two to five levers for every string (in triples). Intervals can be minutely adjusted by turning the levers, which control the tension of the strings; permitting a full range of keys. The right hand plays in the treble clef and the left in the bass.