Audience Development at Three Arabic Schools in Qatar

The Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra in the Opera House

Recently a colleague and I visited three primary schools in Qatar on behalf of my employer, the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. The experience was the highlight of my six weeks in Doha.

Really I tagged along as Ms. Hala Desouky, our marketing coordinator, met with school administrators. The Philharmonic plans to perform Mussourgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for Arabic schools one day and for English schools a second day. Hala was inviting schools not just to come to the performance. We also wanted to visit classrooms before the performance to discuss music and the orchestra. We would play a movement from Pictures from a recording, ask students to create artwork to go with the music, then project the students’ imaages over the orchestra at the performance.

Arabian Musicians. Detail from Fresco in Katara Cultural Village Opera House

Qatar’s history in orchestral performance is brief. The Philharmonic was created in 2007 by Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned. The first performance, led by Lorin Maazel, was in 2008. It’s one of the centers of the remarkable Qatar Foundation, a vividly aspirational project with goals in education, science and research, and community development. The orchestra’s 101 full-time musicians were chosen from 3,000 applicants in an audition tour of Europe and Arab countries.

At each of the three schools I was asked by the security guard to wait outside as Hala entered. I later learned that the teachers, all women, normally wear western clothing within the confines of the school. For a male visitor to enter they all had to be informed so they could put on their abaya, a black, full-length, long-sleeved garment. At one of the three schools I was not admitted. I’m grateful to have been admitted to two, and I respect the third school’s response as well. Qataris traditionally segregate by gender in certain situations, yet from the little I’ve observed it would be a mistake to believe women are second-class citizens. One only has to look at the example of the emirha to see how women actively participate in society.

I hasten to say that I’m no expert on that topic.

The schools I visited were surrounded by high walls. In several places I saw images of the royal family; it reminded me how there were pictures of Kennedy and Johnson in my classrooms as a child. The schools have no music teacher (yet another way they reminded me of schools in the United States).

Hala conducted the meetings and occasionally translated or asked questions of me. Not knowing Arabic, I heard only tone and the back-and-forth pattern of the conversation. I was impressed by the mutual respect, the degree of interest and the energy level of the conversation. These educators were excited about opening a new world to their students.

They were also extraordinarily hospitable. As is characteristic here, a tea attendant brought beverages and exquisite pastries on china. I hadn’t had “green coffee” before, an herb-infused beverage that looks more like green tea than coffee.

At each of the schools Hala got a commitment to participate. I count that as success; none of the schools had come to our concerts before. They chose to bring only 30 students each, which I see as a toe in the water.

This week Hala and Lorena Manescu, one of our violinists, visited one of the schools. In preparation for the visit, the school had printed information about our orchestra in their newspaper. Lorena played a Romanian folk tune, and one of the students played the piano. I think Hala and Lorena fulfilled our orchestra’s mission that day.

It’s easy to think that Qatar is like the west with its skyscrapers, its universities, Al Jazeera News, its hosting the 2022 World Cup, and its world-leading wealth per capita. No, it’s much more remarkable than that in its traditions and warmth. I’m privileged when I get glimpses of it.

The opinions and observations in this blogpost are mine alone. I do not speak for my employer on this site.

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2 Responses to Audience Development at Three Arabic Schools in Qatar

  1. Dmitri says:

    Some Muslims believe that Music is prohibited/sinful in Islam. According to Islam: Music that leads to sinful acts such as drugs, sex, violence, etc… is absolutely sinful in Islam. But otherwise, how would it be sinful when Allah Almighty Himself allowed it to Prophet David peace be upon him?

    Narrated Abu Musa: “That the Prophet said to him ‘O Abu Musa! You have been given one of the musical wind-instruments of the family of David.’ (Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Virtues of the Qur’an, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 568)”

    Let us look at Noble Verse 4:163 “We have sent thee inspiration, as We sent it to Noah and the Messengers after him: we sent inspiration to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms.”

    Let us look at Noble Verse 17:55 “And it is your Lord that knoweth best all beings that are in the heavens and on earth: We did bestow on some prophets more (and other) gifts than on others: and We gave to David (the gift of) the Psalms.”

    In the above Saying (Hadith) and Noble Verses, we clearly see that Allah Almighty did send the Book of Psalm to Prophet David peace be upon him. We also see that Allah Almighty called that Book a gift. If Allah Almighty allowed David peace be upon him and his followers to sing and play music, then how could we then claim that music is sinful and prohibited?

  2. Micki Simms says:

    This is, indeed, a “vividly aspirational” and forward-looking project! As a former special education teacher, I know how elated children are to think that their work will enjoy community appeal. The commitment of orchestra members to join you in this project is wonderful as it indicates that the young musicians already realize the importances of mentoring to the next generation if we are to carry on traditions that have been centuries in the making.

    On NBC Nightly News last week, a story aired that showed elementary school children performing stories on stage which they had written themselves. A troup of adult players guide several selected members of the school audience in the performance. One child spoke of the thrill she experienced at having her story chosen to be portrayed for all to witness. One could tell from her demeanor that this will become an unforgetable life-moment for this fifth grader. Perhaps telling the children from the three schools you visited that their artwork would “be played by the symphony” could draw them in as was seen in the story I just described. This might be yet another way of engaging this generation to become interested in the music of many idioms.

    One never knows which person or persons will be reached in such a creative, aspirational project. For those who aren’t able to attend the concert, a meaningful follow-up might be for the team to take a recording of the concert along with a video of the pictures being shown and share them with what was described as three most hospitable and welcoming school administrations and its students. Having any orchestra members accompany you would enrich the experience for all.

    Best of luck in this endeavor and any others of a similar nature that reach a hand across the table to another age, race, or culture as the emirha did with the creation of this remarkable orchestra.

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