Student numbers at special music school in Dubai grow from 100 in 2007 to 1,400 today.
Music school helps community develop
DUBAI // Still wearing her school uniform and clinging to a rucksack full of books, Sara Al Hashimi tumbles into the Centre for Musical Arts with a wide grin on her face.
As she busily recounts a story about her day at school, her mother, Tala Badri, the manager and founder of the centre, makes sure she is ready for her piano lesson.
When Sara sits down in the studio, at the piano, and places her hands on the keys, her mother smiles.
"Music saved her life," says the 38-year-old Emirati mother. "She is a totally different child from a few years ago."
When Sara was three, she was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. The autism spectrum disorder is characterised by difficulties in social interaction, a lack of nonverbal communication skills, restricted and repetitive behaviour patterns.
The problems surfaced when she started nursery and refused to meet anyone's eye.
Then, if someone she didn't know spoke to her, she would run into a corner and cover her ears, or lock herself in the bathroom.
"It was devastating," said Ms Badri, who also has a five-year-old son, Ali. "We tried so many different remedies, but none of them worked until we found music therapy."
Ms Badri, who teaches piano and flute and has a music degree from Royal Holloway College in London, called upon Marion Richie, a Dubai-based music therapist, to work with Sara.
She started visiting twice a week and playing to Sara on the guitar. At first, Sara just stared into space. However, after three months, she was humming along quietly, or trying to pluck at the strings.
"After six months she was singing and now, if ever she is stressed, she calms herself down by humming, or makes up a song which she usually sings with her brother," said Ms Badri. "Music gave her an outlet."
After Sara's significant improvement, her mother set her dreams upon creating a music school to help other children in the same way.
In 2005, she opened the small, non-profit school in the Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre at the Mall of the Emirates. At that time, the school had four, part-time teachers and about 100 students.
After six months, there was a waiting list with more than 600 names, and she began searching for other options.
"Maybe I was naive, but I didn't realise it would be so popular," she said.
There were many more success stories, too: the six-year-old girl who did not speak for a year after her father died, until she started violin lessons; the student who went on to win a scholarship to Boston's Berklee College of Music in the US.
Ms Badri approached several companies with her expansion plans, securing patronage from the Kanoo Group, Abraaj Capital and ANC Investments.
The support allowed her to open the current facility, at Gold and Diamond Park, in September 2007 The school now has 12 fully fitted, sound-proof studios, 18 full-time teachers and 1,400 students.
Although 80 per cent of the students are children, the centre is open for everyone. It hosts regular free concerts in local parks and coffee shops, and has spawned two community orchestras in the last four years. The next public concert will open the Emirates Airline Festival for Literature in March.
"We couldn't function or do what we do today without the initial vote of confidence from the patrons," she said.
The patrons who funded Ms Badri's school were honoured at the Patron of the Arts Awards last year. The awards, hosted by the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), recognise individuals and corporations for their support of Dubai's art scene.
Nominations for Dubai’s Patron of the Arts Awards close soon
Dubai // Dubai Culture is calling for last-minute nominations for the second annual Patron of the Arts Awards (PAA).
Alia al Hashimi, the senior specialist at Dubai Culture who heads up the PAA project, said the Centre for Musical Arts in Dubai – launched by the Emirati Tala Badri five years ago – was just the sort of grass-roots project the PAA wanted because it created “a lasting talent base”.
The PAA awards were conceived by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in 2009 to honour financial and in-kind arts contributors in visual and performing arts, literature and film. Dubai Pearl last year won the Distinguished Patron award for contributing more than Dh5 million for three consecutive years.
“The arts enrich and nourish our well-being, make us happy,” said Abdul Majeed Ismail al Fahim, the chairman. “Without it, life would be sad and unfulfilling.”
Deutsche Bank Middle East last year earned a Supporter of the Arts Patron awards title. The company has 65,000 pieces in its global art collection.
“We believe globally that to come to a country and sell a product is not enough,” said Alexander Schuetz, the chief operating officer.
The deadline for the submissions for the March awards is January 31. Applications can be made online at www.patronsofthearts.ae.
* Anna Seaman