Making Music Accessible For All

RESIZED 25_09_2013_MusicForAll_QMA_70.jpgQatar Music Academy’s popular ‘Music for All’ program offers budding musicians the opportunity to benefit from world-class teaching.

Qatar Music Academy is spearheading the renaissance of music in Qatar. A key component in its success in this field is making its world-class teaching available to more people. And the start of the new season of the academy’s ‘Music for All’ program demonstrates the huge appetite in the country for classical music education.

While Qatar Music Academy’s main focus is its Academic Music Program for five to 18-year-olds, its ‘Music for All’ program captures the imagination of hundreds of applicants who fight for the limited places. This year almost twice as many people applied for ‘Music for All’ courses and the Academic Music Program as there were places available.

Between both programs, there is a limit of 500 places, with existing Academic Music Program students automatically re-enrolled, although the academy is exploring options to increase its capacity.

Dr Abdul Ghafour Al Heeti, Principal of Qatar Music Academy, says the flexibility of the ‘Music for All’ program is the key to its popularity and it enables more people to access the academy’s top-quality professionals and resources.

He says: “The ‘Music for All’ program aims to build a bridge between Qatar Foundation (QF) and the community and to serve the community. Music is an important subject for everyone. This program is successful in reaching more people because it asks for much less commitment.

“Yet they are still taught by Qatar Music Academy’s world-class teachers, most of whom are recruited from Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra and are all very renowned musicians in their own right, having played in the most prestigious venues around the world.”
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Its links with Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra and location in Katara Cultural Village also mean its students benefit from musicians visiting Katara, such as the world’s top conductor Daniel Barenboim and jazz artist Wynton Marsalis, who visit the school to hold masterclasses.

The academy’s prestigious Academic Music Program, which includes 29 very promising students on scholarships, has helped to develop world-class talent, and last year an 11-year-old boy was accepted into the Vienna Boys Choir. The ABRSM, the exam board of the Royal Schools of Music, which holds the students exams, has also reported that the academy has one of its highest pass rates, with 97 percent of all students passing their exams.

While the Academic Music Program is only for five to 18-year-olds, ‘Music for All’ opens up these learning opportunities to young children and adults.

Opening up the opportunities to adults, Dr Heeti says, helps to ingrain a culture of music in whole families, and increases the importance that parents place on the students’ homework and home practice time. For young children music can have the effect of improving behavior and academic performance in other areas, and build confidence in children and the academy is planning to relaunch music appreciation lessons for toddlers.

The academic program also requires three hours a week of contact time in the academy even before home practice and homework, including one-to-one instrumental lessons, music theory sessions, and ensemble practice.
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The more flexible ‘Music for All’ program has attracted more Qataris to the Academy to learn music, increasing the participation to 21 percent. Now the school has more than 1,000 people on its waiting list, hoping to take advantage of its excellent resources, which include 14 state-of-the-art Steinway pianos, 30 soundproofed individual practice rooms, and a well-equipped library which is growing its collection of books, CDs, and Arabic and Western sheet music rapidly through support from Occidental Petroleum.

Dr Heeti adds: “‘Music for All’ is flexible in the time they would like to have these lessons, and has a completely different feel. There is no requirement to take an exam, although some students can.”

The program offers personal lessons in Arabic and Western instruments. As well as classic orchestral instruments such as the violin, viola, cello, double bass, French horn, jazz piano, trombone, trumpet, flute, clarinet, saxophone, oboe, and piano, candidates can learn Arabic instruments such as the Oud, Buzuq, Nay, Qanun or Arab violin.

Arab music classes also include lessons for adults and children in Jawqa, choir singing covering the Arabic vocal repertoire, as well as ensembles, including drumming ensembles, Arabic percussion, and a Middle East music ensemble, exploring a repertoire from Greece, the Balkans, Turkey, Central Asia, and Iran, as well as the Arab world.

Music appreciation sessions will be held for young children in Arab and Western music, including listening, moving, singing, playing and creating music.
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Courses also include music composition and songwriting, and music theory for children and adults, including an in-depth exploration of Arab and Western music theory that includes ear training, sight singing, notation, and historical topics.

Dr Heeti says one of the Academy’s strategic objectives is to stimulate the music industry in Qatar. This sits with QF’s strategic objective to foster a society appreciative of its heritage and to cultivate Qatari culture. In particular the Arab music program has been established from scratch, because there was previously no curriculum for it. He now hopes ABRSM, which assesses its Western music students, will extend its offering in partnership with the academy to develop assessment for Arab instruments.

Issa Boulos, Head of Arab Music at Qatar Music Academy, says people from all over the world choose to learn Arab instruments at the school, whether they are of Arab descent or not. Some students want to learn more about the Arab culture, some are musicians already and want to take advantage of being based in Qatar to learn a new instrument, and some are simply enthusiasts.

He says the speed of proficiency of learning the instrument depends upon the individual and how much work they put in, but that the ‘Music for All’ courses include the full teaching program.

“The ‘Music for All’ program follows through on every aspect of music teaching. We teach them with the academic curriculum, but modify it to fit their age and ability. It is flexible, but covers everything they need to know,” he adds.

“One man joined us with no background in music, and four months later he was on stage. He’s already at second-year level because he has invested a lot of time and he follows through on everything we tell him. Some people can’t be that dedicated because of their daily schedules.”

Boulos says they are also developing the program’s structure to include local musicians who are proficient in the aural tradition of the area.

“These musicians know how to play the instrument. They know it by ear, so we’re looking at ways to provide a different program catered to their needs and develop their skills,” he says.