Al-Ahram Weekly Online   15 - 21 April 2004
Issue No. 686
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

In progress:

On the bright side

By Veronica Balderas Iglesias

Marwa Sami , violinist, obtained a Bachelor's degree from the Cairo Conservatoire as well as from the English Department of Ain Shams University in 1997. She is currently working at the Egyptian Radio and TV Union, performing at the Cairo Opera House and a member of The Strings ensemble.

I was a one-year-old when I suffered from a subdural hygroma cyst , a condition which caused me an optic atrophy. Years later I joined Al-Nour wa'l-Amal School which is the National Institute for the Blind. I've always loved music and after learning how to read and write in Braille, I decided to join the Conservatoire. Although my mother is an engineer, she learned how to read and write music notes in order to help me study. She would dictate them to me and I would then memorise them. I followed the same technique while studying English at Ain Shams University. An artist travels a lot and it is important to be able to communicate abroad.

Being a violinist with special needs hasn't been easy. I've always struggled to make people understand that with the help of God, everything is possible. One just has to believe in himself or herself to achieve personal and professional goals.

My first job was with the female music group Banat Al-Nil. The director of the band hesitated a lot before hiring me. At first she didn't believe that I could play like people who can see, but I proved otherwise. I made very few mistakes on stage, but these I mainly attribute to being nervous, rather than to lack of practice.

Saturdays and Tuesdays I prepare radio music programmes for the Cultural Channels Network at the Egyptian Radio and TV Union. I use a special computer software that reads out loud the information I need from the Internet as well as every word I write.

Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays I rehearse with the National Troupe at Al-Galaa Theatre. We are usually 15 musicians on stage and I am the only one with special needs in the band. It is an honour to participate in lunch and dinner concerts offered to army personnel including Minister of Defence Hussein Tantawi and His Excellency President Hosni Mubarak.

As part of a band or orchestra, all instruments are important, but in western music, it is more common to find them playing independently. In Oriental music, particularly in Arabic music, each instrument preserves its unique colour, but the secret lies in how they perform together.

Three years ago I formed my own Arabic music band called Layali Al-Sharq, Eastern Nights. We look forward to performing at the Al-Sawy Cultural Centre on 24 April. I have also had the opportunity to perform with the prominent musician Abdu Dagher. The kind of music that he plays is Eastern and Arabic, but with a very difficult classical technique. It took me a while to follow his style and there are many more things to learn.

One is always learning. For example, when I first joined my former classmate Abdel-Moneim Said's group, I had to learn how to play Algerian-Andaluz music. It was fun.

Despite having succeeded in a general audition, I could not join the Opera House's Arabic music ensemble directed by Selim Sahab. The Opera's policy does not allow musicians who cannot read music scores to join. I argued that playing Arabic music depends mainly on listening carefully to the melody. I explained that my mother would also be able to dictate the notes to me. In the end they didn't agree. Although I feel disappointed, I don't give up easily.

I have many dreams that I hope will come true. I am preparing for my Master's degree in the Conservatoire and want to become a violin teacher there. The young students whom I have helped on an informal basis so far all obtained good grades after following my advice. I am very interested in encouraging Egyptians to appreciate good art. Alas, the majority are only attracted to the music they hear in the radio and they seldom visit the Opera House. They would be surprised to learn of the wide variety of music, ranging from classical to jazz, that Cairo's Opera offers. I still have to convince the administration that I am good at teaching others. They recommended that I help blind people, but rationally speaking that is not possible as the students have to be able to see how I play in order to imitate me.

It is not only in the artistic field that people with special needs face difficulties, but even when facing the worst of circumstances one has to remain optimistic. I deal with society in a normal way. Sometimes I feel welcomed and sometimes rejected, but I believe that everything in life has a bright side.

In addition to the concert on the 24th, Sami performs tonight with Abdu Dagher at Al-Sawy. For venue details, see Listings

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