Samha El-Kholi (1925-2006)
By Samia Abdennour
For the past 50 years, petite and frail Samha El-Kholi played a signal role in promoting the study of Western and Arab music in Egypt. A founding-member of the Cairo Conservatoire in the 1950s, El-Kholi was appointed in 1972 as its dean. Following the burning of the old Cairo Opera House, El-Kholi was given the added responsibility of the opera troupe.
During her tenure as dean of the Conservatoire (and precisely in 1975), the first-ever all-Egyptian orchestra was formed. Four years later, she founded the Conservatoire String Orchestra which sought the highest standards in Egyptian traditional music -- including works of three-quarter tones -- as well as in Eastern string music. One of her most original contributions was creating an orchestra for the blind. Apparently the first such project in the world, the orchestra toured many countries to much acclaim.
Her preoccupation with the theme of nationalism in music resulted in her magnum opus Al-Qawmiyya fi Musiqa Al-Qarn Al-'Ishrin (Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Music) -- one among many books to her name. In 1982 El-Kholi was appointed president of the Academy of Arts, a post she was to keep until her retirement in 1985.
El-Kholi is also remembered for her television programme, "Sound of Music" which ran for over a decade. She also formed and headed the Egyptian branch of the " Jeunesses Musicales " which provides training for young musical talents.
Among several local and international awards, El-Kholi received Mubarak's Award for the Arts, the Egyptian State Merit Award for the Arts, France's "Chevalier de l'Art et de la Culture", and the "Kodaly" medal from Hungary.
El-Kholi was married to the late Egyptian composer Gamal Abdel-Rehim, and it is hardly surprising that her children are also musical. Her daughter Basma is a virtuoso violinist, her son-in-law, Kamel Salaheddin, a prize-winning cellist, and her son Hamada plays the guitar.