Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)
Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The magic of harmony

The performance of a children’s choir at the New Suez Canal ceremony was a major highlight of the event. Inas Mazhar finds out who they are

Al-Ahram Weekly

The children singing ‘Biladi, Biladi’ [My Country] at the Suez Canal extravaganza on 6 August were undoubtedly a joy to watch. They stole the show and became the talk of the town, not only because of their performance but also a controversy that erupted about who they are. A newspaper published their picture with a caption dubbing them as “street children” which triggered a media frenzy, with angry parents appearing on television to denounce the label.

In fact, the choir of 159 singers is composed of children aged eight to 12 from across Egypt’s social spectrum. They include orphans, students at public schools and private schools, Christian, Muslims, Special Olympics athletes, girl scouts, cultural palaces and the Youth Diocese.

“The idea behind this unique choir was that no one could tell who was who,” explained Amal Gamal, deputy to the Ministry of Youth and Sports and head of the central administration of the Cultural and Volunteering Programmes. “To bring together this remarkable combination of backgrounds and have them work together in such harmony in such a short time is a great achievement.”

Everyone was annoyed with the negative publicity after the performance, Gamal told Al-Ahram Weekly, but she was intrigued by the idea. “It would be astounding to create a choir from homeless children,” she said.

The main core of the troupe, however, are the ministry’s children’s choir comprised of 101 singers selected from various social care institutions, and led by legendary Maestro Selim Sahhab. The Armed Forces Moral Affairs Division asked the Ministry of Youth and Sports to send their choir to participate in Suez Canal celebrations.

Organisers wanted an even larger group of singers which was “a great opportunity and challenge for us to create an integrated choir that represents different social strata and blend them together,” said Gamal. The expanded choir had only seven days to prepare for the big day.

In the beginning, the lyrics to Biladi Biladi — written and composed by Tamer Hussein and Amr Mustafa — were in Arabic only, but “suddenly we were asked to add English and French stanzas”. The Ministry of Youth and Sports obliged and so did composer Mustafa. Gamal explained that training the singers was hard, hectic and exhausting, especially for the children. “But, it was worth it,” she stated. “We worked within a loving and friendly atmosphere; everyone knew we were participating in a historical event. The parents were so proud, and trusted us with their children.”

Some parents even contributed to the effort, especially those of Special Olympics athletes, and others who knew French helped with French pronunciation. Meanwhile, the Youth Diocese sent four tasonys, a Coptic word for sister, to help singers memorise the song.

Singers practiced for three days at Gezira Youth Centre in Cairo for eight hours, then travelled to Ismailiya four days before the ceremony to rehearse on stage. The heat was crushing but everyone endured the four boat ride back and forth to the site for a one-hour rehearsal. Composer Mustafa was impressed how well the children had learned the song, and added his own touches by teaching the children to be more animated.

Dalia Wasel, mother of singers Abdel-Rahman and Login Ihab, 12 and 7 years old, respectively, joined the group as a parent to take care of her Abdel-Rahman and his four other friends who are Special Olympic athletes. Abdel-Rahman is a swimming champion from Al-Ahly Club, a gold medalist of the 50 metres freestyle Nationals Championships and silver medalist of the 25 metres freestyle swimming. “He was so excited during rehearsals, and still is,” said Wasel, an engineer. “He stands in the balcony and salutes as he sings the song. I believe this experience will remain in the hearts and minds of these children forever.”

Indeed, there may still be opportunity to make more memories. According to Gamal, this is just the beginning for this unique and talented choir. “We are seriously considering expanding the troupe to include a big orchestra of talented children who play instruments,” revealed Gamal.

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