We have many legendary people who, despite their handicaps, have managed to make themselves immortal via their craft. Egypt’s blind women’s orchestra is one such inspiring group. In the world of music, Beethoven is a name that even a non-music person has heard of. His story of overcoming deafness to become a great composer is inspiring and a reminder that nothing is a hindrance to our capabilities and desires except our own thoughts. Like Beethoven, this blind women’s orchestra is currently healing the world through their music and stories.
The history of Egypt’s blind women’s orchestra
Al Nour Wal Amal, when translated into English, means light and hope, and they have truly been a harbinger of hope for people with visual disabilities, especially girls. Established by the late Istiklal Radi in 1961, the institute was based on an academic interest to introduce blind women to the world of music and help them heal themselves and others via their talent. The former President of the Egyptian Academy of Arts, Ministry of Culture, and former Dean of the Cairo Conservatory of Music, Dr. Samha El Kholy also assisted in this endeavor. The late founder always wanted to give an avenue to girls who are visually impaired to not only express their emotions but also showcase their skills.
What students learn
The music institute offers enrolled girls the chance to attain double degrees. In the mornings, the girls attend a formal education program, and in the afternoons, they are taught a particular orchestral instrument. With the help of qualified and skilled professors from the Cairo Conservatory of Music, the College of Music Education of Helwan University, and the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, the pupils are taught harmony, Braille, solfege, and ear-training.
One of the hardest parts about being visually impaired is that each piece of music practiced by the student has to be memorized, as reading Braille would make playing the instrument difficult if not impossible. This challenge is eventually overcome by the pupils as their annual exams are conducted to ensure the students have successfully mastered the concept of memorizing.
COVID-19 and the blind women’s orchestra
Currently, the chamber orchestra groups are made up of fourth-generation musicians who have performed in many places, such as Austria, Canada, Greece, Japan, the UK, and Spain to name a few. Each musician has special instruments to play and Braille music sheets that they have memorized. With the coronavirus alert and the subsequent lockdowns, Egypt imposed very strict rules pertaining to the norms and all cultural activities were canceled. Since then, the musicians have been restricted to their homes where they grew restless as their passion was out of reach.
The measure of the blow of canceled performances and no practices for months has been a hurdle for the group. Being visually impaired, women, and from a conservative nation were hurdles that were already in place. Yet these musicians have taught us the value of perseverance and dedication as they delivered a flawless performance at the Manasterly Palace in Cairo with just three weeks’ worth of practice.
The group, along with their conductor (not visually impaired), took all the necessary precautions of sanitizing, maintaining the social distancing unit, and wearing masks. Having an eclectic repertoire of classical music along with Western classical and oriental, hearing them play is blissful and you realize that music and art truly transcend borders and physical aspects like sight and sound. If you have missed listening to the group live, or you want to witness a miracle, you can always look into their website and enjoy some of the videos of them performing.