Al Fayha Choir.
Ample proof of the UAE’s thriving cultural scene can be found at this week’s ChoirFest ¬Middle East.
It’s the region’s biggest and best showcase for a cappella music – and, after all, how many cities in the world can even claim to host a festival of choirs?
ChoirFest is as much about community as entertainment, about showcasing the beauty of the human voice for a local audience and strengthening the wider regional community by inviting far flung and marginalised groups in to perform and compete. Not that it is really about competition, either.
ChoirFest 2016 culminates with Saturday’s Choir of the Year contest, but first there are five days of concerts, workshops and more. Here’s everything you need to know about the event.
What is ChoirFest?
The foundations for ChoirFest were laid in 2013 when promoters The Fridge co-hosted The Score Choir of the Year competition, a new event for UAE vocal ensembles.
“We realised there were all these choirs that no one knew about,” says co-founder Joanna Marsh, who is a professional composer.
“Singing is something that reaches across all the different communities in the UAE.”
The contest proved so successful, that the following year the event was expanded to welcome regional performers and renamed ¬ChoirFest Middle East.
The glitzy guests
In addition to all the amateur regional talent, ChoirFest tradition requires a renowned international a cappella act to headline the glitzy, sponsor-friendly gala dinner.
This year, the honour falls to Sweden’s The Real Group, an acclaimed quintet whose storied three-decade career includes a performance at the opening ceremony of 2012’s Fifa World Cup in Seoul. See how it is done by the professionals on Friday, from 7.30pm at The Els Club. Tickets cost between Dh200 and Dh500 from www.ticketmaster.ae.
The top prize
Seventeen adult choirs and 200 voices from across the region will compete at Saturday’s Choir of the Year finale.
Each choir is given 10 minutes to impress the judges – who include members of The Real Group – but the two-and-a-half-showdown has a decidedly relaxed atmosphere.
“It’s dress up for Friday’s gala, but wear your jeans, bring the family and cheer on your friends on Saturday,” adds Marsh.
Open doors and diversity
A big emphasis, says Marsh, is on creating a dialogue with regional choirs. In addition to competing in Choir of the Year, several visiting groups will also host solo full-concert showcases.
These include Lebanon’s Fayha Choir, a 50-piece multi-faith ¬amateur ensemble from the northern city of Tripoli, who are working with more than 400 young Syrian and Palestinian refugees. “Tripoli is a place you associate with difficulty, with terrorism, and here you find some of the most generously hearted people,” says Marsh.
“They’re using music to build peace, and we want to bring that message to Dubai.”
Fayha Choir will perform two concerts, alongside Sharjah’s Nassim Al Saba, at the American University of Sharjah tonight and The Fridge tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Palestinian student choir Banat Al-Quds – one of the Arab world’s few all- female groups – will make their international debut at this year's ChoirFest. “Here, music is a real service for good, a symbol of hope,” says Marsh.
Banat Al-Quds perform at The Fridge on Thursday, ¬alongside the Amman Choir for ¬Oriental Singing, who sing in 16 ¬languages, including Ancient tongues such as Aramaic, Byzantine and Pharaonic.
All concerts start at 8pm; and tickets cost between Dh50 and Dh100.
Young and aspiring voices
Before the two weekend grandstand events, there is a packed programme of smaller concerts, workshops and children’s competitions.
More than 1,300 youngsters are expected to compete in the Junior and Senior School Choir of the Year competitions, which will be held at Dubai British School, in Emirates Hills, today and tomorrow.
There will also be a range of lessons and masterclasses for singers and conductors, hosted by visiting professionals at The Fridge, in Al Quoz, tomorrow and Friday.
“This year we all feel ¬something has changed – we’ve become ¬established,” says Marsh. “It took a few years, but now people know what ChoirFest is and want to be part of it – we’ve really arrived.”
• Visit www.choirfestme.com for the full schedule
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