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Elham Al Marzooqi, the only Emirati musician to join the NSO Symphony Orchestra, has been in love with the cello since her childhood. Pursuing this passion led her to play with world-renowned Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli. These accomplishments, among many others, continue to inspire other female Emirati musicians. In celebration of the UAE National Day, Elham takes center stage in this musivv exclusive interview.

How have you been in this current global situation?

I’m doing very well, thank you. This year has seriously tested musicians on all fronts but I have found that even though performance opportunities have ground to a halt, it has enabled me to really delve even further into my practice world, learning even more new repertoire and improve my technique.

All images are supplied and owned by @elhamcellist. Use without permission is prohibited.

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Being a woman, among many other challenges you faced in the Middle East music industry, how did you get to where you are now? It's an inspiring story, to begin with.

Being a woman, my parents ingrained in me [the idea] that nothing is impossible if I truly work hard and set my mind to it. I come from a musical background, my mother was the founder of the first music institute in Abu Dhabi back in the 1980s, and that’s where I started my musical education, albeit in piano. Fast forward a few years, I ended up taking the Russian Syllabus music exams in piano. However, I always wanted to learn cello and be part of an orchestra. This soon led me to become the first Emirati (and currently only), orchestral musician, performing regularly in many of the UAE’s orchestras such as NSO Symphony Orchestra, the Emirates Community Symphonic Orchestra, Dubai Chamber Orchestra, Sharq Orchestra, the Arabian Philharmonic, and more. I ended up performing twice with Andrea Bocelli, the renowned Italian tenor, in 2016 and 2019 (in UAE and Saudi Arabia), being the first Emirati cellist to do so.

Performing twice with Andrea Bocelli

You seem to have a strong support system especially with your parents being behind what you do, tell us more about that.

My parents were the foundation of my musical education. They were the ones who wanted me to continue higher education in music, even though I ended up becoming an entertainment lawyer in the UAE. My husband is also very supportive - he’s the one who pushes me to perform and the one who deals with the household and kids when I have to practice daily or when I had long hours of rehearsals after work (pre-Covid). The cello is something that honestly fuels my soul (not trying to be cheesy but it’s true!). Other than my family, of course, the cello provides me with a purpose in life.

Getting Personal

What's your biggest dream as an individual and for the orchestral music community you are an integral part of?

Self-improvement is a huge thing for me; I’ve always been a music geek. It would be such a great thing for the UAE if we had a music conservatory dedicated to music performance. I would be the first to enroll! And building on that, it would be amazing if we also an official UAE national orchestra.

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With all the accolades you receive, how do you stay grounded?

My family keeps me grounded! Just like everyone else, I know that I can’t just rest on my laurels. There is always a new repertoire to learn and technique to improve. It’s a never-ending journey and there is no such thing as perfection. It reminds me of the quote by the legendary Catalan cellist, Pablo Casals. When he was 93 years old, he was asked the question, ‘Why do you continue practicing at your age?’, he replied, ‘Because I think I’m making progress’. This is the magic of music, there is always room for improvement or even room for different interpretations. My cello journey is a life long journey. I always say the cello is my second job!

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Go for it! Music is a balm for the soul

Any message you want to leave to inspire Emirati women to pursue their passion for music.

Go for it! Music is a balm for the soul so I would always encourage anyone to learn a musical instrument. Academically, I often find people dismiss music as being non-essential, seeing it as a past time and not as important as other subjects. I disagree and it’s just as important as Maths or Science. It’s proven scientifically that playing a musical instrument activates certain areas of the brain which would help you in other areas. If someone disapproves, ignore them. I do hope that our society is now at a stage where we encourage Emirati women to reach for the stars. Find opportunities to perform music with other musicians, whether it is in an orchestra or with other fellow musicians. And do respect your fellow musicians! We are all in this together. ender