The Story of ChoirFest Middle East

Singing as a force for good Music has a unique quality.  It transcends language distance and time.  It can communicate even when we cannot.  It brings people together. When founders Joanna Marsh and Shelley Frost first launched the Choir Of The Year competition in 2013, twelve UAE choirs seemingly materialized out of nowhere, giving credence to the belief that a choral festival was an ideal way to bring together the diverse cultures of the Middle East. And so, ChoirFest Middle East was born.  

Every year choirs from across the United Arab Emirates and the region are invited to take part in a week of workshops led by musical experts, to compete, learn, socialise and to perform their music publicly.  Choirs hail from countries such as Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Palestine. Middle Eastern societies are deeply rooted in tradition and sometimes traditional gender roles can pervade, where the same opportunities to grow and develop are not necessarily offered equally across society.  

One of ChoirFest ME’s greatest sources of pride is providing a visible platform for the choirs that break down these walls.  ChoirFest ME welcomes choirs that give children and adults of all genders and backgrounds the opportunities to listen, to learn and to be heard. ChoirFest ME also acts as both a symbol of hope and an avenue of growth for the choirs that are hosted.  Groups like the Baghdad Choir, who sang at ChoirFest ME in 2014 were given a chance to represent their country with pride and to celebrate their culture.  The Tehran Choir and their conductor Mehdi Ghasemi were able to use their runner up certificate status from ChoirFest ME as leverage to secure government accreditation for better venues and opportunities.  The students of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music were reunited with their director Dr Ahmad Sarmast at ChoirFest ME in 2015 after a Taliban suicide bombing a few months earlier in an auditorium where they were performing.  The opportunity to perform in Dubai at the festival gave a positive focus for recovery and a return to performing together.  Lead sponsors of ChoirFest ME are not just logos on a page, they are bodies of people engaged and actively involved in events.  

While Dubai Duty Free embraces the festival in its CSR programme with its choir, the Nightingales, that is now in its third year and operating year-round; Emirates has worked tirelessly in bringing choirs from difficult regions where frequent flight changes have necessitated incredible patience and flexibility.  Deutsche Bank embraces the very heart of ChoirFest ME with its visionary ‘Born To Be’ programme, aimed at changing the lives of the youth in this region in meaningful, engaging and tangible ways. With solid support and vision, each year ChoirFest Middle East grows as a beacon of inspiration, art and cultural celebration.  We look forward to constantly broadening the platform for choral singing in the Middle East, introducing even more fresh young talent and creating unforgettable musical bonds.