From Dubai Expo to Disney World — how a group of UAE students landed their dream gig

The Centre for Musical Arts' in-house ensemble have been invited to the Florida theme park for performances and workshops

CMA Senior Wind Ensemble are on their way to perform at Disney World, Florida. Antonie Robertson / The National
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A group of Dubai students are set to have a more memorable spring break holiday than most.

After entertaining crowds and dignitaries with regular shows at Expo 2020 Dubai, the next gig for the Centre for Musical Arts’ Senior Wind Ensemble is at Disney World in Florida, US.

As part of the 11-day itinerary beginning on Saturday, the 20-member contingent will collaborate with Disney music producers for workshops and recording sessions, in addition to shows within the venue.

According to the centre’s Emirati founder Tala Badri, the musicians are the first youth ensemble from the Arab region to play at Disney World.

"We are very thrilled and this shows how strong and dynamic these young musicians are," she tells The National.

"They are very talented, disciplined and by now are more than comfortable playing high-profile shows. So we are excited to go to Disney World and show what we can do.”

The group will also take part in sessions at the park’s Imagination Campus, an education facility where they will meet with some of the company’s creative talents for workshops and classes, ranging from composition to storytelling.

These experiences mark the latest step in a remarkable journey since the group — consisting of musicians who play wind instruments such as the flute, trumpets and trombones — formed for a one-off gig.

“It began when the centre was asked to put something together for the press launch of the Expo 2020 Dubai about two years ago,” Badri says.

“So we got 10 of our students and we played so well that we were invited to play again at the Expo for another show and then that turned to five more shows.”

With all students enrolled in the centre’s advanced classes at Al Jalila Cultural Centre for Children, they excel at the event's international nature using a repertoire that ranges from western classics to serene takes on Arabic pop hits.

That versatility resulted in the group being asked to play as part of the regional Disney+ launch at Dubai Opera last year, where the company’s visiting executives touted the opportunity to visit the Imagination Campus.

While Badri didn’t need too much convincing, some of the parents of her students did.

"I think it was a bit of a shock to all of us," says flautist Leila Raghab. "This is not really something that we dreamed of or thought about as we just enjoy getting together and playing.

“But when this became a real chance to go there and play, I had to explain to my parents this is something that I cannot pass up and they understood that.”

The Egyptian student, 17, has been part of the ensemble since the first Expo show and credits the experience for providing much-needed comfort.

"The group was formed just as we were getting out of the Covid restrictions, so for myself and other musicians it was really important," she says.

"You can't compare playing together physically in the same room as online.

“When we get together, we bond over our love of music and we are good friends. It's a healthy social situation, and it’s rare to be fulfilled like that as a person and musician.”

With such a tight unit, Badri doesn’t expect to be chasing members to make it to shows and rehearsals on time during the US tour.

"The group regulates themselves in a way because they don't let each other get away with anything. They are really on top of things,” she says.

It is an attitude partly set by Emirati drummer Ali Al Hashimi, 17.

"When we have a performance coming, we really crack down and are really focused on delivering the best performance we can," he says.

"We do have fun and jokes in rehearsals, but when it's time to really get down, we can produce some really good music together."

Updated: March 25, 2023, 2:55 PM