The Bait al Oud in Abu Dhabi has long been a centre of practice and theory for the oud, attracting the best teachers and researchers and regularly producing the finest talent in oud musicians. Since being established in 2008 it has tended to do good by stealth. It seems that may be about to change, however; TCA Abu Dhabi has launched what it terms “a new ambitious vision” for the institute.
The Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority has identified the Bait al Oud as a jewel in Abu Dhabi’s cultural and touristic crown that could benefit from some polishing. So rather than the narrow focus on the instrument, the Bait al Oud is being repositioned as “a platform for creativity and music innovation to emphasize the role of music in the cultural scene of the UAE capital … A destination for cultural tourism and an academy for teaching Arabic music history, theories & practices and techniques of Oud & oriental music instruments”.
It’s not immediately clear how the operation of the Bait al Oud will change in practice, but clearly there is an emphasis on the range of music covered – as well as courses on the oud, the institute covers other instruments such as the qanun, rababah and cello (the rababah, or rebab, is a new addition to the syllabus).
There’s also much talk in the promotional bumf about how it delivers programmes to preserve Arab musical heritage generally, particularly “spreading awareness of its authenticity, techniques and traditions” through concerts by the Bait al Oud’s instructors, students, and graduates. We can look forward to many more of these.
Also new is a Talent Development initiative to identify young UAE players who would benefit from intensive training in the music.
And there’s a programme of regular tours for the public that include a visit to one of Bait Al Oud’s classes, a look at its oud-making workshop, and a retail opportunity at the institution’s shop (buy ouds, rababas, and cellos plus their accessories and CDs). Tours are from 11–12am on Sundays and Tuesdays, 4-5pm on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Saif Saeed Ghobash, TCA Abu Dhabi’s Director General, said that the new look for the Bait Al Oud is all part of the Authority’s strategic objectives to position the capital as a beacon of culture in the region and the world, with the new-to-us addition that TCA Abu Dhabi “aims to establish Abu Dhabi as an incubator for artists, encouraging dialogue and creativity, which works in conjunction with the goal of safeguarding the elements of its cultural heritage and inherent traditions”.
The director of the Bait Al Oud is the internationally renowned oud artist Naseer Shamma (right). He sees the value of maintaining the tradition – “the graduates of Bait Al Oud are the nucleus of the movement aimed at restoring the glories of ancient Arabic music and delivering its songs to every home” – and is able to deploy the broader societal arguments too: “Music is a universal language that uplifts morality, sensitivity and values of tolerance and positivity and is an effective way to eliminate negative trends in societies”.
Shamma was named this year’s UNESCO Artist for Peace in recognition of his commitment to supporting music education for young people, his efforts in promoting peace through his musical performances, and his dedication to UNESCO’s universal ideals and goals.
Above: teachers and graduates of the Bait al Oud in concert