From West to East: Discovering Melodies of the Emirates

Dr. Feryal Qudourah teaches voice at AUS.

By Aleen Anderias

Two mirrors, one facing the piano and the other one adjacent to a shelf-filled cabinet are present in the office in which we’re seated. A window at the end of the space allows light to flow over Dr. Feryal Qudourah and the pink velour seat that serves as the centerpiece of her office. As with her blazer, it exudes warmth and femininity. 

Qudourah is an assistant professor of music, who also teaches voice at the American University of Sharjah. She has dedicated her life to music and performance but discovered being a solo performer had its challenges.

“I wanted to find a way to be in my profession musically but, also to have a family,” said Qudourah. 

“I had experienced the life of a solo performer for many years and in most of my contracts going to Sarasota opera or opera houses in Italy, I’ve found that many people were very promiscuous.” 

It’s one of the unfortunate realities of being a performer in this business, she stated, but she eventually found her true calling as a music professor, which allowed her to do what she loves, and it brings her happiness since she wants to teach her students the traditions she was taught.

Teaching music, Qudourah discovered that many students’ vocal limitations were as follows: they did not sing or listen to music around their family, making them shy in projecting sound; another limitation is their perception of range, where students only limit themselves to songs by Umm Kulthum and Fairuz. Meanwhile, Qudourah is teaching her students western music notation.  

“Those who have listened to western music have a much higher and expanded vocal range,” Qudourah stated, “not as low as Umm Kulthum in comparison since Umm Kulthum is a vocal wonder to the west.”

Another pedological vocal limitation is when one does not have the proper posture, tongue placement and lip positioning, which affects the tone of the voice. Qudourah encourages her students to explore other genres in music so they can have variations in their tone and voice.

In determining one’s singing style, Qudourah said that there is a financial aspect, which she likes to call the money maker, in what the public wants to hear what they believe sounds good. Another aspect of the distinctive sound and style is that Qudourah believes the voice should be more malleable and change the way it sounds to make it more unique, like a chameleon rather than having a single set of unique sounds that “financially” work.

“My end goal for my students is to sound like a chameleon while yet sounding like themselves so that they find their uniqueness,” said Qudourah 

Beyond her work, Qudourah would like to collaborate musically with Christina Aguilera. She gushed about the singer and enjoyed everything she’s released and believes that when Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and NSYNC were popular, Aguilera stood out due to the versatility of her voice and ease with which she can perform riffs.

According to Qudourah, Aguilera is a phenomenon, and she cannot replicate her voice. Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Britney Spears are artists that Qudourah could perform and has done, but Aguilera is considerably difficult.

Another one of her goals as a singer is to be able to do overtone singing, which is the ability to sing two notes at the same time and it is a type of singing that is known but not popular. 

Qudourah recently moved to the United Arab Emirates and found herself tired of the western world’s concept of prioritizing work over family. 

“It’s built in every business and every institution I’ve ever been in,” Qudourah admitted, “and we’re getting to a point in the west now where family is kind of not important and you just leave them and go on with your life.” 

Qudourah discovered beauty in the UAE, where a strong emphasis is placed on family. However, in the U.S., she continued to work throughout her pregnancy, and the day after giving birth, she went back to work, which was her final straw.

Qudourah explains how there is a false impression that the U.S. is a country that everyone wants to visit, but it treats its women poorly and continuously promotes women’s equality even though it doesn’t exist. Middle Eastern women are portrayed as having no voice in western media, which is misleading.

“I am treated far better as a female here in the UAE than I would ever be in the U.S.,” Qudourah said. 

“I don’t have to walk down the street and worry about being hassled. I don’t have to worry about my daughters being shot at school, that’s the United States of America right now.”

After leaving the U.S., Qudourah found joy in performing and teaching music again. She has found simplicity in the UAE and as she reflects on her time in the U.S., she recalls how hard it was for her.

As I finish my interview with Qudourah, she adds that she is furthering her research by consulting with Arabic professors, and she hopes to get a research grant to start meeting composers. 

When we part ways, I can’t help but feel inspired by her story, zeal for the arts and her students. Qudourah’s passion for teaching and desire is undeniably present and there to help her students discover their voice shine through. She has established her niche in the UAE and has been having an influence on the music scene.