16-hour days: How this Emirati legal counsel is moonlighting as a cello player and scripting history

She is the UAE’s first professional female Emirati cellist and has performed twice with renowned Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Sun 27 Aug 2023, 2:56 PM

Last updated: Sun 27 Aug 2023, 4:21 PM

For Elham Al Marzooqi, music has been a language she always understood, having started learning the piano when she was just 5 years old. However, it was only after she began her legal career that she realized music was not just a hobby for her.

“I always wanted to be part of an orchestra and I always wanted to play a cello,” she said, speaking to Khaleej Times from her Abu Dhabi home. “So, I started to learn to play the cello in my 20s. Once I started it, I found love.”

Today, she is the UAE’s first professional female Emirati cellist and has performed twice with renowned Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

Since July 2021, Elham has been a member of the Firdaus Orchestra, an all-female pioneering orchestra with musicians from across the Arab region under the mentorship of Grammy and Academy Award-winning composer A.R. Rahman. It is an initiative of Expo City Dubai.

In January 2023, she performed on stage with multiple Grammy Award winner, Beyoncé, for the opening of Atlantis the Royal in Dubai. She is also Vice President and Board Member of the Emirati Musicians’ Association — an organization she helped set up with fellow composer Ihab Darwish to encourage other Emiratis to enter this field.

16-hour days

Elham does all this while working as Senior Legal Counsel at Ethara and running a household that includes her husband and two children. “There is a great teamwork between my husband and I to figure out how we handle the kids and their activities,” she said. “My son Jacob is 9 and my daughter Amira is 8. Without their support, it would have been very difficult to do what I am doing.”

According to her, her company’s remote working policy has been very helpful but even so, she sometimes has to work 16 hours a day to balance everything she is doing. “Mondays and Wednesdays I work in the office,” she said. “Then I drive to Dubai, do four hours of rehearsal, and then drive back. These don’t take into account the days when we do recordings. On those days, it could take longer.”

Elham admits that it is a juggle, but she would not trade it for anything in the world. “I like to live a life of no regrets,” she said. “I don’t want to look back and think ‘I wish I had done that’. So, I am glad that I am doing everything I love.”

A legacy of music

Elham has studied music for as long as she can remember, in large part because of her mother who opened one of the first music schools in Abu Dhabi. “At the time, there were not many schools where people could study music, so my mother started the Abu Dhabi music school and I was expected to learn an instrument,” she said. “I started off with the piano at the age of 5.”

Her summer holidays were spent in tiny bookstores in nooks and corners of the UK where her mother shopped for music books. “Every summer when we travelled, my mother had a long list of books that she wanted,” she said. “And every time we returned with crates and crates of books that I would then help her sort through and arrange before the new term began.”

Even though her parents wanted her to study music at university, she was not confident and instead opted for English and French and then became a qualified English solicitor of the Senior Courts of England & Wales. However, she credits her mother for instilling a love for music in her. “My mom spearheaded all of this,” she said. “She moulded me into who I am.”


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