Monday 18 October 2010

Creative Learning in Abu Dhabi

In the Creative Learning department, we’re used to early starts. After all, school begins at 8.50 and there’s no changing that, even if a musician has to drive 100 miles to get there. But 4.30am on a Sunday morning was a little painful even to us hardened souls, and as the taxi drew up to take me to Heathrow I did begin to wonder what we’d let ourselves in for.

On the other hand, lovely though it is to visit schools around the country, Abu Dhabi did sound a little more glamorous. After all, if they devoted an entire Sex and the City film to the state, there had to be a bit of glitz. And as we pulled up to the Beach Rotana hotel at the other end of a seven hour flight, the team (workshop leader Fraser Trainer, flautist Sarah O’Flynn, violinist Nickie Goldscheider, viola player Kate Musker, and me) realised we would definitely be in for a comfortable, if brief, stay. It might not have been the Emirates Palace (Abu Dhabi’s best, and reputedly the world’s most expensive hotel to build, which apparently has a vending machine selling gold bars in the lobby) but it looked pretty luxurious to us.

The purpose of our trip to Abu Dhabi was to run a Creativity workshop there. The workshop is part of the Cambridge Judge Business School’s LEAD (Leadership Excellence Applied Diploma) programme that it runs in collaboration with ALDAR, a real estate development company. This programme gives UAE nationals the opportunity to learn from some of Cambridge University’s top academics. Having worked with the Cambridge Judge Business School on several occasions, they invited us to take part in the LEAD programme to explore with the participants how musicians work together and communicate.

After a swim in the hotel pool on Monday morning (well, in 40 degree heat, we needed to cool down before we could concentrate on planning a workshop) we were whisked off to the training centre of ALDAR Properties, the company responsible for much of the building work in the city, and for hosting the LEAD programme. We were to work with a group of around 20 participants, and the plan was to get them involved in making their own music, using percussion instruments, so that they could experience what it felt like to perform in an ensemble, before watching the Britten Sinfonia trio do the same. We were curious to see whether the group would get involved in the workshop in the same way as our participants in the UK do, given the cultural differences in a strict Muslim country, but absolutely delighted when they took to the activities with great enthusiasm, and quickly got involved in fascinating conversations about the differences and similarities between the music world and the business one.

The working day concluded, the team rounded off the trip with a delicious meal at a local restaurant, and then a quick paddle in the (still bath-temperature) sea. We left on Tuesday feeling intrigued by our brief glimpse into Abu Dhabi’s business culture, hopeful that our workshop had left the participants with something new to bring to their working lives…and looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Except, of course, that with a schools workshop bright and early on Wednesday morning, there wasn’t going to be a lie in for a little while…

Sophie Dunn
Creative Learning Director

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