A Jordanian-Musical Prodigy

Karim Said was born in Amman, Jordan in 1988. At the age of 11, he moved to, London, England to study piano, composition, and conducting in Purcell School of Music and later at the Royal Academy of Music. He received full scholarships for his education in the United Kingdom.

Karim has recently been performing and conducting numerous classical music concerts in Jordan. Sponsored by Bank al Etihad, these concerts have been widely attended by various ranks of society in order to spread the joy of music. In Karim’s own words, “I think it is important to extend musical knowledge further and go to both ends of the social spectrum to get more people interested in experiencing the joy of music. We try to spread joy, that’s what we do.”

Venture sat down with Karim in an interview to learn more about his journey.

In the age of information and technology, you made your way to success through music, can you tell us about your journey?

I don’t like to think of myself as successful, it’s always developing. I think of the next project and how I would like to develop as a musician. I don’t think you reach a point of success in music. If, for example, I worked my way up at a company or bank to become a top manager, I could say to myself “ok, I earn X and I’m going to buy my dream house and car” etc., but it doesn’t work like that in music. There isn’t that kind of stability. Some years can be really bad, other years can be really good. I like to focus on the next project always and to plan as much as I can.

There isn’t much of an infrastructure here in Jordan. So you have to make your own way as a musician, which to a certain extent, applies to musicians everywhere. But, this is especially the case if you had to start here and then make your way through the music industry abroad.

What is your advice for musicians in Jordan who would like to turn music from a hobby to a career?

I think we need more people to have music in their lives as a hobby. They form a key part of our audience, and you basically enjoy music more when you play an instrument, you hear it differently, you hear it from the inside.

So my advice is, if you enjoy it as a hobby keep going, because the chances are, if you’re old enough to know what the word “hobby” means, it’s probably too late for you to become a professional musician. You need to more or less decide by the time you are 7 or 8 years old that this is going to be your life; I mean you can change of course, but that’s the age that you need to learn the necessary skills. I would say that the age of 10 is the absolute latest.

Also, you need to be very sure of your choice, because it is a very unstable life and there are many uncertainties. You have to remind yourself of why you’re doing this all the time.

What do you think of the music industry in Jordan, what do you think we need to improve?

I wouldn’t say we have one yet  as far as classical music is concerned. We do have an industry for Arabic music and pop music. It’s under the same umbrella of music but it’s not what I do. Specifically what we do is so niche that you’re talking about an audience of a few hundred people at the moment, that’s not an industry – but we are already changing this.

When we have four or five classical events on every night in Amman and an audience of thousands of people who are spoiled for choice, then we have an industry.

Are you planning to play any of your own compositions in Jordan?

I still haven’t played any of my own compositions in Jordan but I did arrange one Christmas Carol in the winter concert when we played “We wish you a merry Christmas”. My music is bit like modern Art, I think we need to work up to that by exposing more 20th-century music to the Jordanian public before we get into 21st-century music.

At the moment we’re going as far as 19th century music, where forms that are more accessible are used. In 20th century music, these forms are broken down and you get a lot of abstract music.

In what way can music help people?

It’s important that we reach out to the whole community and include people who aren’t able to come to our concerts by taking music to them. Music can be a form of consolation to people who suffer under distress, or from illnesses that often benefit from music as part of their treatment. With serious mental illnesses related to memory loss, music often revives certain memories and can help patients cope better. That is why  I went to perform at a hospice for the elderly called Al Aserra Al Baidaa, as part of our outreach program. There’s also an educational program of course; I’m going to schools in Amman that already have a music department so as to encourage pupils to attend our concerts and expose them to music within their own school system. Regardless of the setting or the degree of interest in music, I think it is important to extend musical knowledge further and go to both ends of the social spectrum to get more people interested in experiencing the joy of music. We try to spread joy, that’s what we do.”

What was your main motive to start a collaboration with Bank Al Etihad specifically?

I knew that Bank Al Etihad is an important benefactor of the arts in general. It supports all sorts of artists, not just classical musicians. So I decided to approach this bank knowing that they have a strong awareness of the importance of the arts on a national level. By supporting our project they are providing  a service to the Jordanian public and to Jordanian musicians, myself included.

We’re so grateful for the support of Bank al Etihad; it gives us the comfort and the freedom we need in order to serve our community through the arts. You need to work under certain circumstances with the level of stability that this bank is providing,in order to be able to deliver truly professional and uncompromised results as an important service to the whole community.

To watch Karim’s journey by Allegro Films 2008

By Yasmin Aqil