He links different colours with specific musical tones. He makes an autistic child remember the colour with the specific music to enhance his or her memory.
Dr Waseem Kotoub, a British national of Syrian-Lebanese origin, is a pianist and composer. He is also a medical doctor, who has merged music and medicine through music therapy. He is currently working with British Council in Qatar as Senior Programme Manager, Culture and Sport Programme Gulf.
Dr Waseem was born in the UK and received most of his musical education from Vladimir Zaretisky. He has already gained a solid pianistic experience and was awarded a scholarship from Said Foundation to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Diana Ketler and Colin Stone which he graduated from with merit and got his PGdip in piano performance and the LRAM (Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music) in music teaching.
He has participated in several master classes with eminent musicians such as Imre Rohman, Christopher Elton, Victor Bunin, Paskal Nimorofski and Petras Guiniasis.
As a special prize winner of IBLA piano competition in Italy and first prize winner of Said Foundation Achievement Award, he has been playing with several orchestras such as Brandenburg National Youth Orchestra, and Syrian National Symphony Orchestra. He has two music albums Last of Ommyads and Healing Tunes.
Dr Waseem composes for piano and chamber music and his compositions are a fusion of western and eastern music. He has also made television and radio appearances. He has also been taking part in different international music competitions as a judge. Dr Waseem is a peace ambassador who promotes peace wherever he performs.
In an interview with Community, he spoke about his work and experiences at length. “I have been playing piano since I was six. I have been contributing to the cultural exchanges through different British festivals and cultural programmes in schools.
“I was an assistant surgeon. Later, however, I switched to the field of medical management.”
When it comes to playing piano, Dr Waseem got real impact from his parents. “My father used to sing at the university. My mother used to play piano. They wanted to see me playing piano as a professional. They influenced me a lot. Then, the stories behind different music compositions also inspired me. You also feel that you are doing something special that puts the spotlight on you.”
He believes in the theory that piano is king of all music instruments. “One can orchestrate on the piano. There has been a huge development of piano as a music instrument. To be honest, I was not given a choice. My parents wanted me to play piano. I felt it ok and thought it nice to continue playing it.
“The way piano responds to you is really amazing. It is very easy to start with but it is very difficult to master it. Even when I play with orchestra, I only imagine about piano.”
Dr Waseem has also been composing orchestral music. “I have some compositions already performed in London. That was the chamber music with oud, Arabic percussion, violin, viola, cello and flute.”
When asked how he defines music therapy, he said: “Some people say that music therapy is listening to music. It is not purely listening to music. It is actually using musical instruments to achieve different goals such as educational or behavioural goals. For example, autistic children might have difficulty in differentiating in many colours. What I do is that I link the red colour with a specific tone and make the autistic child remember the colours from the tones. It is kind of enhancing his memory. So, it is just a different way of using music instruments for different goals. Some autistic children have sensitivity to the sound. First, you need to evaluate the child. If the children have the sensibility, they will look through their ears. About 20 to 25 percent children have the sensitivity. Even if they do not have the sensitivity, you will see amazing response to the rhythms only. They will start moving with the rhythms. Without music, you will see autistic children making no eye contact or movement.
“There are also specific items you use to make people more relaxed or to reduce some pain. They use music sessions before radio therapy for cancer patients. They also use it for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In Qatar, I have done many workshops for nurses and other medical staff. As far as my medicine practice, I am not doing it. However, I continue to receive requests for medical advice.”
Dr Waseem sees two people inside him. One is an art crazy persona and the other analytical thinker. “These two people complement each other. Without either of them, I am not complete. That also gives me different friends and different groups of people. To be honest that keeps me enjoying my life. If one side gets boring, I can switch to the other one.”
Explaining his association with — and appreciation — for western classical music, Dr Waseem said: “It is a matter of exposure. As a child, I had plenty of exposure to western classical music. To me, it came very naturally. I can understand it. It is a universal language.”
In his compositions, the pianist creates fusion of Western music with the music from the Middle East. “My music is chamber music. I mix western music with Arab music. That is very apparent in my compositions.
“If we have a look at the population of Qatar, we can see about 70 percent are expatriates. Expatriates have keen interest in classical music. There is a growing interest for the genre among Qataris also. Further, Qatar Music Academy is offering many courses in classical music. The Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra is doing wonders. It was an honour for me to perform with the orchestra on its very first concert of 2020.”
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