CAIRO — Just from hearing it, it's like any professional orchestra. But the assembly of white-veiled Egyptian women in matching black gowns has a startling difference. Every woman in the orchestra is blind.
The women in Cairo's Egyptian Blind Girls Chamber Orchestra first learn the songs by reading sheet music in braille. Since it is impossible to read braille and play an instrument at the same time, the musicians must memorize every note of every song. Pacing is also critical because the musicians cannot see the conductor. He merely claps three times to start each song.
The orchestra was born out of the El Nour Wal Amal (Light and Hope) Association, a group founded in 1954 by women volunteers who sought to educate blind women and help them become independent women.
Today the organization provides free education, literacy programs and vocational training to more than 300 blind girls and women. The women learn to thread carpets and weave wicker tables that they sell to help fund the school.
But the association is most known for its orchestra of 38 blind women. The orchestra travels the world playing for embassies, music conservatories and other international hosts.
"They are more successful abroad than here in Egypt, but I hope, God willing, that here in Egypt they will start to be known as well as abroad." said Amal Fikry, vice president and matriarch of the El Nour Wal Amal Association.
The Blind Girls Chamber Orchestra has performed on five continents in 24 countries.
"We represent Egypt and we represent blind women. We have many challenges and we have to achieve our goals," said musician Shaimaa Yehia.