Egyptian soprano Laura Mekhail found her passion for singing when she joined a church choir in Minya, Egypt at a very young age. A few years later, she has been awarded the Andrea Bocelli Foundation – Community Jameel Scholarship and will join the Royal College of Music in London in fall 2021 to pursue her musical dreams.
“When I heard that I was selected for the Andrea Bocelli Foundation – Community Jameel Scholarship, I was truly surprised. I never saw it coming. I thought that I might get a partial scholarship. However, I thought that it would come from the school itself—it didn’t even cross my mind that I would receive such a prestigious scholarship,” Mekhail told Al Arabiya English.
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“I have been following the work of Community Jameel for some time now, and I observed that they always invest in the future of education.”
Launched in 2019 to support students at the Royal College of Music, the scholarship is awarded to talented musicians, chosen both on merit assessed at the audition level and their need for support to overcome barriers and access the world-class training available at the school.
The Royal College of Music has been ranked the top institution for performing arts in the UK for six consecutive years (QS World University Rankings).
This scholarship was established by the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, founded by world-renowned tenor Andrea Bocelli, and Community Jameel, an international organization supporting science and technology to tackle global challenges.
Passion for singing
Mekhail studied music performance at the West Virginia Wesleyan College in the United States, where she was elected a member of the acapella choir, working closely with Dr Dan Hughes, Director of Choral Activities, whom she credits with heavily influencing her vocal development.
After graduation, the soprano taught singing for a year at Chesterbrook Academy, and six years in Cairo, before deciding to pursue a career as a professional soloist. Mekhail has performed at the Cairo Opera House and lists a range of influences on her singing, including legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, Lebanese legends Fairuz and Sabah, as well as Abdel Halim Hafez, Bach, and Rossini.
As the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world, Mekhail didn’t think she would be able to get such an award.
“Scholarships such as Andrea Bocelli Foundation – Community Jameel Scholarship, are essential in supporting the work of creatives, individuals and industries affected, as well as to help adapt to the changing nature of work. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to study at one of the world’s greatest conservatoires, especially at a time when support for the arts is needed more than ever before.”
On her immediate reactions when she heard that she was awarded the scholarship, Mekhail said: “I remember I was incredibly thrilled. I kept jumping up and down in my house. At that time, I had COVID. And just for a second, I forgot that I was sick. Then it came to me— ‘Oh my God, what a huge responsibility I’m holding—the name of two famous people. What a huge responsibility that I’m carrying.’”
Operatic or Choral music performances?
When asked whether as a soprano herself, she would prefer Operatic or Choral music performances, and what she think are her strengths, Mekhail replied: “I love both opera and choral music. I’ve been part of both, and I can’t say that I love one better than the other. Choral music has its beauty and I love singing harmonies. I was in the acapella team at my school and I am so passionate about building harmonies. We were only 12 singers, and I enjoyed the teamwork and the unique harmonies that we created together. But opera has its beauty as well. I love the acting, the on-stage energy, and the deeper message you convey to your audience. It’s like you’re a totally different person on stage. What really stands out most for me in opera is dramatic music and theatrical scenes.”
Mekhail has continued both teaching and performing but she’s unsure of her future plans after completing her-two-year fulltime Masters training.
“For now, I am simply following my dreams: I am trying to be a unique classical and opera singer. I would love to work in different opera houses, not just one and to sing on as many stages as possible across the globe. But I’d also like to go back to my country and teach what I’ve been taught.”
Mekhail said the scholarship foundation gave her an opportunity “to learn and grow in my field by studying at one of the world’s greatest conservatoires in the world, I would like to carry the torch forward and give back to my own community by teaching music in colleges, schools, and private centers. I would definitely love to do that when I am done.”
On her thoughts about Bocelli's music and her favorites among those, Mekhail said: “Maestro Bocelli’s music is some of the most amazing music you can listen to. You can never tire from listening to Andrea Bocelli’s voice. My favorite songs of his are ‘Time to Say Goodbye,’ ‘I Believe’ and ‘The Prayer.’ These are truly the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. And I would love the chance to sing one of these songs with him in a duet one day.”
Mekhail said: “Although I have been enjoying my career as a teacher, nothing makes me feel more alive than standing on stage and performing my classical repertoire. This is why I’m so passionate about studying at the Royal College of Music, which will offer me the opportunities to strengthen my qualities as a singer, explore my vocal capabilities and develop my performing skills to reach a professional level. Without the support of this scholarship, achieving my dream would not be possible.”
George Richards, Director of Community Jameel, said: “Laura is an exceptional talent, and we are delighted to be able to support her on her journey as a musician and performer.
Community Jameel is committed to improving access to quality education for all – including in music – and we are excited to be supporting international students, including those from the Arab world, to study at one of the world’s greatest conservatoires at a time when support for the arts is needed more than ever before.”
Stefano Aversa, Chairman of ABF, said: “This scholarship is in line with our mission to empower people and communities worldwide, and we’re glad we can empower Laura to develop her skills and achieve her full potential by learning at one of the world’s greatest conservatories.”
Mekhail is the second recipient of the scholarship following Clara Barbier Serrano, a soprano, who received the scholarship just last year. Since receiving the scholarship, Clara has performed alongside Andrea Bocelli at the ‘Believe in Christmas’ concert last December as well as at the ABF’s 10th anniversary celebration, where she was pleased “to give back,” as she said.