A child receives a piano class at the Yamaha Music Centre in Riyadh. File/AFP
Saudi businessman Ahmed Abdullah watches intently as his seven-year-old daughter Yasmine practises keyboard scales at a Riyadh music school.
"Now we are thinking about the next generation and investing in it," Abdullah said.
At least five such schools have opened over the past few years in the capital Riyadh and Jeddah, the kingdom's second city on the Red Sea coast, serving an enthusiastic clientele of children and some adults.
Yasmine's class, at the Yamaha Music Centre, meets every Saturday for half an hour, with their Egyptian instructor running students through keyboard drills under a sign reading "Music for All."
The session is bittersweet for her father, Abdullah, who thrills at his daughter's enthusiasm even as it reminds him of "things I had no chance of achieving in my childhood."
Last December more than 700,000 revellers flocked to the MDLBeast Soundstorm music festival in Riyadh, officials said, for four days of performances including a set by superstar French DJ David Guetta.
Daily life, too, has become more melodious, with restaurants and cafes staging live acts or blasting recordings through speakers.
Several Saudis who are now trying to develop their own musical chops described the transformation as a boon to their mental health.
Wejdan Hajji, a 28-year-old employee at a firm selling medical supplies, said she once struggled to teach herself guitar by watching YouTube videos, lamenting that "if I made a mistake, there was no one to correct me."
Now she pays 940 Saudi riyals (around $250) each month for classes with a Ukrainian teacher at the Yamaha Music Centre.
"I didn't know anything, but now I've learned the basics," she said.
"The one-hour session clears my mind... My personality has changed, and I'm calmer."
In 2020 the kingdom established a "Music Authority" under its culture ministry which grants licences to music schools and provides backing to young talents eager to pursue careers in the music industry.
Some 100 private schools nationwide have included a music component in their curricula during the current academic year, according to an official tally.
In May, the authority launched a "Music Culture Programme" to develop the skills of public school students as well.
As those initiatives get off the ground, the specialised music schools continue to do brisk business.
One recent afternoon at the "House of Music" school in northern Riyadh, an instructor supervised five toddlers as they swayed to the sound of lullabies playing on a speaker.
The school opened in 2019 and has 300 students of all ages who come for lessons in rooms adorned with posters of performers like Bob Marley and Lebanese singer Fairuz.
"There is a good acceptance of the services we provide so far," said the school's Venezuelan director, Cesar Mora, adding that the school has a second branch in the works.
"There is a growing music-loving community and market."
Walid Mahmoud, a 37-year-old Sudanese resident of Riyadh, began coming to the school so his young daughters could take lessons on the oud, a stringed instrument popular in the region.
Before long, he signed up for lessons himself.
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Since the first lockdown — way back in March when all of culture was shut down — I started saving £2 coins in a jar labelled “theatre, gigs, concerts, fun”. I’m five jars in now and on course to fill a few more, as it looks like performance spaces,
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