Friday, September 21, 2012

Fired by music

We've marvelled before at the power of music  . . . its ability to lift us up, invigorate us, and give us the motivation to succeed.

Such is the potency of music that I'm beginning to wonder whether Genesis was mis-translated.
What if, instead of: 'In the beginning was the Word . . . ' it should have been:  'In the beginning was the Note . . .'?

Listen to the moving story of The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq and see if you agree with me.

You may have you heard of this orchestra, which made its recent London debut at The Queen Elizabeth Hall, but do you know how it came into being?

Four years ago, Zuhal Sultan, then a seventeen-year-old Iraqi pianist, was fired by an all-consuming passion.  She dreamed of creating an orchestra of young musicians that would help to rebuild the shattered culture of her country.
"What could be better," she says, "than Iraq's youth sitting on one stage, people from different parts of the country, showing a fantastic example of the unity that the country can achieve?"

The orchestra she dreamed of has finally achieved reality.
And everything about her orchestra is unique.

Since the invasion in 2003, western musical instruments have been hard to acquire in Iraq.  What's  more, should a musician need to carry his instrument in some parts of the country it has to be disguised . . . and many instruments, amongst them the cello and the french horn, are not easy to disguise.
To add to these difficulties, it is wisest to undertake practice in the privacy of your own home, and, for your protection, the music needs to be played at a subdued pitch.

Then, if all these hurdles have been successfully overcome,  what is possibly the greatest challenge still remains.  With a dearth of music tutors in Iraq, many fled during the fighting, how can a would-be musician learn to play?
There is only one solution.
Those determined to succeed resort to the only source of tuition available  . . . they learn through the internet.

Faced with all these problems in her homeland, it is even more remarkable that Zuhal Sultan's persistence won through.  Yet her dream has been achieved . . . The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq is a reality.
But surely there is there no other orchestra in the world that goes in search of its musicians on the internet?
No other orchestra that auditions all potential players on YouTube?

Under the baton of the Scottish conductor, Paul McAlindon (recruited in 2008 through a small ad. in "The Glasgow Herald"), the orchestra finally came together.    In the summer of 2009, thirty-three young Arab and Kurdish, Armenian and Assyrian Iraqi musicians met for the first time in the Kurdish town of Suleymaniyah.  Here, for a two-week period, they played classical music together.  Working intensively with their music teachers from the UK and the USA they finally performed a concert which took place in The Palace of Arts, Suleymaniyah.  It was a huge success.

The orchestra went on to receive acclaim last year in Edinburgh, this year in London, and has plans to visit France in 2013.

But my words won't convince you of their talent, we'll let them demonstrate their artistry for themselves.

How . . . ?  On YouTube, of course!