"I'm tired," he said, "tired of the media's portrayal of Afghanistan as a place without hope." Afghanistan National Institute of Music's (ANIM) director, Dr. Ahmad Sarmast began as he introduced "The Second Annual Winter Music Celebration" on Wednesday, February 8th. Those of us in the community that signed up to attend the free concerts had been forewarned to arrive early to go through security at the French Institute where the concert was held. Not to worry about seating because the venue holds 450 people and only 250 people have responded. Dr. Sarmast was addressing an auditorium of over 450 people as he began his introduction. People were standing in the back and against the side rows near the walls of the auditorium.
"The students of our school, some are street kids or orphans with little to look forward to have had their lives transformed." He gestured to the children and teens sitting on the stage around him holding their instruments ready to begin the concert.
"They are productive members of society. They are musicians and professionals and they give back to society. This shows us that Afghanistan IS a place of hope." After the culmination of his speech, the audience broke into an appreciative applause. Those of us that live here and see the day-to-day moments see that there is hope. The people that I work with and coach at the university are committed to improving themselves in their profession. Applying themselves, for the most part, wholeheartedly to this endeavor. The children and students that they teach, some like the ones at Razia's Ray of Hope Foundation are so committed to going to school, they will walk what the average westerner would consider an extraordinary distance for the privilege of an education. But this is not the news the media portrays which is why people probably did not even know that there was a fantastic concert of amazing upcoming musicians trained at ANIM. This article from the Huffington Post has more information on the background of the school and children.
This concert was the last in a season that included guests artists from around the world like: Mashal Arman, Anne LeBozec, Kimball Gallagher and Marc Uys. Students also occasionally performed. I was happily surprised with one performance by a young man who sang "Somewhere" from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein. I was immediately transported back to the Chicago of my youth and singing along to a record of my father's high school performance as Riff in a production of the musical (the cast sounded pretty good for a high school!). Other favorites included "Ferdinand the Bull, for solo violin and piano" composed by Alan Ridout and performed by Marc Uys and "Dishab Ke Chunay" (arr. William Harvey) which is a traditional Afghan song. The final concert ingeniously mixed Western and Afghan music to create a new and vibrant sound. The last piece that they played, "Bolero" composed by Maurice Ravel, again arranged by William Harvey was played by the Afghan Youth Orchestra and was an amazing rendition of the music, played as if it had always been meant for the rubab.
I am really looking forward to the Third Annual Afghanistan Winter Music Academy next year and seeing the progress of these highly talented young people.
Another write up on the school from the Wall Street Journal in 2010. The words quoted in the first few paragraphs are taken from memory and represent the general expression of what Dr. Sarmast said, not entirely the exact statement.