Iraq′s first youth orchestra acts as symbol of peace | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 12.04.2011
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Iraq's first youth orchestra acts as symbol of peace

When Iraq's only music school was destroyed in 2003, it left many with no choice but to take lessons over the Internet. Despite this, a group of young Iraqis has set up an orchestra as a symbol of peace.

The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq

The orchestra includes young people from all parts of Iraq

In 2008, five years after the destruction of Iraq's music school, 17-year-old Iraqi pianist Zuhal Sultan came up with the idea of founding a symphony orchestra made up of as many young people from around the country as possible. A series of online auditions followed and the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq was formed. It now consists of 53 members.

"A new message that stands for peace and unity should go out from Iraq. That is the aim of everyone who has committed themselves to the project," read an invitation distributed by the Friends of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq organization - based in Cologne, Germany - and Scottish conductor Paul MacAlindin, who directs the orchestra. Having originally heard about its foundation from the British Council, MacAlindin immediately offered to work with the young musicians.

A symbol for unity

"This orchestra understands itself as an orchestra for peace," said Karl-Walter Keppler, chairman of the Friends of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. "Everyone who plays in it says we want peace and unity in Iraq. Twenty-two Kurds play alongside 23 Arab musicians. The group grows together with the help of music."

Zuhal Sultan

Zuhal Sultan's concept turned out to be a success

The musicians hope to set an example in a deeply divided nation by working and performing together. The group has three interpreters who speak Kurdish, Arabic and English so that members from different regions can understand each other.

The young instrumentalists are enthusiastic in their attempts to contend with the reality of everyday life in Iraq. The country's only music school was destroyed in the attacks on Baghdad in 2003 and its reconstruction was slow. Hardly anybody has professional music lessons - learning via the Internet is the only option for many. They practice on their instruments, read up about them and take lessons via online video portal YouTube.

A full program

During rehearsal stages, the orchestra members have the opportunity to work with professional teachers from the UK, Germany and the US. The program is jam-packed, with between two and three hours of individual lessons every day, followed by up to six hours of concert rehearsals.

But even then the day is not over. "When they're in the hotel, you hear them continuing to practice all night long," said Keppler. "They are extremely enthusiastic."

Paul MacAlindin

MacAlindin was immediately keen to help out

The orchestra had its first summer academy in the Kurdish town of Sulaymaniyah in 2009. MacAlindin traveled to Iraq along with 12 teachers from the US and Europe with the aim of helping the orchestra create its own profile. The first concerts it gave in Iraq included classic western works along with pieces from the Arab world. They were very well received there and the concerts were broadcast on Iraqi television stations.

In 2010, the Friends of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq was founded in Cologne, where MacAlindin lives. He instilled enthusiasm for the project in his friends and acquaintances, who now plan and organize both the orchestra's rehearsals and concerts. Along with concerts in Iraq, foreign travel tops the orchestra members' wish list.

MacAlindin says the musicians are proud of their own culture. They want to play both Iraqi and western concert music, as well as show the world that the people of Iraq are prepared to cooperate peacefully.

Author: Gudrun Stegen / mm

Editor: Eva Wutke / jen