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Iraqi youth orchestra combats terror with Beethoven By Anne-Beatrice Clasmann Sep 18, 2011, 2:06 GMT

Downloaded 30.10.11  from qi-­‐youth-­‐orchestra-­‐combats-­‐terror-­‐with-­‐Beethoven     Erbil, Iraq - Can an Iraqi youth orchestra, bringing together different ethnic groups and religions, help to unite a divided country living in the shadow of violence and terror? The orchestra - created on the lines of Argentine-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim's Arab-Jewish West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and comprising Kurds, Arabs, Shiites, Sunnis and Christians - is ready to try. Car bombs, persecution of Christians and corruption are part of everyday life in Iraq, but the new orchestra wants to make a musical contribution toward forging a different kind of future. The orchestra, which will give its first guest performance at a Beethoven festival in the German city of Bonn on October 1, is to unite young musicians from different and usually divided ethnic and religious backgrounds. The founding members of the orchestra, created with British support by a young Iraqi pianist in 2009, include Tuka Saad Dschafar. This summer, the 17-year-old cellist from Baghdad travelled to the Kurdish autonomous region in the north of Iraq, for a third set of rehearsals. Until now, the musicians have been meeting only in this region, because security is tighter there than other parts of Iraq, meaning less fear of al-Qaeda terrorists or Shiite militias. They have never played together in Baghdad. The 43 musicians, aged 16 to 28, were selected on the basis of video applications sent to Scottish conductor Paul MacAlindin, who lives in Cologne, Germany. The money the Kurdistan regional government promised for the orchestra is still pending, and none is expected from Baghdad. Without donations from companies and private donors in Germany, the orchestra would not survive. Tuka has attached a bright yellow Spongebob tag to her cello bag. On breaks, she jokes with the other cellists. But the carefree appearances hide anguishing memories of violence. 'Already as a child, I often saw bodies lying in the streets. There were always attacks,' she says, as her expression hardens. 'While the fine arts were dying, and one good musician after another left the country, terrorists turned murder into a new art form. They kept thinking up new ways of killing people,' Tuka says. 'Over the past two years, the terror has gone down a bit, but the fanaticism remains.

Even girls wearing pants are being threatened,' she adds. When Tuka leaves her parents9 home in the Shiite neighbourhood of al-Salam with her cello, she has a taxi waiting in front of the door. She hastily packs her instrument into the boot and gets in. Tuka is worried that fanatics might want to kill her simply for being a female musician. Even some conservative relatives from the Shiite pilgrim city of Kerkbela have asked her: 'Why does a decent girl like you, who prays and wears a headscarf, do something as sinful as music?' In 2006, when Tuka became a member of the State Symphony Orchestra, playing beside 50-year-old men, she was only 12 years old. The ambitious cellist has only had two years of cello lessons. But at the height of the Al-Qaeda terror, the orchestra9s directors were looking for musicians brave enough to attend rehearsals and performances. An orchestra made up of men and women and playing Western classical music is viewed as a sin by militant Islamists, who gained a foothold in Iraq after the 2003 US invasion. Tuka wants to fight the ignorance, terror and resignation that have a grip on a part of her generation. Iraq seems to hardly have been touched by the spirit of the Arab spring protests. The few young and educated Iraqis who have not yet left the country see themselves as losers. Only the Kurds, who have built a roughly functioning state within their autonomous region, are living without barbed wire, tank traps and suicide bombers. During rehearsals at the conference room of a small hotel in Erbil, the musicians are excited. The Iraqis want to do well at the concert in Bonn. They are practicing almost without a break, seven hours a day, in a musty room with a brown shabby carpet covering the floor. The morning warm-up starts with all standing up. The young Iraqis stomp their feet, clap and do trunk bends. Individual classes with German tutors are held afterwards. In between the rehearsals, the orchestra gives spontaneous concerts at the hotel, often inspired by Oriental tunes. 'Last night, you played Arab and Kurdish music with such a rhythm, now where has it gone?' the conductor asks. 'Beethoven and Haydn - this is music full of surprises,' he quips after they have rehearsed the same set for the third time with the same rumbling monotony. Some of the young women - who all, except for Tuka, let their hair show - giggle shyly. The Kurdish violinists stare at the floor, embarrassed. After the fourth attempt, the conductor is reasonably happy with the result. Copyright Deutsche Presseagentur iraqi youth orchestra combats terror with beethoven