Soundwaves of Hope

by - 1:04 AM

The past three weeks have been tumultuous, since the ‘official’ start of the spring fighting season. There has been heavy rain and dark clouds on some days, sunshine and heat on others. As always, there has been laughter and happiness and a lot of fun, especially with my musicianship class of 15 year-olds – all 25 of them. And then there has been nights where you feel like you are at war with the very enemy of our souls, a fierce and unrelenting tug of war between good and evil. However, one must remember that good is far greater than evil, resurrection is far more powerful than the momentary sting of death. That is, if one has such a Hope. For that reason, I weep even more. Because this hope must indeed be known and experienced by all, even the notorious perpetrators – those taken captive by the captor of their souls, deluded by false promises. 

On the days of laughter, one particular moment stands out. In my musicianship class with the 25 bunch of Grade 9 kids, we had such a time of riotous laughter when I promised them that if they finished their work in 30 minutes, we would have 15 minutes of fun. We played a game called ‘Round the Beat’ and at the last round, I made up a rule that the person saying Beat 2 will have to do a turn-around. It was so funny because every player was very competent at that stage and nobody was missing a beat, so when it came to one of our cheeky students, he kept having to say Beat 2 and do a quick spin. It left us all in stomach-splitting laughter, and I literally had tears in my eyes because it was so hilarious. Afterwards, I marveled that my prayer was answered the night before – I had a thought that this class would be called “the Happy Club”, because it would be a class of laughter and joy. Again and again, my students prove that finding beauty and making this life beautiful in a tough place is possible. Even though I was so tired one of the mornings because I didn’t sleep well the night before, two beautiful students who were not even my piano students came shyly into my studio at 7.45am to present me with a fresh rose they had picked. It smelled heavenly and sweet. I was so touched by it – God knows what I need to brighten me up. In Kabul, where I have not seen or felt the freedom of parks and gardens, this was so, so special – to think that she thought to bring it just for me. Once again, I am sure that the war can and must be won by these ordinary life-giving acts of love in a place that is sorely in need of it. 

As I keep saying, one of the reasons that I am here is to raise up a new generation of musicians who know how to teach others. I have only been here for over a month, but from the very beginning, I endeavored to teach in such a way that some of my older students will catch on to my idea of teaching or mentoring them in music so that they can teach others younger than they, and on it goes in that way. So it brought me deepest joy when I discovered one late afternoon that one of my 11 year-old students Emal* had unexpectedly taken the initiative to teach a younger 9 year-old Year 4 student Omar* the piano while I was busy doing a performance conference call with my senior students. Even though Emal is only in Year 6, he taught Omar the C major scale and how to play one short piece. He had such compassion to teach his younger friend. My smile could not be erased that day. What a win.

I can’t help but recall how one of my older students Aman* had come to watch me teach Emal last week, and how something powerful happened there for the Year 6 boy when we taught him to improvise and I got Aman to translate for me and also play Emal one of his improvisations while explaining what he was doing. The following week, Emal came to his lesson and excitedly told me in broken English that he had composed something, no doubt inspired by that lesson. He played for me his very first composition, which he later performed at our concert class this week and poignantly titled ‘Blumenli’ – a word he made up for a poem he wrote in English class. (Can you see the smile of endearment on my face?!)

I believe that when he observed me coaching and inviting my older student to join me in teaching him, he was able to replicate it in his own way and so teach Omar with the same principle in mind. I can’t believe how this can happen so quickly. This goes to the heart of an idea I had through my trips to Africa. I aim to teach one to teach another who will in turn teach others – 4 generations and onward. And the idea is that it can and should happen from the earliest stage of learning! My young student Emal proves that it is possible to teach and demonstrate to even young ones like him how to pass on music to other even younger students. Indeed, we teachers lead by example.

One of my students told me that in my short time here, I have brought change by inspiring our students who have never composed their own music before to start doing it. It brings tears to my eyes that this is all it takes. A silent revolution begins without fanfare or announcement – it starts with a small, steady trickle of new notes, of musical sounds that turn into a rippling stream and then a rushing river flowing out into the vast ocean where life thrives. A day that touched my heart was when this proved to not only be wishful dreaming, but a reality: one of my Year 6 students Sayed*, who only started learning piano last year, came to me with his friend Mustafa* who plays guitar and asked if they could play together for me. At first I didn’t understand the significance of it because they could barely speak English. But then someone translated for me that they in fact had composed a new piece together and wanted to show me! I immediately ‘wow-ed’ in delight and invited them to play it for the next concert class. I was so impressed and touched by their musicality at such a young age. I can’t believe that in a week of bombings and bloodshed, these precious ones have come up with something new and beautiful. It was in a minor key, and it sounded so specially Afghan. I thought it was brilliant. I’m grateful to see that a vision one of my friends back home had of me is coming to pass – before I came, she saw me holding up something like the Olympic torch filled with music notes and love hearts followed by a stream of local children running after it. I keep thinking about it, and it means so much to see and hear and feel it in this other reality. 

Many terrible events occurred in the past two weeks, one of which was a twin bombing in town where journalists were specifically targeted and the result was 9 unfortunate victims, all journalists of high caliber and courage with many experienced years of reporting in this unpredictable war zone. They were usually the first ones to arrive on a scene of bombing. On that terrible day, those who were the first to come and get work done were the first to also die in the next bomb that blasted soon after the first. A few days after this twin bombing, in what I call the ‘day of tremors’, local reports came up of 6 different bombings and a few that were intercepted in a span of a few hours. Even the news couldn’t catch up with it. I called it a day of tremors because not only did we have these bombs go off, at the end of the school day, we also felt the tremors of a 6.2 magnitude earthquake that shook neighboring Tajikistan and sent ripples to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It feels like the very land of this region is convulsing in anger and distress at the injustice, oppression, and wickedness that is happening on its soil.
I saw this magnificent full rainbow at a time of the evening prayer call. It brought me to tears.
Nevertheless, it seems that for every awful thing that happens, something else happens soon after to bring a promise of restoration and hope. One of my students Aman who improvises came a few days after that horrible week to tell me he’d come up with a new work. When he played it, I honestly felt in my very bones that it was inspired music. I asked him how it came to be. He shared how he was feeling sad because of the tragic death of the 9 journalists the week before, so he started playing something. He also said that he thought about the oppressed women of his nation. At some point, he played something that sounded so painful it felt like a woman was screaming – but sadly, he said he couldn’t remember how to play it again when the moment had passed, so he worked on the other harmonies that he could recall. When he shared that, I told him about a drawing that a friend made for me – it was of a veiled woman, her eyes blindfolded with a big X on her lips. It represented voiceless women. My friend had encouraged me that I will see these women get their voices back.

I usually like to sit beside my students and improvise together with them. There was a rippling, effervescent melody in one part of Aman's piece that was so beautiful and sad that it gave me an image of a camera’s film roll flashing photographs of the journalists’ lives. I improvised on that section with him when he said he wanted to add the cello and voice to the piece but he didn’t yet have any words. As we played, I began to sing what I saw in my mind: ‘Freedom will rise.’ A few days later, he named his composition ‘Freedom’ and played it in our concert class. He shared with everyone about the inspiration behind it, the vehement attack against the 9 journalists – people whose work represented a country’s capacity for the freedom of words. In such compelling words for his age, he spoke about the importance of upholding this ‘freedom’ in the face of such atrocities, which makes our work here all the more vital. I can’t say how proud I was in that moment to be working and making soundwaves of Hope with such strong and courageous young hearts. In music and art and creativity, there lies something of the infinite that means it can never run dry. 

I've started to paint more and more each day. What a grace. This one is called 'City of Rising Hope'.

*Not their real names. 
[Cover photo: Kabul Art Project] 

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