[Dixielandjazz] The battle of the Bands is Peaceable, well sort of.

Mike Durham mikedurham_jazz at hotmail.com
Wed Dec 10 17:46:34 PST 2003

Inspiring indeed - heard the Iraqi National Symphony on the BBC radio this 
morning, very interesting music and obviously excellent musicians. All 
politics aside, it's great that they are together and playing again. And 
let's not forget Daniel Barenboim and the Arab and Israeli musicians who are 
also so courageously setting an example of brotherhood and cooperation. 
Makes one feel glad, and proud, to be a musician.

Mike D.

>From: Stephen Barbone <barbonestreet at earthlink.net>
>Reply-To: barbonestreet at earthlink.net
>To: Dixieland Jazz Mailing List <dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
>Subject: [Dixielandjazz] The battle of the Bands is Peaceable, well sort 
>Date: Wed, 10 Dec 2003 09:43:07 -0500
>Not OKOM, but musically very interesting. Talk about DEDICATED
>musicians. A good read even if only to remind ourselves how lucky we are
>to to play and/or enjoy music without all of the life threatening
>hassles that these musicians face on a daily basis. (and have faced for
>the past several decades).
>Steve Barbone
>December 7, 2003 New York Times
>This Battle of the Bands Is Peaceable
>Soon after the Arab press reported that the Iraqi National Symphony
>Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington would play
>alongside each other at the Kennedy Center, Hisham Sharaf, the director
>of the Iraqi orchestra, was shot at as he drove down a highway near his
>home in Baghdad. A bullet penetrated his windshield, but missed him.
>"I don't know who or why," Mr. Sharaf said recently from Baghdad. "I
>think maybe it's because of the concert. On Al Jazeera, they say they
>are surprised that the orchestra goes to Washington at this time. We
>don't have political reasons. Maybe the American side thinks about that,
>but we go to play music, to see the American people and to show we have
>culture. Some people think we have only desert and camels."
>The concert, a free, hour-long event on Tuesday evening, mixes European
>classics with recent and traditional music by Iraqi composers. Leonard
>Slatkin, the music director of the National Symphony, shares the podium
>with Mohammed Amin Ezzat, the conductor of the Iraqi National Symphony.
>"We're trying to find a way to use music to combat what was a tragic
>circumstance," Mr. Slatkin said from Washington, "no matter what side of
>the Iraqi argument you come down on."
>But political overtones have shadowed the venture. It is the first of
>several initiatives by the State Department to restore cultural exchange
>between Iraq and the United States after nearly 13 years of United
>Nations sanctions. Perhaps inevitably, some argue that the Iraqi
>orchestra is being used.
>"I'm furious that our government is trying to put a happy face on the
>extinguishment of the cradle of civilization," said Patrick Dillon, an
>independent filmmaker who shot in Baghdad before and after the
>American-led assault and is a vocal critic of the war effort.
>Michael Kaiser, the president of the Kennedy Center and a cultural
>ambassador for the State Department's CultureConnect program, said from
>Washington that the idea for the invitation was entirely his.
>"It's critical to give visibility not just to the Iraqi National
>Symphony but to all the arts in Iraq," Mr. Kaiser said. "I also believe
>the arts can play a role in healing and a role in educating us about
>Iraq, and the sooner the better in both cases."
>The Kennedy Center is covering the cost of the National Symphony's
>appearance and the use of the hall, and the State Department is paying
>transportation and lodging expenses for the 60-member Iraqi orchestra,
>Mr. Kaiser said. But in his view, the event has no more political
>significance than the restoration of the State Department's Fulbright
>scholarship program in Iraq.
>To muddy the waters further, two assistants to L. Paul Bremer III, the
>top American civilian administrator in Iraq, play with the understaffed
>Iraqi orchestra as substitutes. Asked how he felt about their
>participation, Mr. Sharaf, the orchestra's director, said: "The problem
>every time is between the governments, not musicians. We speak the same
>language ? do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, do."
>The political connection has proved advantageous for the orchestra. One
>assistant, who started a corporate donor program for the Coalition
>Provisional Authority, has helped solicit donations to the orchestra.
>Yamaha responded by providing 30 new brass and woodwind instruments, and
>Steinway & Sons will lend a grand piano. Better string instruments are
>still needed.
>As a result of Mr. Bremer's inquiries, the Major Orchestra Library
>Association, an American-based international service organization, has
>also become involved. It has begun to send more than 350 scores to lay
>the groundwork for a national repository available to all Iraqi musical
>organizations. Other institutions are assisting the School of Music and
>Ballet in Baghdad, where many orchestra members teach.
>The school was looted and trashed after Mr. Hussein's ouster. Desks were
>broken, pianos ruined and other instruments damaged or stolen. Orchestra
>members say the vandals were angry, impoverished individuals who viewed
>the state-supported school as a government entity. The school was
>reopened on a limited basis, but when the Kennedy Center concert was
>announced, more instruments were attacked.
>"There is an element in Iraq that is not happy that Iraqis are playing
>Western music or teaching Western music to their children," said Allegra
>Klein, a violinist. She founded a group called Musicians for Harmony, in
>New York, which raised $1,000 for the Iraqi orchestra at a benefit
>Hers is only one of several such efforts. Operation Harmony, a project
>conceived by the National Endowment for the Arts, appealed to the
>classical music community for instruments, musical accessories and cash
>to help Iraqi music students. It also appealed to the Pentagon about the
>logistics of airlifting the donated items, however, and that raised a
>few hackles.
>"You have a government agency related to the military involved in the
>music scene, which makes it very political," said Wafaa Al-Natheema, an
>educator and founder of the nonprofit Institute for Near Eastern and
>African Studies in Cambridge, Mass. Ms. Al-Natheema hopes to arrange
>future tours for the orchestra and helps edit an unofficial newsletter
>on its activities.
>"If the U.S. government really wanted to help," she said, "they could
>use a nongovernmental agency, a charitable institution like the
>institute or the U.N."
>Such extramusical baggage has not dimmed the orchestra's enthusiasm for
>the Kennedy Center concert. "It's the first dream we get," Majid
>Alghazali, the principal second violinist, wrote in an e-mail.
>Mr. Ezzat, the conductor, who fled Iraq for Sweden in 2002 after being
>asked to compose a score for a novel written by Saddam Hussein (as he
>had done once before), returned last fall. "They told me the orchestra
>has more future hope, and I came back to continue on, to make this hope
>for us," he said from Baghdad. "In the past, our orchestra was not free.
>Now we are free. We make our future."
>Part of the hope involves increasing the orchestra's size, wages and
>artistic caliber. In contrast, say, to Iraqi playwrights, who typically
>required approval of their scripts and casts to win funds from the
>Hussein government, the orchestra mostly suffered from benign neglect.
>Founded in 1959, it once had a German conductor and an international
>membership. During the 1970's and 80's, it had more than 70 musicians
>and occasionally toured Russia, Algeria, Lebanon and Jordan. Guest
>artists and teachers regularly visited Baghdad.
>But its budget diminished over the years. Then as now, most members
>required a supplementary job, like teaching, driving a taxi or selling
>In 1994, when Mr. Alghazali joined the orchestra, his salary was about
>$1.50 per month. By 2002, musicians were earning $10 to $20 per month.
>Now Iraq's Ministry of Culture pays them $120 per month.
>Mr. Alghazali reports that orchestras in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon pay
>about $500 per month. He believes that the Iraqi orchestra will
>ultimately need to match that figure to attract and retain the best
>players. There is talk of starting a musicians' union.
>The history of the Iraqi National Symphony is in some ways a microcosm
>of life in this war-torn country during the last five decades. It was
>disbanded in 1966 by a government official who is said to have disliked
>Western classical music. From 1968 to 1971, when the orchestra was
>allowed to resume public performance, members rehearsed surreptitiously
>at the home of a cellist, Munther Jamil Hafidh, who taught many of the
>players at the School of Music and Ballet. And in 1985, during the
>eight-year war with Iran, two children of the assistant conductor, Abdul
>Razzak Ibraheem Mahdi, were killed when his house was hit by an Iranian
>Recent skirmishes have also taken a toll. Rasheed Concert Hall, one of
>the orchestra's performing spaces, was bombed during the air campaign in
>the spring. (The orchestra now plays in a spacious air-conditioned hall
>at the Palace of Conferences.) The second floor of Mr. Sharaf's house
>was accidentally shelled by American troops during a firefight. His
>mother was injured, and he was hit by shrapnel in a finger.
>Omar Hassan Alshikh, who joined the orchestra's cello section in 1991
>and began working for the United Nations last April, was seriously
>injured in the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad in
>August. He now lives in Amman, Jordan, where he was taken for medical
>The United Nations sanctions ? imposed in 1990, after Iraq invaded
>Kuwait, and maintained after the gulf war ? had predictably adverse
>effects on musical life. Although the Iraqi orchestra played 140
>concerts after Mr. Ezzat became conductor, in 1989, it did so under
>increasing deprivation. The sanctions made it hard to obtain replacement
>scores, strings, valves and other essential equipment.
>In addition, talented performers left Iraq for Jordan or Europe. The
>orchestra's present ranks include Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Muslims and
>Assyrian Christians. They also include three women.
>In June, the orchestra gave its first concert after the war. About 45
>musicians played "My Nation," an anthem predating Mr. Hussein's rule.
>According to press reports, audience members wept as they sang. Since
>that event, rebroadcast three times on Iraqi television, the orchestra
>has emerged as a symbol of courage and perseverance through suffering.
>Meanwhile, another symbol of hope for greater cultural understanding
>stands at the School of Music and Ballet. Early media reports after the
>war lamented the destruction of a keethara: an unusual piano with a dual
>keyboard, one tuned to Western scales, the other to Eastern
>quarter-tones. Actually, the keethara is intact, damaged but reparable.
>It will be far more difficult to heal the wounds of the past and sort
>out the political challenges of the present.
>"Before, if you were not near the government and you did not talk badly
>about the government, you were safe," Mr. Sharaf said. "Now we can talk
>freely, but we don't know who is the enemy and who likes or doesn't like
>this music. But we hope ? and I think all the Iraqi people think ? that
>the future is better."  
>(Barbara Jepson writes regularly about music for The Wall Street
>Dixielandjazz mailing list
>Dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com

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