In Time of War, Orchestras Save the World

Zuhal Sultan, creator of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq(Photo: http://www.musicians4harmony.org/index.html)
Zuhal Sultan, creator of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq(Photo: http://www.musicians4harmony.org/index.html)

Do you think classical music is irrelevant to the world’s “greater concerns”?

Let’s remember, for a moment, what the world was like during World War II. Europe was a no-go, having almost entirely succumbed to the Nazi juggernaut. Russia was bleeding to the tune of millions of lives. North Africa was crawling with Panzers. Japan wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.

Strewn conveniently across various tectonic plates between Europe and Asia, the U.S. wasn’t immune to the aftershocks of the Anschluss. U-boats stalked the East Coast, California became a No Man’s Land for Japanese Americans, and the folks at Pearl Harbor would never forget what came their way. And, in the end, too many would never again set eyes on our amber waves of grain.

But while World War II sealed the fates of many Americans, it also brought their nation together. Yankees young and old recruited themselves for the war effort however they could. Some enlisted, others kept the home fires burning.

Rosie became a Riveter, and schoolkids balled up and gave away the little foil wrappers from their chewing gum sticks - all in the name of supporting the war against evil.

Does anyone know how much those tiny balls of aluminum helped the Allied Forces? I like to think they helped a lot. In fact, I like to think that the landing at Normandy couldn’t have happened had children everywhere not happily chewed a lot of Doublemint.

After all, gum-chewing is something kids do exceptionally well, and it is something that makes most kids happy, and being happy is what kids’ young lives should be about, even more so with a monster like Hitler hiding beneath their collective bed.

In other words, in time of war, one does what one can with one’s available resources.  Schoolkids can chew gum and donate gum wrappers for ammo. Others older and with more education and skills can do other things.

But no one can do everything, and even the smallest, most apparently insignificant task can help others get through a horrible time, as World War II must have been for, well, pretty much everyone, everywhere.

Sadly, history does seem doomed to repeat itself and may well be doing so this very moment. What would a World War III look like if not the global mess we’ve got now?  Perish the thought. And what can most of us do about it?  Time to dust off that violin, call a few friends, and start sawing away.

One young woman in Iraq recently did that – and more. Last summer, 18-year-old Zuhal Sultan, of Baghdad, though now living in Scotland, created the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.

Sultan, a pianist and graduate of Baghdad’s Music and Ballet School, found the orchestra’s music director, Paul MacAlindin, and players by posting “help wanted” announcements online. She recruited instructors at prestigious music schools and major orchestras around the world to teach the orchestra’s young musicians online.

And she drummed up cash for the orchestra – including $50,000 from Iraq’s deputy prime minister – by sending out funding requests on Twitter. Sultan says she developed her online savvy when Iraq’s increasingly unstable security situation forced her to stay indoors and to turn to social networking media to stay in touch with the world.

Read more about Sultan and the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq in The Sunday Times of London. And view the BBC’s report about the orchestra here:

So what can the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq do about policy in and toward the Middle East? Precious little, I would think. But what it can do is help keep life from becoming all about war.

Zuhal’s orchestra and La’s orchestra remind us that war cannot destroy humanity unless we let it. And that means these orchestras truly have saved the world.

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