February 20, 2013

Afghanistan Youth Orchestra

These young musicians performed at the Kennedy Center.

Julian: Milad Yousufi grew up in war-torn Afghanistan with the dream of one day playing the piano.

Milad Yousufi: I was drawing piano and drums on the paper, and then I was playing it.

Julian: Only drawings because the Taliban, the extremist group who controlled Afghanistan for five years, banned all non-religious music.

Milad: If they knew that you were listening to the music, probably they would kill you because they did not like music.

Julian: Today, the Taliban is out of power and 18-year-old Milad is making up for lost time. He has joined Afghanistan’s first youth orchestra which, thanks to American funding, is now on tour in the U.S.

Milad’s group practiced with the Maryland youth orchestra, getting the chance to meet American students.

Milad: It’s wonderful, really. I learn every day from everyone. So, I have 100 teachers perhaps per day.

Julian: The orchestra is the idea of Ahmed Sarmast, who fled Afghanistan during Taliban rule. He returned in 2008 with a mission of reviving the arts by opening a music school.

Dr. Sarmast: It’s impossible to have a culture alive where you do not have access to music. The power of music is so important for the healing of the people.

Julian: His students are ages ten to twenty-one. Half are orphans or street kids. And in a country where women typically have few opportunities, they make up a third of the music school.

Dr. Sarmast: We can play your music. You can play our music. And we can speak in a common language of humanity, which is the language of music.

Julian: For Milad, his drawings are now a reality. And so is the chance to perform at one of America’s most famous venues, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.


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