There was some important news event in Kirkuk today. All the news people in Erbil went there to cover it, so the television interview I was supposed to do this evening got postponed until tomorrow evening. With the evening off, I made plans to stay and work with a terrific quartet of cellists (Awder and Shelon, the two fantastic cellists I brought with me from Slemani, Bashdar, who is also from Slemani but was out of town when we did the Academy there, and Abdulgadr who is from Duhok). The four of them are working on a couple of Apocalyptica arrangements. I suggested we go out for dinner afterwards. They got very excited because they had been to this restaurant two night ago and decided they wanted to bring me there. It’s called “2B2 Fast Food and Coffee.” Very strange name, I know, but it was great. I got pepperoni pizza, french fries, a cafe mocha and some ice cream. We had a fantastic evening of conversation. Bashdar’s English is quite good (yet another Kurd who learned English from watching American movies with Arabic subtitles). Shelon and Awder do quite well with English, also. Abdulgadr is working on English because he’s part of an orchestra (as is Bashdar) that will be traveling to America in September to perform at Kennedy Center. They asked several times if I would try and come see them while they are there, and I think I’m going to make a serious effort to go. They’re very excited about coming to America. Bashdar, I think, would like to stay and go to school in America.
Our conversations ranged from quite serious to quite silly. Bashdar is a clown! He’s just hysterically funny and kept us all laughing, but he’s also very intelligent and very thoughtful. We discussed religion. I learned that the varying degrees to which women cover themselves, is their own choice–not really an edict of the faith. I also learned that they are very embarrassed that there are extremists out there damaging the world image of the Muslim faith. I tried to explain to them that we have similar problems in America with people who spew hatred in the name of Christianity. They were very surprised to know this. They were also surprised that we have problems with racism in the US. They taught me more about Kurdish history and culture. And they taught me a few more Kurdish words. We also discussed music and how they deal with their lack of resources. Bashdar told us the story of how he broke the re string (d-string) once. He didn’t have a full-size string, so he took a 3/4 string and tied on a piece of the broken string below the bridge. He played with that string for a long time before he was able to get a full-size d-string to replace it. As terrible as I feel for them, there’s a part of me that thinks this kind of adversity is what makes them so strong. They have to work so hard for every little achievement in music–it keeps them from getting lazy and taking things for granted. There’s another part of me, though that wants so badly to find a way to give them everything they need–everything they deserve. I want each of them to be able to wake up one morning and not have to wish they had a new a-string that wasn’t unraveling or not have to wish they had some simple piece of sheet music they’d like to play. Most of all, I’d like them to wake up one morning and not have to wish they had someone to teach them the technical skills that would enable them to express all the music that is bursting from their hearts.