FROM THE DESK OF THE SOUTH ASIAN SYMPHONY FOUNDATION
Arson Fahim is a young Afghan who says that hearing a piano played for the first time opened a door for him when life was dark and airless as he returned to Kabul after years spent as a child in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Amanullah Noori, also from Afghanistan and all of thirteen, wants to be South Asia’s Paganini. This passionate young violinist goes by the name of Amanullah Niccolo after the violin great he aspires to be like. Madina Sarwari, or Madina Mo as she likes to be called, is an orphan from Kabul, who at age sixteen is a most talented and versatile oboe and clarinet player. Shing Yan, from Nepal, is a sherpa, from a tribe that has a reputation for conquering great heights as their mountaineering skills would show. He, too, is an aspiring violinist, together with his countryman, Sudhakar Wasti, also a violinist. Arun Rozario from Bangalore, India conducts the Bangalore City Chamber Orchestra. Ashwini Kaushik is the acclaimed Indian flautist who teases the most divine melodies from her bamboo flute. Soundarie David Rodrigo, from Colombo, Sri Lanka is an award-winning concert pianist and choral director while Neranjan de Silva is a widely acclaimed sound engineer and music polymath. Naveen Fernando is the brass and winds specialist from Sri Lanka whose trumpet-playing resounds with soaring majesty. The talented Roshie Wickramaratne James, also from Sri Lanka, inspires a choir to sing with great elan and feisty confidence.
The musicians mentioned are all South Asians. From Kabul to Colombo, from Kathmandu to Karnataka, in mid-August in rain-drenched Ooty in Tamil Nadu, they all came together to make music and build lasting friendships. The workshop – a collaborative effort between the newly formed South Asian Symphony Foundation and the Good Shepherd International School - was a unique experiment. Nirupama Rao, who heads the Foundation with her husband, Sudhakar Rao, says that one of the purposes of the institution she has set up, is to build better understanding and cultural synergy in South Asia through the medium of music. “In my years in the Foreign Service, I came to realise that in many ways, South Asia is the last frontier, the most difficult terrain to traverse. Our dream of peace is fractured by so many divides in the region. Communication at a human level, where our interests and values are much the same, has been difficult. I thought that the medium of music, where there are such rich traditions that we share, can be a bridge-builder. More so, the concept of a symphony orchestra, where each and every one contributes, is tuned to the tempo of collaboration, is involved in constructing harmonies, and works as one team, provides the opportunity for people to come together,” says Ambassador Rao. She adds, “The right to music is a fundamental right for all our peoples”.
At the August workshop, many such harmonies were created. Music was practised together. From Johann Strauss’ Radetzky March, to old film tunes like “Mera Joota Hai Japani” , the Nilgiri Hills where Ooty is located were literally alive with the sound of music. It was wonderful to see how the students of the Good Shepherd International School learnt new songs under the able tutelage of Roshie and Soundarie, including a stirring composition by the latter, called “The Right to Music”, how the Afghan trio of Arsan, Aman and Madina moved the audience to tears with their artistry which symbolised the hope and desire for a better tomorrow that resides in Afghanistan despite violence and strife. A profile in courage, Dr. Ahmad Sarmast who led the Afghan team, and heads the Afghan National Institute for Music in Kabul, provided wonderful new ideas for musical collaboration in South Asia while Rajkumar Shreshtha who headed the Nepalese group, worked with Ashwini Koushik of India to set music to an “anthem” for South Asia whose lyrics were composed by Nirupama Rao. Arun Rozario of India and Naveen Fernando of Sri Lanka conducted a series of music classes in violin and brass instruments for the students of the Good Shepherd School and the result of their efforts met with resounding appreciation at a concert held in the evening of the 15th August, which was also Indian Independence Day.
The South Asian Symphony Foundation is now planning for its next event, likely to be held in Mumbai in Spring, 2019. This will be a performance of the South Asian Symphony, conducted by the Indian American conductor, Viswa Subbaraman of Houston. The Foundation believes that a new musical journey for South Asia has begun and that the talent of the youth of the region can be powerfully and evocatively expressed in the cause of peace and brotherhood.