Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Kirkuk’

Back home in Texas.  Throw me a kitty, it is time for a nap.

The gala concert in Lebanon was a success.  The fact that it took place at all wasn’t taken for granted.

In the preceding months, we had originally planned on a full workshop on the University of Notre Dame campus in Lebanon (our program in 2010 was on the American University campus).  The plan was to include around 10 YES Academy faculty.  But due to the unrest in the area (specifically in Tripoli, a few clicks north of Beirut) we decided to cancel the program just prior to our departure for Iraq at the beginning of July.  The Lebanon program was on and off again twice, and in the end, and after some serious discussion, John, Marc, and I decided to do a limited program there with just the 3 of us.  There were quite a number of pianists registered (enough that it would take both John and I to handle the 40-student load), and there were enough string players that Marc would have his hands full leading them.  My decision to go was also a tough one because my wife (Lynne) would be departing for a four month gig in Africa only a week after my return from Lebanon.  In the end, we decided that my participation would be a net positive.

Thankfully, all of the YES programs went off beautifully, including the questionable decision to do a 4-day mini workshop south of the river in Kirkuk, Iraq.

At the request of the US Embassy, 6 of us were asked take part in the Kirkuk mission, while Marc, John, Bruce, and Michael headed to Baghdad for concerts there and in Basra.  In theory, their trip would be the “dangerous” one, and they would have to travel by armored vehicles while wearing full body armor  (the picture of Bruce in a helmet and flak jacket while carrying his cello made for a humorous juxtaposition).

We were told that we would be staying north of the river in Kirkuk, where Kurds make up the majority, and where violence has been at a minimum.  We were to arrive at a house equipped with four small rooms in which to do our teaching, and be in and out within 3 hours on each of the 4 days we were scheduled to teach.  But on our first trip on day one, we unexpectedly found ourselves being shuttled over the river, and a couple of miles into questionable territory.  Security was tight, and we now know why.

Only a few days after our departure, coordinated attacks throughout Iraq killed over 100 people, many of them in Kirkuk.  One of the 8 reported bombs in Kirkuk hit the police station next to the Children’s Center where we worked, and blew the windows out of our building.  As of yet, I have not heard directly from any of the students there as to their safety after the attack, but word is that everyone is ok.  Needless to say, John was less than happy after returning from Baghdad to find out our venue had moved without warning. But in retrospect, the faces of the children after our capstone mini-concert at the Center made the risk worth it.

Below are a few pictures and videos of my experiences this summer.

A special thanks to all who made donations to make our programs possible.

Enjoy!

.

.

Our drive from Erbil to Duhok the evening of our arrival in Iraq.

.

.

The Humanities building at The University of Duhok, where our YES Academy classes were held.

.

.

A single American girl in Iraq?  You bet!  And the Iraqi guys wasted no time in serenading Bethany (YES Academy Children’s Theater faculty) with a folk song during lunch on the first day of classes.

.

.

YES Academy founder, John Ferguson, visits composer Patrick Clark’s composition class to give a lecture on Frederic Rzewski’s “Winnsboro Cottonmill Blues.”

.

.

With only one day to adjust, the first day of teaching can be a weary experience. But, I give it my all during pedagogy class.

.

.

One of Patrick’s composition students gets his composition for santur and orchestra read.  This Persian instrument is related to the Dulcimer.

.

.

We managed to get out to the bazaar a couple of times for some evening shopping and people watching. Making new friends was easy in Erbil, Iraq.

.

.

Located in Erbil’s old souk, this may be the most famous Tea Room in all of Iraq. The walls are covered with pictures of the famous people who have visited over the years. The owner was quick to point out that Joe Biden had recently visitied.

.

.

It was common for us to be invited to the homes of our students for lunches or dinners. The food was incredible, and the traditional Kurdish dress of some locals was a treat, as well.

.

.

One of my favorite experiences was getting to hear locals play their traditional folk instruments.  This turkish instrument is not unlike the Banjo.

.

.

Another great dinner experience with one Iraq’s most talented young pianists, Hersh.

.

.

We crossed this bridge when we got to it. We weren’t supposed to. In Kirkuk, south of this point means more risk.

.

.

Dashing through the streets of Kirkuk.

.

.

The road in Kirkuk was rough, so holding the camera still wasn’t easy.  But, perhaps this gives one some idea of the look of the city.

.

.

Simple logistical problems can ruin an otherwise good day of teaching.  While driving through Kirkuk, Mariano (jazz faculty)  lightens the mood by venting about a student volunteer who went MIA when he needed him for the use of a printer. 

.

.

When a tanker crashed on our trip out of Kirkuk on the third day of our mini workshop there, our security team got us out of harm’s way.  We weren’t sure what was going on, and it made for an interesting ride.  I took this video during the event.

.

.

The reason we went to Kirkuk. This little one played a chicken in the children’s theater production on our last day.

.

.

Our Lebanon apartment. Our third floor balcony overlooked downtown Beirut and the sea on one side, and the mountains on the other. Ahhh….

.

.

John works with our Kids Piano class during our Dalcroze Eurhythmics period.

.

.

A trip into the mountains during our one day off in Lebanon unexpectedly landed us at the Roman ruins of Faqra. Yes…that’s me and my nerdy white socks.

.

.

Another view of the Faqra ruins. Fog added to the mood of the place.

.

.

This natural bridge is near the Faqra ruins. Look closely and you can see two people walking above it, giving some perspective as to its size.

.

.

It is Gala Concert time in Lebanon. The concert hall rests on the Notre Dame campus, just above the sea.

.

.

Our piano students share ideas for the Gala concert to be held in the evening.

.

.

Mario learned this Morton Gould Boogie Woogie Etude in 3 days, and performed it for MTV and the Gala.  Nice work, Mario.

.

.

Our Lebanon Advanced Piano Class

.

.

Until next year’s fireworks…that’s a wrap!

It’s a Lebanese festival!!!

Read Full Post »

There is more than one way to fight, or so they say.

We at American Voices do not charge ourselves with teaching beginners.  Instead, we  fight to help those that already have some training to move forward with their musical aspirations, and to provide some thread of continuity to their broken educations.    Of course, in reality there are those that, for all practical purposes, are essentially beginners (we sometimes even add a beginner class if the need arises).  This results in an additional amount of classroom diversity that presents its own set of challenges.

It has been difficult to blog since work has been so exhausting and, since this is my second trip to Kurdistan, because I now know people here who are anxious to take me out for dinner or the markets once work is finished.  Or, as Grandmother used to say, “Just so you know, it is hell to be popular.”  It is hard to describe how one can feel so fatigued and still have so much fun.  It is a daily ritual.

This year, the YES Academy was plagued with a plethora of logistical challenges.  But the final Gala in Duhok went off as planned, which is a good thing since the new conference center at The University of Duhok is state of the art, and only months old.  A beautiful venue.

.

The foyer of the University of Duhok conference center. The front steps open up to a view of the entire city.

.

Orchestra rehearsal at the conference center stage.

.

Marc Thayer of American Voices rehearses his orchestra.

.

My Duhok Piano Class

.

Two of my special students, Mohammed Akmed (Baghdad) and Hersh Akram (Erbil). I worked with both of these talented buys in Erbil in 2010. Hersh will be attending East Carolina’s ESL program this fall, where he will also study piano. Unfortunately, my city currently has no ESL program available. Our loss.

.

Once the gala was over in Duhok, we were back to Erbil.  We were asked by the US Embassy to do a 4 day mini-workshop in Kirkuk.  To do this, we would have to take special security measures.  While Kirkuk is much better than it was even a couple of years ago, it is still a city in conflict.  Though there is plenty of oil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Saddam had not allowed the Kurds to drill for it (which is now beginning to change).  Since Kirkuk is on the southern border of Kurdistan, and is so rich in oil, Saddam began moving Arabs into the area during his reign over Iraq, and exploiting the resources of the area, thus creating a dispute as to whom Kirkuk actually belongs.  At this time, it is technically part of Iraq, and not a part of Kurdistan, though the northern side of the river (the side we would be visiting) is made up mostly of Kurds who will be quick to point out that the city is theirs.

Our security team consisted of 11 Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers, and would be supplemented by extra police during our mini concert that would cap our 4 days there (I was on the local news in Kirkuk the night before the concert, so any “baddies” that wanted to cause trouble would have known to whom and where to go to make it so.  It might be noted that I asked the media folks not to broadcast the story until the night we would leave.  Their response was an unconvincing, “we will try.”  I guess some things are the same no matter where you are).

In reaching our destination, one of the “Kurdistan Save the Children” centers, we were not be able to take the same route each day, nor would were we allowed to stay the night in Kirkuk.  We had to change cars on the outskirts of town each day so nobody would be able to recognize our cars when we entered the city.

To be honest, I wasn’t so much worried about our security in terms of terrorism as much as I was worried about the driving we were subjected to…100 mph, with no seatbelts, and a driving style that would get anyone attempting it in the States arrested.  The highway is crowded with tanker trucks carrying petrol, and in 4 days I saw 3 crashes on the short 50 mile stretch we would travel.  When I scolded the commanding officer on the second day for deliberately trying to get as close as possible to the cars as he passed them (it wasn’t necessary to get so close since we had two lanes, and I saw several cars run off the road by our vehicles), his response (via a translator) was that we had to drive that fast for security.   I retorted that I didn’t give a damn how fast he drives, but that he didn’t need to cut tankers off by a coat of paint, and I asked him what good it does us for him to protect us with guns if we would end up dead in a ball of flames.  Moments after this conversation, we came upon another tanker on fire on the highway.  Our caravan didn’t waste any time getting off road and out of harms way.  After a 5 minute improvised (and very bumpy) route through what looked like a industrial park yard, we were back on our way.  Somehow, the ride afterwards seemed more reasonable.  While Paul was more concerned about the driving in town (we hit two cars in 4 days in my car), i was more worried about the highway.  Regardless, the whole experience would be quite an adrenaline rush by any standard.

.

From the start, it was clear that these guys were serious.

.

One of three semi trucks we would see crashed on the short 50 mile strip of highway to Kirkuk. Drivers here are quite simply insane.

.

My view from inside the cab.

.

This is the main checkpoint out of Kurdistan and into Iraq. Of course, technically speaking, Kurdistan is part of Iraq, which goes to show one that things here aren’t quite as simple as they may seem.

.

The outskirts of Kirkuk, Iraq.

.

We changed cars each day at the commanding officer’s house on the outskirts of Kirkuk. We did so to avoid being identified by the cars we drove everyday. The soldiers gave us water, and some lively conversation.

.

On the last day, at our car change point, we gave the soldiers some sweets to thank them for their work.

.

The commander’s neighborhood. Changing cars here offered some good entertainment.

.

You can say that again.

.

These “cooling stations” are located along the highway between Kirkuk and Erbil. You just pull up and a hose cools the radiator. In the 115 degree heat, the cars need all the help they can get. You can usually buy drinking water here, as well.

.

There she blows.  We were moving so fast that it took me 3 days of trying to get this shot.

.

Racing through town. The military guys insisted that speed was important in order to keep us out of harms way.

.

This is where one buys gas for their cars. A fixed station offers too easy of a target for destruction. These mobile sites litter the sides of the road in the city.

.

Finally, the reason we made the trip.

.

My Kirkuk piano class.

.

About 10 minutes after I barked at the commanding officer for reckless driving. To get us out of potential harm’s way, they took it off road, and fast.

.

Heading back to Erbil.

.

The checkpoint into Kurdistan. This is the reason Erbil is so peaceful.

.

Paul finally got his wish, and on the last trip back to Erbil the soldiers let him ride in back with them. Though he had a blast, he quickly learned that a 100 mph blasting 115 degree wind isn’t for the faint of heart (or those without the proper clothing). He spent the last half of the trip back in the cab.

.

Our final visit at the car change location. On the way back, the soldiers with Paul were singing Kurdish folk songs and singing wishes that these time should never end.

.

The nice thing about the Kirkuk run was that we were back at our hotel in Erbil  by 3pm each day. Since we have been staying near the city center, there has been plenty to see after working hours.

.

Walking to the Citadel in the middle of the city. Believe it or not, the wiring gets LOTS worse than this in Kurdistan.

.

The Citadel. Even Genghis Khan couldn’t take this place (and he tried).

.

The shop owner in the bazaar screamed at me for taking a picture of his vegetables. I guess that they weren’t properly dressed.

.

We met somebody new on just about every trip we made outside of work. These guys were hanging out in the plaza. Paul speaks pretty good Arabic, and often made friends easily.

.

We had a nice chat from this couple from Mosul. They have been married 46 years and the man was in Erbil for medical attention on his knees.

.

People watching in the fountain plaza is a great pastime.

.

One afternoon, my students, Hoshyar and Hersh, took me into a back alley neighborhood near the town’s bazaar.  It was the Jewish quarter up until the 1970’s.  Saddam ran the Jews off, however they officially still own the homes in the area.  Hoshyar and Hersh both wish for the day they will return.  The government is currently moving out the people in these homes in an attempt to accomplish just that.  My guess is that they will never return.  Most of the homes are in ruins and the political climate doesn’t favor the immigration of non-Kurds or Arabs.

While walking the narrow streets, my original idea was to be on the lookout for my usual cat photo ops.  I noticed that the streets weren’t filled with cats, but filled with children, their parents mostly indoors preparing dinner.  So, I put away my camera and took out my iphone in an attempt to stealthily (but mostly not so stealthily) use the phone’s camera to take pictures of the children in an attempt to capture a glimpse of their lives in this part of town.  Since I took these photos “on the fly,” the focus is not always the best.  Still, if you look closely, you can see clues as to the nature of their meager existence here in Erbil.

.

He just had something red to eat.  Notice his shoes.

.

Her friend in the truck was too shy for a picture.

.

One of these brothers wasn’t so sure about us.

.

.

.

The graffiti reads, “no parking.”

.

.

Though I am very tired, I am confident that we accomplished some things here.  The final look on the faces of our students told us we “done good” in Kurdistan.  I am off to Lebanon tomorrow, where a record number of pianists await.

.

Theater faculty, Patricia Clark, with one of her children’s theater students.
Why We Fight.

Read Full Post »