Let the music begin again in Afghanistan

Overcoming cultural hurdles and decades of war, a music institute in Afghanistan professionally trains youths and street children.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

 Let the music begin again

 If music programs are the first to go when funding is tight in American schools, it’s not difficult to imagine how quickly they vanished amid three decades of war in Afghanistan. Though fighting continues, in the relatively peaceful capital city a small school of about 150 students is the nation’s first concerted effort to reestablish a music program.

 The institute began two years ago, offering primary education up to the Afghan equivalent of an associate degree in music performance.

 “The music sector in Afghanistan is practically a blank page,” says Ahmad Nasir Sarmast, founder and director of the Afghan­istan National Institute of Music. “Afghanistan needs many orchestras and ensembles that do not exist in the country. Afghanistan doesn’t even have a national orchestra.”

 The school aims at a cross section of pupils: Half the slots are reserved for orphans or street children. Tuition, lunch, uniforms, and transportation are free. About one-quarter of the students receive a $27 monthly stipend.

 Aside from the dearth of professionally trained musicians, the institute must also work to overcome cultural hurdles. The Taliban regime banned music. Though few Afghans share that harsh view of music, it remains a tense issue in parts of the country. Over the past year, Jalalabad, one of the largest cities in Afghanistan, has seen a rash of music store bombings. And even Afghans who enjoy music tend to look down on professional musicians.

 “Everywhere, even in Europe, music has disappeared for a time, but then it rose again. It happens,” says Fareed Shefta, a clarinet teacher at the institute.

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