The Linguist

The Linguist 52,2

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 17 of 35

FEATURES © TARIQ HASSOON, 2012 Harmony in Iraq The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq emerged out of conflict and is divided along linguistic lines. How does it deal with the challenges, asks Miranda Moore On a Friday night in 2009, after a gruelling week of rehearsals, the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq was celebrating the 18th birthday of pianist Boran Aziz in a restaurant in Suleimaniya. The 33 young musicians, plus a handful of tutors, sat in their usual places: Kurds, Arabs and English speakers on separate tables – divided by language. It was an incredible achievement to have brought them here. The NYOI exists only thanks to the determination of one 17-yearold pianist. When war broke out in 2003, musicians fled Iraq, leaving Zuhal Sultan and her peers without teachers. Instruments were hard to come by, and there was widespread – and sometimes violent – resistance to Western classical music. Yet, incredibly, young people continued to study, teaching themselves via YouTube and downloading fingering from the internet. There were other, logistical, obstacles to creating a national youth orchestra – a lack of infrastructure, travel restrictions and a shaky internet system among them. Then there was the problem of advertising the auditions to both Kurdish and Arabic speakers, right across Iraq. To reach as many 18 The Linguist APRIL/MAY people as possible, auditions were conducted via YouTube. Yet Sultan's dream of a youth orchestra that could reconcile Kurds and Arabs, Iraqis and the West, seemed to be faltering under the language barrier. 'Kurds and Arabs have so little experience of each other and can't speak each other's language,' says Paul MacAlindin, NYOI Musical Director and Conductor. 'When they met in the orchestra those who could speak English to each other did, and those who couldn't speak English didn't speak to each other at all.' About half of the orchestra speaks English. Then came Aziz's birthday, one week into the NYOI's first ever summer school. A violinist and a daf (drum) player struck up a tune. 'We started dancing around in a circle. All the differences melted,' said MacAlindin. It was a turning point. Since then, 'even those who can't speak to each other just hunker down and work as a team; your communication is your body language and your notes.' Take the woodwind section, which is mixed Kurd/Arab. 'Most of them can't speak to each other, but they work together intensely, listening intently as a team.' Listening is an essential skill for any musician but for young people with limited access to teachers at home, it is particularly important. 'We have to teach them to self-coach and to listen very intently to others and to themselves,' says MacAlindin. 'If you're talking about the reconciliation aspect of this project, then it is entirely compatible, because the first responsibility of every musician is to listen and the first step in any reconciliation is to listen.' The orchestra's three trilingual interpreters are very thinly stretched. A chamber music programme runs alongside the orchestral programme, so at any given time a number of sessions may be underway. 'We are involved in every aspect of translation and interpreting,' explains Saman Hewa, who has been working with the NYOI since it began, alongside native Arabic-speaker Shwan Aziz. 'We interpret during the morning rehearsal, for any specific lesson or event and even between the musicians themselves. We interpret the speeches given on the day of the concert and sometimes translate contracts and emails as well. We are on call 24/7.' It's a demanding role, but they are committed to the project.

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 52,2