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 18 of 35

FEATURES 'Even those who can't speak to each other just hunker down and work as a team' MAKING MUSIC Paul MacAlindin conducts cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and the NYOI (left); cellist Tuka Saad Dschafar (below); and Waleed Assi receives a tutorial at NYOI summer school (below right) Even so, many tutorials have to be conducted without an interpreter. 'Sometimes language can be an issue,' admits Waleed Achmed Assi, who joined the NYOI, aged 22, in 2010. The Kurdish flautist is entirely self-taught; he bought his first instrument via the internet after hearing Bach's Second Orchestral Suite on TV and downloaded sheet music. When he found out he would have lessons for the first time, he was ecstatic. 'Then they told me the teacher was German. I didn't speak English so I was worried. But when it came to it, the teacher could speak Arabic,' says Assi, who speaks both Kurdish and Arabic, which is unusual. 'When I was tutored by English-speaking musicians a lot of the questions – both mine and the tutors' – did not get answered,' he adds. 'But music can explain a lot.' It helps that many of the tutors have been with the orchestra since it started and are experienced in communicating across the language barrier. 'Because music is a very disciplined and global framework – there's the dots on the page – an awful lot of communication goes on without any spoken language at all,' says MacAlindin. 'Once you get the word "bow" or "mouthpiece" – the basic core vocabulary for your instrument – you can communicate a lot through gesture, through pointing at the music and through singing.' As a conductor, he is used to communicating with his body rather than his voice, but the NYOI needs more instruction than other youth orchestras. 'It's a boot camp I run, not an orchestra,' says MacAlindin. Many musicians have only ever played alone and have never had a teacher, so they need a lot of coaching. It isn't only music teachers that are in short supply; during the war there was little chance to study English. Instead young people picked up what MacAlindin refers to as 'Simpsons English' from imported US TV shows. Having lived in Berlin for 12 years, the conductor is Vol/52 No/2 2013 used to modifying his English for non-native speakers and uses this skill when addressing the orchestra. Significantly, he understands the process of language learning, having learnt German as an adult, largely because 'the German musical scene is so rich'. When MacAlindin speaks at rehearsals, Hewa interprets into Kurdish and Aziz into Arabic. 'I have to think economically and reduce everything I want to say – even quite complex ideas. You keep things short so that the emotional impact of what you're saying can be carried through. Otherwise the passion gets lost by the time everyone's heard the instructions in Kurdish and Arabic.' The NYOI has been compared to the EastWestern Divan Orchestra, which unites musicians from opposing sides of the IsraelPalestine conflict. Yet unlike conductor Daniel Barenboim, who founded the Divan with Edward Saïd in 1999, MacAlindin does not talk to the orchestra about the conflict in Iraq or wider Middle East issues. 'We don't do that for one basic reason: which language would we do it in?' Instead, he keeps his pep talks brief. Even so, Hewa found the first year challenging. His previous interpreting experience had been with a group of artists and, although he took some piano lessons as a child, he is no musician. 'Paul sent me an email before the course with most of the musical terms, for example crescendo, forte, piano. Still, there were so many musical words and forms that were difficult,' he says. A hostile environment The NYOI is made up of dedicated young musicians, determined to play no matter what. Tuka Saad Dschafar takes a taxi to rehearsals so she is not seen carrying her cello on the street. In the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City, in Baghdad, Ali Mahdi Khassaf stuffs a towel in the end of his horn to muffle the sound. Neither can risk their neighbours finding out that they are musicians. 'I'm a girl and I play music, and some people think it's not appropriate for our culture,' says oboist Dua'a Majid. 'There was a time when I couldn't tell people, "I'm a musician". I still have to talk to the person and find how open-minded he or she is.' In this context, they tend to view the language barrier as an inconvenience, rather than a major obstacle. Undaunted, the orchestra took on an additional linguistic challenge in 2011, when they held their first summer school overseas, at Beethovenfest in Berlin. MacAlindin's language skills were useful, but they also had the entire Beethovenfest office working for them. Using a local, multilingual project team proved to be essential. In 2012 the summer school was in Edinburgh, and this year they will work with the National Youth Orchestra of France in Aix-en-Provence. Despite the difficulties involved, the NYOI's linguistic makeup is also an asset. Its USP is its inspirational back story. 'The orchestra is years away from being as good as a European national youth orchestra,' admits MacAlindin. 'We have to give something else, so one of the things I concentrate on is language – to define us culturally.' He encourages journalists to interview players who don't speak English, so that the Kurdish and Arabic are heard on TV, and he invited the well-known Kurdish singer Tara Jaff to sing with them. 'It's important for the language to be physically present on stage,' he says. 'When I get the chance to weave the language into the actual concert, and into the PR and the media exposure, I try to do that.' According to Assi, many of the Arab members are now trying to learn Kurdish and vice versa. 'There were some problems between the Kurds and the Arabs but now in the orchestra we are all very close. I have lots of friends from Kurdistan and I am really eager to see them every year,' Majid adds in conclusion. 'The orchestra brings everyone together with only one language: music.' APRIL/MAY The Linguist 19

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 52,2