Sadie Harrison initiated this wonderful project, here are some of the comments that appear on her website.
The Rosegarden of Light, Silk Mill in Frome and touring
What kind of world do we live in where making music is an act of defiance? What kind of country is it where it requires huge courage for girls to learn to play instruments? What kind of god asks its adherents to smash exquisite traditional instruments and bans the making of music or even singing as you work in the fields?
Video film of the smiles and concentration on the faces of Afghan girls playing music with Afghan and American teachers says more about the plight of ordinary people under a regime of brutal fanatics than any Mad Max images of gun-waving fighters on armoured vehicles racing across the desert amid clouds of swirling sand. The three-part film of Ensemble Zohra was shown as interludes between performances of The Rosegarden of Light (Gulistan-e Nur), to a small but captivated audience at the Silk Mill in Frome, part of an international tour that also visits Shafesbury before heading for Berlin and The Hague.
The Rosegarden of Light is the title of a work by the Shaftesbury-based composer Sadie Harrison. It is also a project that involves Sadie , the Afghan National Institute of Music (ANIM) and the American string sextet Cuatro Puntos (Four Corners), a non-profit ensemble dedicated to global cooperation and peace through writing, performing and teaching music. The girls in the film are students at ANIM, which was founded by Dr Ahmed Sarmast, whose father Ustad Salim Sarmast was one of Afghanistan’s finest and most popular composers. The concert includes Ustad Sarmast’s O Flower Branch (Ay Shakha Gul), a setting of a ghazal by the Iranian poet Mohammad Hoseyn Shariar, with swirling, sentimental melodies that are poignant reminders of a time when music filled the airwaves and the streets of Kabul. Music, poetry and the creation of gardens flourished in Afghanistan throughout the centuries, as they did in neighbouring Persia/Iran. It was only with the rise of the puritanical Taliban that the enjoyment of beauty in all its forms – as part of a deeply religious culture – was stamped on. Instruments were smashed, music disappeared from radio, television and the streets, even from people’s homes. The lives of women – always hard and constrained by rigid codes of morality – became almost unendurable, with bans on education, music, colourful clothes and most forms of socialising.
After the removal of the Taliban government, and the return of a fragile freedom, Dr Sarmast founded ANIM in 2009. The organisation works particularly with street children and trains teachers to take their skills and music to other parts of the country. A film made over several years, shown at The Rosegarden of Light evening, features Waheed, a child who scratches a pittance selling plastic carrier bags to shoppers, and has learned to play the piano. Rosegarden composer Sadie Harrison wrote a piece for him called A Gift of Music – his smile as he plays is heart-breaking and uplifting. Waheed also plays the harmonium and the sitar.
Jennifer Newbury (writer)
Simon and I had a brilliant time last night. The music was so beautiful and inspiring. Congratulations!
Jane Hawthorn (Psychotherapist)
The Rose Garden of Light has been a truly remarkable project. Congratulations to all involved. You have so much to be proud of.
Amanda Bee (artist)
An absolutely brilliant evening with amazing music – thank you Sadie!
Niall Hoskin (singer)
I came back last night from one of the dates on the ‘Rosegarden’ tour with – of course – a copy of the CD. It is – and the concert was – a fascinating listen. Utterly committed performers, some crafty arrangements by violist Kevin Bishop, and at the heart of the project the Harrison work. It alternates field recordings from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul with responses to those pieces, played live by the American string sextet Cuatro Puntos. There was a reference in the programme to pieces being ‘culturally bilingual’, which I found helpful. The ‘Western” musicians reference the Afghan originals without patronising them, and the original material is strong enough for the themes to be clearly discernible in Harrison’s treatments.
The ensemble has a double bass rather than a second cello: that makes for immense richness at times. But filigree sounds are there too. The viola solo ‘Allah-Hu’ is a gem, beautifully played by Bishop. This is music of great beauty and power, with moments of foot-tapping energy. All involved with the project are committed to the ANIM institute. The tour isn’t over – they’re worth tracking down. If it’s too late for that, get the CD and crank up the volume!