South Asia Wired Rotating Header Image

Music is a joy, not a religious crime

I just finished putting the final mixing touches on a report from our Pakistan correspondent on the Sachal Studio Orchestra, and I l loved doing it.  I’ve seen the video about 40 times I think and still haven’t tired of it. It was such a relief to report on something that’s happening in Pakistan that is not negative - it’s got nothing to do with terrorism or abuse of women, it doesn’t mention illiteracy, ethnic conflict, Islamic fundamentalism.  This is just about musicians who were once lost - or at least disbanded - and now have an opportunity to come together again to play on the instruments they loved.

One of those interviewed, a cello player called Umer Draz said that he learned the cello - not a standard instrument for the normal Pakistani musical palate - from his father who used to play in the Lollywood film industry.  But he didn’t want his son Umer to be stuck in an uncertain profession so at first he refused to teach him, but Umer finally had his way and persuaded his father, learned the cello, and ended up also playing in the orchestras making the soundtracks for Pakistani movies.

But then came Zia ul-Haq and his singularly humourless regime and deemed that music was un-Islamic and the movies, the soundtracks and the people making them went whooosh.  Desperate to feed his family, Umer Draz bought a garment shop and stopped playing.  When his kids pestered him to teach them cello, he refused.  He was sure that there was no life anymore in Pakistan for musicians and despite the fact that he of all people should have understood their longing, he refused to teach them to play.

The formation of the Sachal Studio Orchestra brought Umer Draz and several other musicians out into the light again.  And after I’d heard Umer Draz’s story, I felt an added layer of emotion watching these guys play. They all look like any number of Pakistani uncles I’ve seen, all sitting there so staidly in their shalwar kameez looking so serious, but what they’re producing is magic - all light and wonder - and we the audience, are entranced.

My friends sometimes tease me for being a Tiger Mother (though I think that I’m just a Tired Mother) because I insist that my girls learn an instrument.  The older one is on the piano, the younger on violin.  I have dreams that they will grow to be accomplished musicians who perhaps will play togehter.  But my friends misunderstand if they think that I’m doing all this to see my girls in Carnegie Hall one day.  Not that I’d object, but that was never the goal.

To be able to play music alone, or with others,  is a gift that cannot be measured.  Most adults can never really learn an instrument the way a child can, and knowing how to produce music, the joy of hearing it, playing it, creating it, adds a dimension to your life that nothing can replace.

So watch this video, then maybe like me, you’ll be inspired to go back to the original recording of Dave Brubeck’s group playing Take Five, and you’ll have given yourself a treat that’s going to make you feel good for the rest of the day.

5 Comments on “Music is a joy, not a religious crime”

  1. #1 Robin
    on Oct 26th, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    Great to hear from you Dheera.
    I had not seen much from your corner since the negative announcement from RNW.
    Music is a gift that comes naturally to some and must be learned by others. I regret that I was not nudged down that road by a father who was an accomplished pianist. I cannot play any instrument nor can I read music. I missed a lot there. If your girls can play at friends’ gatherings in the back yard that is just as good as Carnegie, unless they decide they want to go there, but if they make that choice you have given them the tools that can provide them with an opportunity that is not available to many and was not there for me.
    Tell your judgmental friends to …

    Cheers from Texas USA
    (still trying to find a way to send the village idiot from Crawford to the ICC in the Hague)

  2. #2 Dheera
    on Oct 31st, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Thanks Robin - I try to tell my girls that if they stop the music prac now they’ll regret it later, but that’s really something that no kid understands or wants to hear. Who’s the village ideat from Crawford?
    Dheera

  3. #3 David Berridge
    on Nov 1st, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Well,Dheera I admit that I was very frightened when your blog was removed from RNW’s home page! I didn’t know what was happening what with the 70% cutbacks coming! This story is great in that classical culture has won out against religious/political lables, and brought back a group of gifted musicians together. You are right to share the gift and joy of music with your daughters for whatever amount of time they will choose to follow the discipline of it. This is a useful lesson to your daughters that even the gifted can have music taken away from them. and only if they are very lucky-can get it back.

  4. #4 Dheera
    on Nov 2nd, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks David for the continuing comments and for being such an avid SAW fan.
    The blog is still on the RNW site - not in the most prominent position - its right at the bottom of the page under the list of blogs. But we’re all still here at least for the next few months - will keep SAW viewers and listeners in the loop as soon as there is more information on how long and/or in what form we’ll be around in the new version of RNW. Meanwhile, stay with us won’t you?

  5. #5 corinne
    on Dec 2nd, 2011 at 8:08 am

    As a primary school Music teacher I have been showing the Sachal orchestra video to all my classes- thanks to you Dheera. I wish I had known the background before so that I could have shared that with my students. We take so much for granted. Teaching in an economically somewhat disadvantaged area many of my students do not have the opportunity to learn an instrument at home, but I see the transformative power of music and how it can be used as a refuge, an outlet for emotions and a way of experiencing success one small step at a time.

Leave a Comment