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.