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Where in the world is Christopher Wilkins?

December 1, 2014

 

CW First Day with ANIM Orchestra 1

 

Here is the latest update from KABUL, AFGHANISTAN in the form of a letter from our beloved conductor C. Wilkins:

Dear Landmarks Community,

I arrived in Kabul Tuesday morning, where I am teaching at this school:

http://www.afghanistannationalinstituteofmusic.org/

Some of you will have seen the 60 Minutes piece on the Institute a couple of years ago. And if you have 45 minutes to spare, you can watch a very moving documentary prepared by the Australian Broadcasting Company here:

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2013/01/201311412401920574.html

All of this came about because Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, the founder of the school was awarded the Charles Ansbacher Music for All Award (http://www.asdp.af/?p=803) in Boston in the summer of 2014.

About half the kids at the school (9 – 19 yrs) are orphans or from disadvantaged backgrounds, which in a country this poor is saying something. For them, getting into this school is like getting into Harvard. It is transformational. Students take both general studies and music classes. There are presently about 200 students, though the student body will continue to expand by about 50 students a year.

The Institute enjoys strong support from the Afghan government, as well as support from many countries, including the US, Canada, UK, Germany, and China. My trip is sponsored by the US State Department.

There are currently three orchestras: the symphony orchestra, the chamber orchestra, and the all-girls orchestra. One point of emphasis is to promote education and opportunity for girls. You can see the empowerment many of these girls experience, no doubt a rare feeling in their lives to this point. All are excited by the curriculum and the opportunity.

The orchestras include both Western instruments and traditional Afghan instruments. So, for example, we are preparing Beethoven and Bizet with the usual forces, plus sitars, rubabs, tablas, etc. It’s an amazing sound – somehow it works! The school is equally committed to both traditions.

I have one conducting student, Milad Yousufi, who serves as their main conductor. Milad is a graduate of the school and is now junior faculty. He is a terrific young man, and a real talent. He’s a good pianist and also a fine visual artist.

Right now we are working together to prepare arrangements for the Holiday Concert at the US Embassy on December 7th. Once the materials are prepared, we will turn our attention to conducting. I brought my oboe, but don’t know if there will be an appropriate moment to play, plus I need a lot of time to practice to get into shape again!

Yesterday, I also taught a general conducting class. They thought there would be 4 or 5 students interested, but 17 showed up. It was quite open-ended and highly participatory, and everyone had a ball.

The faculty are mostly young and highly international. Today is a school day (Friday is the day off), but Dr. Sarmast is throwing a “Thanksgiving Dinner” for all the faculty tonight. There are two Americans who work at the school full-time. My Dari (dialect of Farsi/Persian) is expanding by about five words a day.

I’m home on December 10.

In the meantime, much love to you all!

– Christopher

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