Music Versus Al-Qaida

Here's a story that reminds me of the Hungarians preserving their national songs to keep their identity against the crush of the Soviet leviathan, or Karol Wojtyla and the Polish underground theater. Director Karim Wasfi reports on the trials and tribulations of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra. Things are looking up. Director Karim Wasfi reports that three years ago:
he had itemized a menu of adversities: out of 70 orchestra members, only 50 remained in Baghdad and even fewer made it to rehearsals. Underfunded and under siege from violent incidents, electricity cuts, cracking instruments, pitiful wages, stolen sheet music, and decaying buildings and sound systems, the orchestra had kept going with no stable venue in which to rehearse or perform. Mr. Wasfi had run the show since 2004 and survived several random attacks. Then, as now, he was conscious that, for Iraqis, the symphony symbolized an elevated alternative to the "barbarism everywhere."
Now he can worry about artistic quality and gets packed houses for concerts.
This is partly because I still insist on free admissions for now, but also because so many Baghdadis want this for their city. We get funded primarily by the Ministry of Culture, but other ministries like to help in various ways too. Everybody understands that we illustrate a kind of collective achievement for the country."
Not that there aren't still problems.
I had to move my wife and two little girls abroad because our apartment complex was partly demolished when the nearby Foreign Ministry got bombed last winter. I thought, why should they be facing shrapnel to support my convictions?
And the security effort to make a concert happen is astonishing. But...
"We have every sect in the orchestra, Christians, Shiites, Sunnis, women, Kurds. I've also launched a youth orchestra and an after-school youth academy where we teach music, civics, manners and the like to almost 300 kids. We pay poor kids to attend. Some even come all the way across town from Sadr City. Yes, I'm sure there are fanatics who disapprove of the symphony, but we've generated such goodwill that they're afraid to oppose us publicly. The Institute of Fine Arts lay disused for two years until we made it our home. We brought new life to the area so the entire neighborhood helps keep us safe."