Patrick Clark on Day Seven in Duhok, Iraq

Day Seven, American Voices YES Academy, Duhok, Iraq

My composers have been moved by the spirit. Following yesterday’s reading of two student works by the String Orchestra, four of the remaining eight composers arrived in this morning’s class with beautifully finished scores and parts. I was caught off guard not expecting such a furious commitment overnight. I scrambled to assemble two student string quartets and some added auxiliaries (clarinets and piano) and arrange a reading and rehearsal session from 7:30 to 10:00 pm tomorrow night. I am expecting a similar phenomenon of productivity to swamp me with newly-completed works tomorrow morning.

As I pursued players for readings I happened upon an impromptu rehearsal formed by one of my students, Rebin Salar Sebir, with wind players who will augment his quartet tomorrow night. The entrepreneurial edge is coming naturally to Rebin. He has recognized early on that only hard work and self-motivation can lead to the sounds he has written being realized.

I have emphasized the importance of beautiful and accurate parts in winning over performers. It seems to have been effective and the players are enthusiastic when rehearsing the new sounds, madly counting and showing an attention that is sharper even than provoked by the familiar literature. So this is also the beginning of building the bridges with players who will, hopefully, be forever sympathetic to playing new works. Next is getting audiences to suspend their disbelief so willingly for new music as they do for the classics.

Not only has the event of an actual reading with real musicians(!) stimulated the creative impulse among my students, but also the daily confrontation with new scores and recordings that I present each day. We have listened critically, with scores, to works by many of the vanguard twentieth-century composers including John Adams, George Crumb, Michael Colgrass, John Cage, Steve Reich, Oliver Messiaen, Toru Takemitsu, Thelonious Monk, Bela Bartok, Claude Debussy, and Igor Stravinsky.

Of the ten students in my class, only the last three names were of any familiarity, and those only vaguely. Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, Anton Webern, Morton Feldman, Gyorgy Ligeti, Philip Glass, Luciano Berio and Bruno Mantovani remain on deck to be introduced. This is a watershed of exposure to these Middle Easterners that I couldn’t possibly have predicted.

Please trust, gentle reader, that I do not exaggerate when I tell you that they are overflowing with excitement at hearing, and seeing, the works of these composers. A cacophony in the classroom of the three local Iraqi languages follows as each piece ends. I often let this go on for a good stretch as I believe that one understands only as far as one is able to articulate the thoughts, and they must be free to articulate to one another as I hope they will, musically, in their future compositions.

Exposure is the missing link here in Iraq. The Russian cultural influence refracted much of the West here some 20 years ago but it is long gone. These students do not know the literature of music in the twentieth-century, let alone the twenty-first. One cannot stand tall without some giant shoulders upon which to stand.

I am told several times a day that only one hour of time in our American Voices classrooms exceeds a month of their typical musical education here. It is apparent that this might in fact be true. The intelligence is razor sharp, the interest and enthusiasm is something I’ve never imagined—the potential of the Iraqi musician seems measurable precisely by the availability of information. I wish I had more time…