20 February, 2013
From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report in Special English.
The Afghan Youth Orchestra performed in the United States earlier this month. The 48 young musicians who travelled from Kabul played at some of the most famous American musical venues. They performed at the Kennedy Centre in Washington and Carnegie Hall in New York City. The last stop was Boston, Massachusetts where they performed at the New England Conservatory of Music.
The musicians perform traditional as well as western classical pieces. Violins and trumpets played alongside of rubab and sitar as they performed Boléro by Maurice Ravel.
The State Department and the United States embassy in Kabul largely funded the trip. Secretary of State John Kerry called the young musicians "ambassadors of peace".
The Taliban banned the performance of music when they took control of Afghanistan in 1996. Today, music is again played freely.
Orchestra member Negeen is originally from Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan. She has had her own experience with the Taliban.
"My younger brother-in-law, who is in his 20s, took me back to Kunar province for a few days. The Taliban forced him to get out of the bus and then asked him "Why did you shave your beard? What kind of Muslim are you?" Then they whipped him so badly that his back and hands were bleeding. That is one of my worst memories in my life."
Negeen said she would be returning home from the tour with good memories.
"When we came to New York City, we saw tall buildings. We were trying to look at them to see their tops, but the floors were endless. They were so tall! New York is beautiful. All three cities we visited are beautiful, but I liked New York the most."
Ahmad Sarmast started the orchestra a few years ago. He founded the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul. The Youth Orchestra grew out of that school.
"It is a great pleasure for me that a group of Afghan youth, including boys and girls, has accomplished such big achievements in music in so short period of time. Today they are here in the United States as ambassadors of Afghan culture to reflect those positive changes which happened to Afghanistan in the last 10 years."
He says the idea of the trip and the project from the beginning was to show a different face of Afghanistan. He says he wants to change the perception of Afghanistan.
The musicians are between the ages of 10 and 22. Most are orphans or were street children. Under the Taliban, girls were not allowed to be educated after the age of 8.
An orchestra member named Gulalai says she is thankful for the orchestra's influence on her life.
"Looking at my past and then looking at my current situation, I can say that my life is very changed now. I have a great improvement in my life. Music brought many changes."
And that's the VOA Special English Education Report. I'm Faith Lapidus.