Bach to Baghdad

A musical interlude connecting people across language, culture and politics

Sunday, September 28, 2:00 p.m.
33 Hawley Street, Northampton

Bach to Baghdad is a musical interlude and humanitarian intervention. A respite, creating time and a space for reflection and communication between east and west. Baghdad and cities and towns in the US and Europe.

The project is inspired by our long-time partner Dr. Salma Hadad. In March 2013, with a visiting team of doctors from Italy and the US crowded into her small, stuffy office to process a challenging day of training, lectures and patients Dr. Salma turned on her cell phone. Pavoratti filled the room. It was as if lighting had struck. His magnificent voice that hot cramped space in Baghdad... temporarily displaced our weary frustration, replacing it with a sense of renewed energy and purpose. The incident reminded me of the famous Christmas Truce of WWI and of Vedran Smajlovic, the"cellist of Sarajevo", who went out with his cello to perform amidst the rubble and terror of the war zone ceated by the seige of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war.

The pediatric oncology unit at Children's Welfare Teaching Hospital in Medical City Baghdad is and has been Dr. Salma's "war zone" for nearly twenty five years. She and her colleague Dr. Mazin Al-Jadiry are both witness to and unhappy participants in the perfect storm crushing Iraq since sanctions were imposed in 1990: a continuously deepening health crisis, with more patients presenting more serious illness at the same time as medical resources decline and the capacity of the health care system decreases. Iraq has experienced an alarming increase in all types of cancers…in some cities the rate has more than doubled in the last 15 years. It has one of the highest rates of cancer mortality in the world. This is a tragedy in a country that had the best medical care system in the Middle East before 1990; a system of primary, secondary and tertiary care facilities that provided free, good quality services. Now that system is in ruins and Iraq is falling into yet another crisis. How can we respond?

We have run out of words. After many years of advocacy, working in partnership with Iraqis, we don’t know what to say about the current crisis in Iraq. “The hard times I passed through over the years made me silent most of the time. I find no comment because sometimes when you say the words they lose their meaning (an Arabic aphorism).” Dr. Salma wrote recently.

And we are out of images. We have seen the flattened buildings, the damaged bodies, the bombed bridges and roads; the houses and schools, the hospitals and mosques. We have seen the sick children, and the agony of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers--- the dead and dying—for more than twenty years now.

But we are not out of music. "Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent,” wrote Victor Hugo. In that spirit, we hope the music is just beginning. We hope our success will inspire other concerts in the U.S. and internationally. Perhaps there will be Blues to Baghdad in Berlin; Puccini to Baghdad in Milan; Ragas to Baghdad in Mumbai.

Our first concert, connecting Northampton to Baghdad will be with Peter Blanchette, internationally acclaimed musician and composer, who will perform Bach on his archguitar on Sunday afternoon, September 28 at 2:00 p.m. at the Arts Trust Building, 33 Hawley St. in Northampton, MA. Responding from Baghdad will be our long-time partners in Baghdad, Drs. Mazin Al-Jadiry and Dr. Salma Al-Hadad from Children's Welfare Teaching Hospital.

Bach to Baghdad is a project of the Northampton-based, Baghdad Resolve: An International Collaboration to Improve Cancer Care in Iraq, a project of the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange.

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