After five weeks playing reeds in the Sydney season of Wizard of Oz, and my students returning in early 2018 for clarinet lessons, I am reminded how fortunate we are to have the freedom to be musicians, or to simply express ourselves through music.
No one student reminds me more of this great privilege than Samim. Today, a young man of 17, Samim and I first met when he was aged 12, during my first winter academy as an invited teacher at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) in Kabul, in 2013.
These days, Samim and I conduct weekly lessons by Skype, when our schedules, Internet reception and security allows. He began learning clarinet at seven years of age, and today is one of 10 clarinet students at ANIM.
The school is run by Afghani/Australian director Dr Sarmast, and both he and the school were recently awarded the prestigious “Polar Music Prize”, joining such luminaries as Ray Charles, Led Zeppelin, Yo-Yo Ma, and Patti Smith, to name just a few.
Samim also learns clarinet from Ustad Shefta at ANIM, with whom I taught alongside back in 2013 and again in 2015. Through our more recent Skype lessons, Samim has been learning the Mozart Concerto, and is about to start on the Dimmler clarinet concerto.
Each week on our video lesson, we converse in English (his is very good), and my growing Dari vocabulary - which currently numbers 20 words! In our last lesson I asked Samim about life in Afghanistan today, about his teacher Ustad Shefta, and what his hopes are for the future. Here’s what he said.
Jason: And why did you choose the clarinet?
Samim: Because I heard Ustad Shefta (his teacher in Kabul) play the clarinet and wanted to be a great clarinet player too.
Jason: What music do you like to listen to?
Samim: Western music and Afghani music. My favourite Afghani piece is Be Wafa Yarm by Ahmad Safir, the Elvis of Afghanistan. (Samim also played me the melody on his clarinet).
Jason: In your school, what does a normal day involve and when do you practice?
Samim: In a day we have five periods – each 1.5 hrs. English, Music workshop, History of Afghanistan Music and History, and orchestra for two hours in the afternoon. We get one or two hours of practice time too each day at the school, as we normally cannot take our instruments home with us.
Jason: What are your goals for 2018?
Samim: I want to get first position in my class as well as have my first year in the school orchestra. I also want to learn another concerto for clarinet. That is enough!
Jason: Tell us about your clarinet teacher in Kabul, Ustad Shefta.
Samim: He is been at the school since I was in grade 4, when he came back from Russia. Shefta also had to leave Afghanistan because of the Taliban. He is now my teacher and he is a very perfect teacher. He teaches me Western and Afghani music. Next week we are having a concert together, I will send you a video of the performance.
Jason: What do you hope to do when you finish school?
Samim: I hope to go to higher university for lessons and be an even better clarinet player.
Jason: Do you remember a time when you were younger when the Taliban ruled and music was forbidden?
Samim: No, I was born in Peshawar, Pakistan, as my family left Afghanistan because the Taliban came. There was much fighting.
Jason: Are your family happy that you are studying music and is music important for most Afghans?
Samim: My father is especially pleased, he loves music. Some people here think music is very good, but others also think not.