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Practicing for Erbil’s American-Kurdish Arts Festival

The story below appeared in Rudaw on April 30, 2016.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Preparations are underway for the American-Kurdish Arts Festival in Erbil next August, one of the US musicians working on the event said Saturday.

American Pianist and Kurdish Counterparts

Pianist John Ferguson and four other musicians are working with Kurdish counterparts to prepare for the musical pieces that will be played at the event.

“We began this festival in 2007 as an opportunity in the summer for Kurdish musicians, actors, dancers to all come together and study classical music, study hip-hop, the theater and many different kinds of performing arts and to get to know each other,” Ferguson, who is executive director of American Voices, told Rudaw English.

He is directing training courses for a variety of classical music courses, workshops and concerts.

Ferguson is a concert performer who has appeared in prestigious venues such as Rome’s Teatro Della Collosseo, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, as well as the Theatre de la Ville and Radio France in Paris.

‘A Nationwide Program for Kurdistan’

Ferguson said that youth from different parts of the Kurdistan Region have taken part in the programs, “so it is like a nationwide program for Kurdistan.”

“We keep the program smaller and it is funded entirely by sponsors in the United States and they make donations online,” Ferguson explained, as Kurdistan weathers a severe economic crisis.

American Voices, which was founded in 1991 and is managed by Ferguson “is an NGO working with Salahadin University and the Ministry of Higher Education to create this opportunity to study music and listen to performances by teachers and performers and give concretes together,” he said.

“We did this program last year in Sulaimani. We had one concert and eight days of teaching in Zankoi Sulaimani (Sulaimani University), so this is the second year that we call the program Kurdish-American Arts Festival and this is the first time we run this program in Hawler,” he said, using the Kurdish name for Erbil.

Kurdish Music

Kurdish music has developed tremendously since 2007, Ferguson said, adding that more and more young Kurds are now studying music and other arts at universities and institutions.

“Young people have more opportunity now than 2007,” he said.

“In 2007, most of our students had never traveled outside Kurdistan. Now many of them go to Europe and many of them go to Turkey and Lebanon and they start to see the world and understand the international opportunities as musicians, so they have a bigger idea of the world now than 2007,” he explained.

He also said that there are certain ways through which music in Kurdistan can be improved, especially by lowering the admission age to institutions from 15.

“Before age 15 there is no formal music training program in Kurdistan,” the pianist said.

“What we do is that we train all of our participants in our scholarship programs in America and during the summer we show them how to teach children and we give them the books,” he said, explaining that the internationally-recognized Suzuki method was being taught to music teachers training children.

[To read more, visit Rudaw]

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