by Sarah Glazz
A conductor raises his baton. There is a hush of expectation, the pause before the first sounds of orchestral music. The audience stills, prepared for entertainment.
Across the world, there is another silence, one not beckoned by the baton of a skilled conductor, but by the diktats of bearded men and casually worn guns. No sound of musicians employing their skills on strings, or through their breath and fingers making notes come alive, no drummer playing his Darbuka interrupts this silence. It is only thunderous, angry crashes of weaponry that breaks the sombre peace as it tears asunder the muted air. There is no lilt or rhythm in the sounds of gunfire or bombs, no sweet song in the falling of masonry. The silence in between these deadly sounds is not a peaceful one; it is one of fearful anticipation.
A Doumbek sits hidden in a cupboard, a Nay lies at the back of a drawer. Their owners long to make them alive again, but for now they must hush. And a voice is just a voice, no chest swells with breath to sing, there are no lilting, melancholy songs to the accompaniment of an Oud, people can no longer sing of sadness or joy. The tunes and melodies of the land are now held quiet and suppressed inside. A woman is cooking; she wants to sing the songs her mother sang, wants to hear her husband’s deep voice sing songs of love and praise in wonder at the world, but for all his strength and his courage, he is helpless against evil that is armed and angry. So silent he keeps except for speech.
And yet, here in a less trod road we hear the unexpected sound of percussion beating out a regular time. As we approach we see a small circle of people, someone beating out a semi-rapid beat, next to him someone taps and shakes a Riq. Women, clad in black, clap, matching the beat. And now we see why this small circle of people have gathered; there before them children are dancing to the rhythm of the drum, the Riq. They dance, away from judgemental eyes. Their feet find a wonderful delight in dancing, their arms grab and push the air around them and the rhythm moves them, and the adults watching smile with joy and sway to the beat themselves.
Some may think it is defiance, perhaps a show of strength, but in truth this particular group – for across the region are pockets of music, played in secret – pick up and play their instruments for the pleasure of music and dancing, and no more.
Here in this corner, music is alive and the children are being children, for now.