Exclusive video: A piano star drops in on Syrian refugee children

Exclusive video: A piano star drops in on Syrian refugee children


norman lebrecht

March 16, 2014

syria01The children are displaced victims of Russian foreign policy, of Moscow’s support for the Assad regime that is murdering its citizens.

Jan Lisiecki, thePolish-Canadian pianist on his first visit to Lebanon, was determined to see conditions for himself and bring some relief.

He writes:



The day after the concert I had the opportunity to visit the Bekaa Valley, and the sites where UNICEF is giving aid to young refugees from Syria. This is located about 2 hours drive from Beirut, and only 10 km from the Syrian border.
UNICEF is working together with Beyond Borders to establish informal schools where children can be together, learning, and making music, and can overcome any sorrow or pain, at least in the time they are in school.
We visited two separate schools, each slightly different in format and structure.
The teachers told us of the struggles they faced at the beginning; how students could not shake the influence of the violence they had seen and experienced.
Just as we arrived, a music class was in progress in one of the tents.
Initially, the children were very shy, uncertain of the relationship between them and the newcomers. They sang with pleasure but clearly felt uncomfortable. What truly broke the barrier was when I played on the MIDI keyboard they had in the classroom. Even though the music was different and new, something most of them had never heard before, it created a bond. They replied with more songs of their own, and more and more children and teachers streamed into the tent, each student bringing along a personal stool….
The lyrics were written by the children themselves, and told stories of what they are dreaming of, how they will never give up hope, that they miss their country, and want to go back no matter what. To continue the conversation, I played a little more. Some of the children started clapping and dancing to Western classical music. It was an unparalleled experience.After the visit to the second school, we were invited into a family’s home. Upon stepping in, there was a small hallway, at the end of which we took of our shoes and stepped into the room. In this compact space, the family of 12, including two infants, spent their time together, ate, and slept. We sat on the floor and were told of their struggles and heard their hopes. Many of the refugees had to enter Lebanon illegally; as such they cannot work properly and are often mistreated by their employers.


  • Irwin Hughes says:

    So is this young boy putting up some kind of foundation to help these people, or did he just produce the blog post to show us how good a person he is? The thousands of aid workers who spend their time improving the lives of these refugees do of course not write about it every day, but on the other hand – they don’t have an image to build.

    • anon says:

      Well, be nice: he has to build his image somehow, and it is not going to be on the originality or strength of his pianism. This is the same kid who matches his shoelaces to his bowties and who did the Vogue photo shoot a couple months back, remember… I can’t wait for next month’s publicity stunt!

      • Sandra Newell says:

        Well, now, Mr Hughes and “anon”… can you tell us exactly what YOU are doing to help to improve the miserable lives of displaced children in Lebanon? Have you ever met Jan Lisiecki? Seen him perform? I have done both and I can assure you that this gentle and unassuming young man is just the role model young people need. I am left wondering why you both bothered to read this article if you are so disdainful of Mr. Lisiecki — let alone why you bothered to post comments?

        Fortunately for the rest of us, Jan Lisiecki will continue to make his mark on the musical world and, perhaps even more importantly, UNICEF. I feel so sorry for you both — what dull and lonely lives you must lead.

        Oh, by the way “anon”: try summoning up the courage to identify yourself next time. By sniping under the cover of anonymity you just prove how cowardly and pathetic you are.

      • Mike Saunders says:

        Went looking….he doesn’t even have a publicist.

        He has been with UNICEF for years – not a stunt.

    • Jan Lisiecki says:

      Hi Irwin,

      I have been working with UNICEF since I was 12, and I am a UNICEF Canada Ambassador. As part of my role, I was able to visit schools that UNICEF and Beyond have formed near the Syrian border.


      • patti says:

        I think you are to be commended for going to perform for these children, displaced by war even if you must endure the cynicism of others. It is wonderful to hear them sing and laugh!

      • Darren says:

        Hi Jan. If you mean that this video( in which you pretty much have no idea what you are talking about )portrays your ‘work’ for Unicef since you were 12 years old then, yeah, we all saw that.


        Seriously. Syria has bigger problems than a juvenile kyeboardist promoting himself through other people’s miseries. You would have been better off posing for Vogue.

        • patti says:

          No good deed left unpunished.

        • Natalia says:

          Also, Hello Darren.

          There are places with big problems. Yes, and Syria has problems too. But Jan didn’t go to promote himself. He went to go help.

          Syrian refugees need something/someone to cheer them up, especially kids. These kids were happy and that’s what matters. I don’t see you going to Syria and helping these refugees. If you don’t know what to say to someone who actually is doing something good, don’t say anything at all. Cause clearly you don’t have anything to do with your time but put down people who are doing great things.

      • Teresa Armstrong says:

        Jan, don’t let the negative remarks of folks bother you – you are a kind, intelligent, talented and generous person. For someone your age you have contributed way more to society both by enriching it with beautiful music but also by your work as an ambassador and likely in many other charitable ways. You are an inspiration and a humanitarian and there are so many people who are proud of you and pulling for you, espeically in your role as Canadian Ambassador for Unicef.

    • Natalia says:

      To Irwin, and ‘anon’ You clearly don’t understand what this is about. Jan has been with UNISEF for a long time. He actually is helping out these refugees. I don’t see what you’re doing to help them. They need someone to cheer them up and take the pain away, and that’s what Jan did. He made them happy. But clearly you have nothing better to do with your life and your time, but to put other people down. I highly doubt you would say it to Jan’s face or anyone else.

      So what have you done to help these refugees out? Have you gone to cheer them up? I highly doubt it.

      So instead of having negative comments towards someone who is actually doing something good, you should think about how you’ve helped first.

  • I think there is blame on both the U.S. and Russian sides for the slaughter in Syria. The CIA has long run training camps in Jordan for the Syrian rebels. The goal, as noted in the Washington Post article listed below, is to give the rebels just enough power to create a stalemate.

    Long ago the U.S. learned it did not need to invade and defeat countries if it could create long-term civil wars that would cause countries to destroy themselves.

    The stalemate consciously created by the U.S. in Syria allows the civil war to continue and achieve the U.S. goal of permanently weakening the country. It is now becoming apparent that the real winners in this situation will likely be Islamic Radicals, a threat far worse than the Assad regime. See:


  • Will Duffay says:

    Some of the opposition groups are very unpleasant too. There’s one called ISIS which is aiming to create a Taliban-style Islamist regime, and is probably behind at least one of the gas attacks attributed to Assad’s regime. The opposition is consequently fragmented and has in-fighting, which doesn’t help the overall cause.

  • Kathleen Foster says:

    So glad you went to see for yourself the situation in the Syrian refugee camps, Jan… And glad you were able to bring smiles and hope to these dear children. Music is a universal language, and I can see from the footage your visit was a delight to them all… You make Canada proud in this service as an Ambassador to other lands and people. So glad you care about the plight of others… I know you will do what you can to help when and where it is possible!

  • HN says:

    Jan should be commended for visiting the refugee camps. Obviously, one visit cannot change the situation but letting others know about what goes on in these camps is in fact helping. It is much more commendable than sitting at home making anonymous internet comments questioning his motives.

  • Neil says:

    Nasty trolls: you to realise that Jan being there and willingly doing some PR FOR Unicef helps their reach and fundraising campaigns enormously. And in the meantime if he brings smiles to the faces of 100 orphaned kids, great!

    How about having a pot shot at all the Russian “artists” who back Putin’s every whim – they have real power to campaign to bring this war to and by showing up the regime’s support for Assad for what it really is.

  • Hank Drake says:

    Jan, you are to be commended for your work with UNICEF and helping the Syrian refugees. Ignore the anonymous naysayers, commenting from the safety of their armchairs. They are probably jealous competitors!

  • Nancy D. Sturdevant says:

    You people have no idea what you are talking about. These ‘public forums’ are nothing but opportunities for ignorant and vindictive people to post disgusting comments like the ones above.Those who know Jan either personally or through his gift as a performer understand the generosity of spirit this young man has displayed throughout his life. He is using his burgeoning career to allow him access to do what he can and to raise the profile of UNICEF in its quest ot help the Syrian refuges.

    Nancy from Ottawa