Can our string quartet give a refugee child a voice?

Can our string quartet give a refugee child a voice?


norman lebrecht

August 21, 2016

The weekly diary of Anthea Kreston, violinist of the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet: 


anthea kreston1

This week we are back to quartet. Several concerts of old repertoire allow us the rehearsal time to build new repertoire – this week we begin Haydn Op. 76 #1, Schumann 3 and Rihm 3.  This next week we gather for a festival at a lake – Bebersee – where we play quartet concerts.  Jason and I stay for another week of mixed chamber music – from Beethoven to Schnittke.

I returned this week to lend a hand at the Mit Macht Musik program for refugees. This time I was able to see a bit more of the facility – a community garden and a large courtyard with bicycles and children playing is nestled in between the horse-shoe shaped government building. As I walked up to the entrance I took a deep breath in – the smells of cooking hit me with a pungent wall of yum. I wanted to continue up another flight of stairs just to take a look at what was on the stove.

I was greeted with hugs from a couple of the students, all of whom respond enthusiastically to the music – the pieces being taught are familiar songs from the home countries – Afghanistan, Syria, Chechnya.  I was happy to see more parents this time – coming to pick up kids and ask questions. I learned that there is a hierarchy of cultures even in this small refugee village – prejudices and long-standing clashes of cultures. Some countries have a history of an established educational system, and some not. Many of the women from particular countries have never attended a school themselves – do not know how to read or write, or the importance of regular attendance. The teachers try to impart this need to them – consistent attendance is a must – a difficult concept for a parent who has never been in a formal learning environment.

Some of the things I observed gave me heavy pause – and made me think that music is indeed a tool which can help bridge cultures, all of which have different priorities.  To give a child a voice – a child who may have never had the opportunity to speak her (his) mind before, is a gift which can be given through music in a somewhat gentle way. Each person who had made it all the way from their homes to that village in Potsdam has courage the likes of which we will never be able to understand. And yet, the courage to find your own voice, the pride of discovery and creativity – of collaboration between people of different genders, ages, languages – with no hierarchy – these are things that happen in music – things that you do not realize you are teaching, or doing.

Some families allow their children this freedom, and some are still struggling with this new-found freedom of choice. With love and support of the teachers, I believe they will come to that music room and allow their children the choice to discover their own voices.


  • Holly Golightly says:

    “With the love and support of teachers”. Yes, some will readily respond to that kind of care but just as many others will despise being patronized and hate you forever. But you’ve got to be smart enough to be able to understand human behaviour and those who do are forever pilloried as being ‘racist’ or ‘cruel’. Those who don’t become defensive when proven wrong.

    We await the results of this latest round of benevolence.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Interesting how far-away evil can infect the minds of people in the safe West, even denigrating attempts at supporting war refugees.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The difficulties of a mental and emotional transition from war zones and rather fixed cultural frameworks towards Europe are probably unimaginable for people grown-up in a safe and free environment and taking this for granted. Hats off for all those people who dedicate their time and efforts, especially in Germany, to the desperate crowds.

    All the more shocking that there are many people who go out of their way to make sure that refugee homes are burnt-down, just to continue the killing mentality in the war zones. This shows that the barbarians are also among us. No doubt, even some classical music lovers may cultivate a secret approval of such sentiments, as we can observe on this site.

  • ketzel says:

    I immediately thought of the lyrics to 19th nervous breakdown:

    “On our first trip I tried so hard to rearrange your mind.
    But after a while I realized you were disarranging mine.”

    These well meaning classical musicians think the new kids will get European culture. With Islam, it works the other way. The musicians, especially the women, may learn some Muslim culture the hard way.

    • John Borstlap says:

      An extremely stupid generalization. ‘Islam’ is not a single thing, inflexible, orthodox, eternally-fixed. People have religious needs and create religions, which vary per era, per area, per individual. The image of Islam as projected by a minority of sadistic cranks have no bearing on the rest, as Christian fanatics in the American bible belt have on Christianity in general. Islam has a strong inbuilt resistance to change, but being forced to flee for your life is a great encouragement to adapt other cultural frameworks, within which your religion, or parts of it, can easily find a place, like Catholicism within a secular world. Not so long ago the Christian inquisition, inspired by the Eternal Love of the Son of God, applied its purification strategy through its programm ‘Burn4Free’.

      Replace ‘Islam’ in this comment with ‘Judaism’ and you see to which dangerous absurdities such mental images can lead.

  • Joerg Soreass says:

    Another “Plueschtierwerfer” (German: teddy bear thrower”) hugging a migrant. Perhaps the time would be better spent teaching them German, which they will of course speak fluently within 6 months as a first step in their seamless integration in to German culture.

  • Anthea Kreston says:

    The children’s German is excellent – and their English is often good enough to assist as I stumble along in my own terrible attempt at speaking German. I have done quite a bit of similar work – from San Diego to NYC, and I find many more similarities than differences between all of these circumstances. From recent Latino immigrants in Southern California to inner city kids in the boroughs of New York City, most behaviors line up to be open, curious, and welcoming. Nothing is meant by reaching out besides a welcoming face and something to offer as a distraction from the every-day grind – a similar reason I and any other musician decided that it was fun to learn how to play an instrument in the first place.