Under Taliban rule, musical options have been sharply limited in Afghanistan. But in a recent trip abroad, South Shore Conservatory teacher Eric Lane helped bring the music back.
As part of an eight-week intensive residency program at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, Lane participated in the Third Annual Winter Academy, which helps teach music to students age 10 through 30.
“I loved the idea of going somewhere like Afghanistan and the fact that only until recently music was banned, it seemed like a real important mission to be able to go and teach music there. It seems empowering,” Lane said after the trip.
Lane had heard of the program through other South Shore Conservatory teachers, and also through his best friend, all of who had traveled abroad to bring music to foreign ears.
Lane decided he too wanted to join in on the experience, and so applied for a temporary teaching position, which would offer money to get the teacher abroad and give him a small per diem salary.
It wasn’t long before Lane had been accepted into the program and had packed his bags and planned some lessons, traveling as one of 27 American teachers to teach at the school.
The second he got off the plane, Lane said he was thrown into the mix, teaching two lessons immediately, then playing an outreach concert for kids who don’t go to school but work during the day.
In the following weeks, Lane taught master classes on teaching, private piano lessons to 23 students, and private saxophone lessons to 15 students.
He also showed music to a classroom of 60 elementary school kids, many from orphanages.
“I also lead activities with elementary school kids for singing and dancing and African folk melodies, then world music ensemble…teaching a lot about quasi and African groove music,” Lane said.
The great thing about the program is it involved Western music as much as it teachers Afghani instruments and music, Lane said, with kids fluent in reading music under both languages.
And despite the many years Lane has spent teaching music, he was amazed at how hungry for knowledge the Afghanistan students were.
“There were classes were an 8-year old and 12-year old was in the same room and the 12 year old was helping the 8-year old,” Lane said. “In the space of teaching, age group is an important consideration, so you can get everybody on the same page and comfortable learning. There, everyone was so hungry for learning … those age differences are big over here, but there it’s lets just learn…that was really remarkable.”
The talent abroad was also surprising, especially considering that three years ago, none of these children had even seen an instrument.
“To be playing at the level they are already playing at, they are very hungry. Having students beg me for a lesson every day, I can hardly get my students over here to practice! And here these kids were asking for more lessons, and when they leave they would practice everything I gave them. That was pretty remarkable,” Lane said.
The school, which is tuition free thanks to donations and private funding, will soon go back to an ordinary academy, where teachers cover subjects ranging from the Koran to the English language in addition to music classes.
The Winter Academy classes will occur again next year, with a long-term goal of creating an Afghan Youth Orchestra.
“The founder of the school would say one of his goals is to have an orchestra that can play their national anthem. Once their ban on music was over, they didn’t have a way to play their national anthem,” Lane said. “The school is [also] trying to become a conservatory to continue education beyond high school age.”
Though Lane only recently returned from his trip, he said he’s already eager to go back, and said that his stories have been well received by the teachers back home.
“My musician friends and teachers were really intrigued [before I left]. Now when I tell them I’ve come back, they want to go. They love the pictures, and love the idea of a captive audience. Here music is very marginalized. If you go somewhere where people are hungry for it, it’s a teacher’s dream,” he said.
Faculty at the conservatory also say they are receptive to implementing things Lane has learned while abroad.
“We are excited to be able to bring some of what Eric gained from working with these amazing Afghan kids who are passionate about their music despite incredible hardship, to our community partnership and outreach programs,” said South Shore Conservatory President Kathy Czerny. “There are students here on the South Shore who are equally talented and eager for the chance to learn, express themselves and develop their talent. They are just waiting for someone like Eric to come along and open that door.”
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