Music with meaning – A Symphony of Support for Afghan women

Guest blog by Stephen Sacco

A full orchestra comprised of Edinburgh’s classical musicians filled Reid Concert Hall in Bistro Square with the sounds of Tchaikovsky, Walton and Wagner on a recent Sunday evening.

The concert was a tribute to the woman of Afghanistan, a country more than 3,000 miles away from Scotland, and, some would say, a world apart from the struggles and issues Afghan women face on a daily basis. The organisers called it a Symphony of Support.

The musicians, all volunteers, some of them professionals, others advanced amateurs, fluttered around the hall before the concert. The men were in tuxes and the women in formal dresses. They tuned violins, checked microphones, and placed sheet music on their stands just so, perfectly balanced.

It’s the fourth year Edinburgh’s St. Mark’s Amnesty International group has sponsored a concert. The theme this year was inspired by Amnesty’s campaign to highlight the plight of women in Afghanistan who face gender-based violence that can escalate to death.

In April of this year a woman, believed to be no more than 20 years old, was shot dead in the village of Kookchaheel in Afghanistan in front of a crowd of roughly 300 people. The shooter was her father. Her crime was running away for ten days with a male cousin while her husband was in Iran.

Jessica Wade, who has taken a leadership role in the Edinburgh St. Mark’s Amnesty group, said that concerts are a way to raise awareness as well as money.

“We are often to be found out on the street in all weathers asking people to sign our petitions,” Jessica said.  “It’s nice for us to host an indoor event once in a while!”

She said most members of the group were content to work behind the scenes for the concert, but it was one member in particular, cellist Lindsay Martindale, who four years ago decided to take up her bow for the cause of human rights.

Linday’s involvement with Amnesty began in 2007 and was sparked by images of monks being shot in Rangoon by the Burmese Army.

That year a peaceful protest against Burma’s military regime triggered a severe crackdown.  Riot police clubbed, tear-gassed and fired shots at protesters. Linsday watched on television, helplessly.

This led her to the Edinburgh Amnesty St. Mark’s group where she joined an Amnesty letter-writing campaign which led to some Burmese political prisoners being released. She was astounded by the influence ordinary people can have on political regimes.  

Lindsay is a professional musician and graduate of the Royal College of Music in London and was inspired to use her talents to organise a small-scale concert a few years later to support Amnesty where Lindsay and two pianists played to raise money.

The concert has grown each year and now features a full orchestra – an ensemble called the Orchestra of the Cannons Gait.

The concert this year was led by Edinburgh violinist Roderick Long, graduate of Julliard School in New York City, and conducted by Robert Dick, a native of Edinburgh and graduate of the Royal College of Music in London.

With the first chord that evening, the pre-show jitters that could be sensed before the concert faded into the focused energy of performance.

Jessica declared the concert a huge success, having drawn an audience of more than 120 people and raised more than £500 for Amnesty.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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