Music in Zaatari: Building Community, Creating Opportunity

"The point is, art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed because people are changed by art—enriched, ennobled, encouraged—they then act in a way that may affect the course of events, by the way they vote, the way they behave, the way they think."

- Leonard Bernstein

  

A group of distinguished musicians from around the world join together to play a familiar song. Arms interlocked, a group of Syrian mentors, children, Questscope staff and guests gather behind the musicians to lead the audience in singing El Helwa Di, a famous Arabic song that ignites a palpable energy. The sound is bright, exciting and joyful as the audience joins in.

Sometimes, community can form in the most unexpected ways.

This was the scene in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp this week, as four musicians from around the world shared in the hope and joy of Syrian children and their families through the universal language of music.  

The musicians demonstrated their artistry in Zaatari through a three-day music residency program led by Music for Life International (MFLI). Directed by George Mathew, artistic director and founder of MFLI, the string quartet engaged the audience with a unique collection of compositions that included the work of Dmitri Shostakovich and a piece by Emmy nominated Syrian composer Kareem Roustom, arranged specifically for these performances for the children of Syria at Zaatari.

“Introducing music in Zaatari has the power to change the narratives that the children create for their future,” said Mr. Mathew. “There is a radiance and a resilience that these children emit when they are focused on their future. Their engagement with music then becomes a hopeful representation of that future for the entire community.”

Following each of the three performances, the children participated in music education workshops. They engaged with the musicians and were introduced to the first principles of violin playing. They learned about rhythm and creative expression through music. And while they learned, they also taught a lesson of the power of hope in the face of adversity. 

“We have been anticipating this event ever since we heard about it four months ago,” said one young Syrian girl to the musicians. “You have brought beauty and joy to us here.”

Thanks to Mr. Mathew and Music For Life International, music will continue for the children of Syria. The first violins and recorders were donated to Questscope to enable music education to continue to speak in Zaatari. We see the power of music to create an educational experience that extends far beyond the development of a sound. It enhances the lives of these children and opens doors for endless opportunity.

“Music is about sharing and making space for beauty in our lives,” said Rosanna Butterfield, a member of the Zaatari quartet. “It is a tool for healing and building community.”


Questscope thanks MFLI and Mr. Mathew for creating a space for hope, beauty and opportunity in Zaatari. We also thank the Institute for Global Leadership (IGL) at Tufts University for their support of the MFLI residency. Special thanks to the members of the Zaatari String Quartet:

  • Mary Ann Mumm, Violin, MET Orchestra (Former) and Professor at Montclair State University
  • Deborah Greitzer, Violin, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Craig Mumm, Associate Principal Viola, MET Orchestra and Professor at Rutgers University
  • Rosanna Butterfield, Cello Fellow, New World Symphony, “America’s Orchestral Academy”
  • With special guest Hisham Alhadrab, Oud, Timpanist/Percussionist, Jordan National Orchestra; Music Therapist, Classical Percussion Instructor, Jordan National Music Conservatory; Principal Timpanist, Palestine Youth Orchestra