Little more than a decade before Joel Schut arrived for a two-month teaching project at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul, music was banned in the war-torn central Asian nation.
From 1992 to 2001, the ruling Taliban prohibited the playing of music and actively destroyed thousands of instruments. An entire generation of Afghans was not allowed to take part in the act of creating music.
Officially, that is.
“It doesn’t mean that music wasn’t being played,” says Schut, 27, who graduated from the CU-Boulder College of Music in 2012 with a master’s degree in orchestral conducting. “It was just being done behind closed doors.”
In a nation that has been wracked by war, coups and invasion for the last 40 years — indeed, for millennia — the fact that there is a mixed-gender music academy for children in Kabul indicates how swiftly things can change. “It was a privilege to be a part of some good news in a country that too often needs it” says Schut who recently returned to the US. “While I went as an educator, I received a deep education through the stories, music, and lives of wonderful students and welcoming people.”
Schut traveled to Afghanistan this summer to fill in for William Harvey, who teaches viola and violin and conducts the Afghan Youth Orchestra, while he took a short sabbatical. The orchestra performs original arrangements that fuse Western and traditional Afghan music, playing everything from violins and piano to the sitar and rubab. “As a conductor, educator, and violinist, it was incredible to be a part of pedagogy and music in a different environment.”