Archive for the ‘Mostar’ Tag

Lots of writing, not much blogging

It’s that time of year again.

For many people it is a crazy time, filled with competing work and family demands. For me, there is some of that craziness, but mostly I am feeling the satisfaction of having got through a long period of competing deadlines relatively unscathed.

Over the last three months I’ve completed three book chapters, several conference abstracts, an article for The Conversation, and got to grips with two new software packages that (hopefully, in time) will yield tremendous productivity gains in this PhD adventure! Needless to say, it’s been a lot of screen time. Hence the silence on the blogging front.

I’ve been working on my Bosnia case study. Here’s a bit of a run-down:

For one of the book chapters, I explored an idea that I called “life-space” – the real and imagined boundaries of a quotidian lived experience, and the expansion/contraction of these. The war in Mostar contracted the life-space of many of its young citizens very dramatically. The way they described their experiences of playing and learning music at the Pavarotti Music Centre suggested that it had resulted in expansions of their life-space in a number of dimensions – physical/geographical, personal/emotional, and social. It was an interesting way to analyse the participants’ descriptions of their experiences.

I’ve also developed a framework for understanding the goals and intentions of many music interventions in conflict-affected settings. These kinds of projects are initiated in response to particular needs, such as the need to create dialogue towards conflict resolution or peacebuilding, the need for psychosocial healing, the need for positive and productive activities for young people to supplement limited education and employment opportunities, the need to ensure music education opportunities (either within formal schooling or in addition to it), or the need to address the destruction of cultural knowledge, taking strategic steps to nurture and regenerate it.

The other two chapters laid out this framework, explaining the contexts that lead to these areas becoming priorities, and the ways that music interventions can offer meaningful and purposeful responses. One of the chapters used the Pavarotti Music Centre as a case study, to see how these different goals and intentions are realised through community-based cultural action.

Relevant to my research, although somewhat peripheral, are discussions surrounding the next set of development goals, and so I’ve been following these fairy closely. The Millennium Development Goals have set the global development agenda since 2000, but they expire at the end of 2014, and a new set of what are called Sustainable Development Goals will be adopted by the United Nations Member States in September 2015. There is a lot of discussion and debate about what the SDGs should be (they will basically set the agenda for the next 15 years, and I added my voice to the argument for the inclusion of culture in an article for the online daily, The Conversation. You can read it here.

I was then invited to update the article for publication in the Media Asia Journal, and that print publication will come out in January, I believe.

This week, with the last of the book chapters at the final stages of editing (trying to get the word count down), I’m happily able to return my attention to my raw data. It feels like ages since I’ve been able ‘hang out’ in the transcripts, thinking and exploring, and following lines of thought that arise as I read and make links with the literature that I’m constantly exploring. What a luxury! I am a pig in s**t these days, as the saying goes.

So, lots of writing going on. Not as much playing and singing and just thinking in music as I’d like, so that is a balance I’d like redress next year. But coming up is my annual Christmas carol-singing party, so in the spirit of that, please enjoy this Christmas classic! Not quite a carol, but a number we’ll definitely be including this year.

Not as much blogging going on either. Thanks for hanging in there, subscribers! Back in the saddle now.

Teaching music for well-being

I’ve given five presentations over the last couple of months and many of these have discussed my ideas about teaching music for well-being, rather than simply for excellence. A striving for excellence is in fact part of well-being, so rather than being alternative approaches, a focus on well-being is simply a broader, more inclusive understanding of education.

The first presentation I gave, right before I left Melbourne for five weeks in Singapore, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Brisbane, was as guest speaker for the Scotch College Music Auxiliary Annual Luncheon. Scotch College is one of Melbourne’s most privileged private boys school, with a superb track record of training young musicians, and with some of the best resources and infrastructure (eg. a state-of-the-art, purpose-built music school) for music in the country. I was asked to speak about my music work with refugee children and in post-conflict countries – environments that are typically very poorly resourced in comparison to the Scotch College facilities!

These are the notes from that talk, with some of the videos I played to illustrate my ideas. I note here the huge influence that music therapy researcher Even Rudd’s ideas on qualities of well-being supported by music participation have had on my thinking. They have allowed me to condense what for me have been quite broad, detailed, and endless ideas of music’s beneficial impact under four neat headings.

Scotch College presentation notes

We are all here because we believe music is important. The reasons why we think music is important might be very varied across this group –because beliefs about what music is and why it matters are usually culturally-constructed, informed by the environments we have grown up in and our life experiences thus far.

I believe music is important because of what it can to contribute to human well-being. I see music as an important part of human flourishing, and that everyone has the right to engage in musical participation and development, and to express themselves freely in music. Music is an essential and universal part of being human. It’s not just for the talented!

My work as a music leader, educator, and facilitator is about drawing people together to make music, and I do this is all sorts of contexts using improvisation, composition and other creative approaches – with symphony orchestras, with arts centres and community centres and music academies that want to engage with communities in creative and participatory ways and build flexible musicianship among their professional musicians.

What I want to talk about today is the experiences I have had in working to bring people together through music who have been through some of the most extreme human experiences. I’m talking about children and young people who have been through experiences of war and conflict, and how music participation can support them to increase their sense of wellbeing in body and in mind.

I believe that music participation contributes to wellbeing in four key ways, and each of these four ways are in great deficit in conflict-affected communities:

Bonding and belonging – music brings people together in order to play, and the act of sharing music together can create experiences of social connection that can be very enduring. Music participation can therefore increase experiences of social connectedness, and create social networks.

Vitality and pleasure – music makes people feel happy and relaxed, in their bodies and their emotions. Playing music allows people to ‘lose themselves’ in a state of flow, where time passes without them really noticing. People forget their worries. Dopamine fires up, oxytocin is released, and the body is flooded with feel-good hormones.

Agency – this is to do with a sense of oneself as valuable, as having the capacity to contribute and develop, having a voice and being able influence others even in small ways. The idea of mastery and excellence is contained within this quality of agency – the sense of achievement and therefore pride that can come through developing new skills and learning to do something difficult that takes time, patience and focus. It also includes a sense of recognition and visibility – important when many of life’s choices have been taken away from you.

Meaning and hope – this quality refers to the sense of identity, empowerment and transcendence that can come through participating in music. The meaning of the music experience has resonance and relevance beyond the musical act itself. Committing oneself to learning new skills, and the investment of time and focus that learning an instrument or being in an ensemble requires is a hopeful act. The act of hoping is a health-promoting process in itself. In “Musicking” (1998) Christopher Small talks about the act of making music as a kind of ritual in which we enact a version of the world as we want it to be.

There are three main places I’m going to talking about – post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina, where I worked in 1998 as a musician in a large community music therapy and education centre; in Melbourne with newly-arrived refugee children; and in rural Timor-Leste.

When I worked in schools and kindergartens in post-war Bosnia, children were extremely traumatised. They had experienced many deprivations and traumatic events, had trouble sleeping, maintaining concentration, with temper, and anxiety.

Music in such a fragile situation is a very secure, friendly, self-regulating activity. People participate if they choose and at the level that is comfortable for them. We learned to recognise all kinds of levels of participation – from heads down, eyes shut, to extremely hyperactive participation. Shared group music-making could bring those extremes together into safer, healthier expressions, through emotional entrainment, and energetic or rhythmic entrainment. Music helped children to feel a little safer, more relaxed, and less on alert.

(This video shows Professor Nigel Osborne and some of his team of musicians at work in Mostar in 1996)

When I returned to Australia, I began working as an artist-in-residence with English Language Schools in Melbourne, which have quite high intakes of refugees and humanitarian entrants. These are schools for new arrivals, and support them to learn English and prepare for classroom learning in mainstream schools.

Best CELS photos Gillian 17 Dec 2012 290

Many of the children arriving in Australia from refugee backgrounds had had little or no access to schooling. They had finely honed survival skills but had very little experience in manage themselves in a classroom or group learning situation. Their experiences had taught them to be very self-focused, to be alert to opportunities, and to push others out of the way if necessary, in order to not miss out. Skills like taking turns, or making lines, or not fighting to solve problems, need to be learned, as do looking at the teacher, focusing attention for longer periods of time, and listening.

Music can help with all of these skills, as well as with establishing and reinforcing language and important vocabulary. The opportunity to play music created lots of excitement and happiness. No matter how little English a child knew, they could participate meaningfully in music, because it is not language-dependent. They can participate by looking and listening, and copying what they see others do. Children who struggled in academic subjects like developing literacy would often shine in music, often because they had been exposed to lots of music in their communities.

Playing music was the motivation for learning to work as a team. In music the children discovered the intense joy and satisfaction of making sounds in a simultaneous way. I would construct the composition work slowly over many weeks, using strategies that got children creating all their musical ideas and then weaving these into a larger structure. Hearing the music take shape in this structure was the motivation to take turns, or listen carefully. And without effort, they would find themselves concentrating for long periods of time.
Best CELS photos Gillian 17 Dec 2012 227
Most importantly, music made the children feel happy and relaxed. Class teachers often reported seeing a new student smile for the first time in the school when they were in a music session. Creative music workshops were also social experiences – I use lots of games and playful tasks to get the children to experiment and take creative risks, so there would be lots of laughing and interaction.

In 2010 and 2011 I had the opportunity to return to a post-conflict country to work as a musician – I was invited to spend four months as a visiting artist in a rural town in Timor-Leste. I developed a program of community music projects that evolved very organically, on the veranda of the house I was renting.

We made instruments out of local materials and according to traditional design, and over the weeks we learned how to play together and connect with each other through music.

This video shows one of the short projects that I led there, in the last week of my residency. These clips come from a series of consecutive days, and lead to a live performance on local radio. You can see the sense of agency, mastery, vitality, bonding, and personal meaning that is taking place here.

This year I’ve embarked on the next stage of my journey in exploring the relationships between children and music in conflict-affected society. I’ve started PhD research into post-conflict music interventions – schools like the one I worked with in Bosnia that were set up as part of post-conflict recovery. Next week I fly back to Bosnia to interview former participants of the music projects I worked on. They are young adults now. Next year I will similar research in Timor-Leste, and in Afghanistan, where an amazing institution of music has been inaugurated.

Finally, I urge everyone here to remember the importance of music to each of us – not just for a well-rounded education, or the mental discipline that may stand us in good stead for future challenges, but because it contributes so deeply to the wellbeing of all people, and can play a profound role in the journey back to wellness for people who’ve gone through major traumatic life experiences.

Stari Most – Mostar’s Old Bridge

How many photos of bridges can I get away with taking (and sharing on Facebook)? The Stari Most (Old Bridge) of Mostar is an incredibly photogenic subject. From every angle, at different times of day… it’s easy to get to the end of the day and find that you’ve taken a ridiculous number of photos of just this one site.

A friend of mine – Mostar born and bred by now living in London – says that the bridge is like his muse. He has painted it, created numerous etchings and prints, created stylised versions of its graceful arc, as well as photographed it (along with the intensely aquamarine waters of the Neretva River below) more times than he can probably count. This obsession has endured since his childhood here.

Last Saturday was the twenty-year anniversary of the destruction of the Stari Most. This article gives some interesting historical and contemporary context for what the bridge means for many of the people in Mostar.

When I lived in Mostar in 1998, there was a temporary suspension bridge spanning the Neretva at the place where the Old Bridge had stood. It sometimes felt like a precarious crossing – it would sway in response to people’s weight and movements as they crossed, and frankly, it never felt all that safe. It was easy to imagine slipping through the wide chain-link barriers, although I never heard of that happening to anyone. People would joke about how the sense of swaying increased if you crossed it when drunk, late at night. At that time in Mostar there were many stray dogs that used to hang around in packs (like street gangs of youths – but they were dogs). A friend told me a story about walking home late one night, a bit drunk, and crossing the bridge only to see the pack of dogs waiting for him at the end of the bridge. It was winter time, and the dogs were known to be hungry and aggressive. My friend made a sharp about-face and sprinted back the way he’d come, the bridge swaying relentlessly. He opted to go the long way home, via a different, more stable bridge.

Later that year, a new, sturdier temporary bridge was built. This was in preparation for the reconstruction of the Stari Most, using stones that had been salvaged from the river when it was destroyed in shell fire in 1993, as well as new stones from the quarry that had provided stones for the original Stari Most in Ottoman times. This new wooden bridge was wider, and a couple of metres further upriver, so that the reconstructed bridge could be built in the original place, using the original mounts and towers.

ba1But many people said they missed the dodgy, wobbly suspension bridge. Perhaps it represented that time after the war had first ended, when people could come out of their basements and move a little more freely, and the optimism and relief that accompanied that time. The suspension bridge also represented something of the toughness and hardiness of the people. It was a solution, a place to cross the river, a kind of defiance.

The reconstructed bridge opened in summer 2004. Local people have described to me how so many of the people that had left Mostar to escape the war returned for that occasion. The bridge is not just a beautiful piece of architecture and engineering, nor is it just a landmark. The bridge represents something about that emotional sense of belonging, and of protection, perhaps. The bridge is Mostar, Mostar is the bridge. Something like that, maybe. In any case, perhaps this is the reason that so many of us seem to experience a kind of insatiable appetite for images of this bridge that we can take away with us, and share with others.

Music in a conflicted world

One of the things that made the post-conflict environment of Bosnia-Herzegovina such an intense and compelling place to be for me in 1998 was the way that music apparently held a position of such tremendous importance in people’s everyday lives. This was a place where music mattered, enormously, and as a newly-arrived musician and music leader, I felt welcomed, valued, and stimulated by the intense creative environment.


There were many challenges in people’s daily lives. People were surviving on very little, living in makeshift or temporary homes, with few opportunities to earn money. Some younger people hoped to continue their education, but the young adults – people my age, or a bit younger – often felt a strong sense of responsibility to care for the other members of their families, and so to be finding ways to earn an income, however meagre. Some were recently returned to Mostar after living as temporary refugees in other parts of Europe.

Looking back, I can imagine now that because I was based at the Pavarotti Music Centre I was meeting and interacting with people for whom music mattered. Presumably there were others, whose paths I never crossed, for whom music held a place of less significance. But among the people I worked with and hung out with, music was everywhere and everything.

David Wilson, British journalist and humanitarian, was the director of the Pavarotti Music Centre at the time. He has written about his experiences in war-time Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Sarajevo and in Mostar. In these articles he describes sitting in underground bars near the frontlines in Sarajevo during the height of the siege there, where music-making was an act of defiance – especially by young people – against those determined to shoot and shell them to smithereens. The louder the gunfire, the louder the music.

He describes places where there was frequently no power, but where people would sing and play in order to have music. If a generator could be found, playing loud music was a high priority. In a city where people had little food and faced death every day, acts of music and other creative endeavours dotted the city. These creative acts allowed people to maintain their humanity in an inhumane situation, to reclaim dignity and an element of control over their environment, and to integrate something about their current experiences with their whole selves.

Recently I have been considering, “Why music, in this context? What might music offer people existing in one of the most extreme of human experiences – war and conflict – that playing sport (for example) does not offer?” The epistemology of music interventions in conflict-affected areas is not well-established in scholarly literature, but there is definitely a consistency in the reports of people like Wilson that correlates with empirical knowledge from other areas of music research.

For example, music therapists know that when we make music, we are connecting with the part of ourselves that remains whole, undamaged by illness or injury, even while our bodies and minds may be battling all kinds of debilitating challenges. Music invites, and accepts.

Music also creates beneficial social outcomes. When people play music together, they connect their ideas and ideals in some way. They engage with others, and connect in ways that are not dependent on words or conversation. You can take part in musicking without uttering a word. You can be fully present in the music, and yet still protecting those parts of yourself that require protection. Musicking also takes place in a kind of liminal space – it allows participants to experiment and explore alternatives responses, alternative patterns, or to experience alternative versions of others, without fully committing to that alternative.

Nigel Osborne, an inspiring and charismatic musician, composer, and music leader that I had the privilege of working alongside in Bosnia in 1998, describes some of the physical benefits that participation in music-making can offer people suffering from the traumatic effects of war and conflict. Physical coordination, respiratory systems, and neuroendocrine systems all move towards optimal functioning when people engage in music-making over repeated occasions or extended periods of time (Osborne 2009).

Christopher Small, in ‘Musicking’ (1998) suggests that when people “music”, they are engaging in a kind of ritual, and human rituals are a way for us to experience our world as we wish it to be. It is an idealised representation that is deeply satisfying. Rituals are created in particular for those aspects of our lived experience over which we have less control (such as the weather necessary for crops and food security), or life points that are transitions from one stage of life to another (such as the rituals marking birth, death, marriage, child-birth, or the transition from childhood to adulthood). Shared rituals for these significant life events create a sense of unity, self-efficacy, and courage. It is much easier to face life’s challenges if you feel you have the strength of a community behind you; furthermore, the social bonds that are created through the shared ritual experience make people more effective and functional in what they do after.

Stige (2012) sees musicking as a form of interaction ritual and that its benefits are similar to those experienced in shared human rituals the world over. Interaction rituals (as termed by Collins, 2004) have characteristics of mutual focus of attention and emotional entrainment, rather than formal procedure and stereotyped actions. Entrainment of emotions, along with the entrainment of pulse and rhythm achieved through shared music-making, encourages greater social cooperation and a deep sense of connectedness with others.

Ellen Dissanayake examines why humans make art. Why is it that art-making – “making special”, she calls it, or “artifying” – is a cultural universal, observed in human cultures around the world, throughout the ages? She too, sees the link between art-making and human ritual to be of great importance. Rituals involve the formalisation and embellishment of everyday gestures, and are traditionally arts-rich, multi-modal, participatory endeavours that generate a shared sense of well-being and burden.

Because music is a social activity, action, emotion and cognition intertwine. Researchers such as Wallin et al (2000), Cross (2003), Cross and Morley (2009), have established the psychobiological foundation for musical participation. This foundation is supported by the social-musical motivation system described by Dissanayake (2000), Trevarthen (2000), and Trevarthen and Malloch (2009), suggesting that human evolution has provided us with a basic protomusicality, “a psychobiological capacity for relating to sounds, rhythms, and movements” (Stige, 2012, p. 189). Malloch and Trevarthen call this communicative musicality.

It is communicative musicality that enables, even compels the infant to seek out, engage in, and prolong interactions with other humans. These interactions are pleasurable for both parties, making helpless infants infinitely attractive to their mothers, which ensured the high level of care that ancestral human babies needed to thrive, survive and perpetuate the species. Today, human’s communicative musicality is an innate capacity that begins the journey of cultural learning and meaning-making. This supports Dissanayake’s hypothesis that participation in music is a human need related to the experience of meaning. Through the early shared experiences of sounds and gestures, musicking and musicianship develop.

Dad and baby engage with music (Nests 2013)

Then there are the neurotransmitters and hormones that start firing up when we engage in communal music-making. Brain imaging research has shown that music listening and participation is linked to the section of the brain associated with reward, motivation and emotion. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released, triggering production of  oxytocin (apparently known as the ‘cuddle chemical’) which in turn reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Oxytocin is associated with social bonding, mother-infant bonding, and orgasm. In other words, it’s a powerful natural drug that makes people like each other and feel good physically and emotionally. And we get it every time we sing or play with others!

I find these ideas fascinating, but ultimately, no amount of science or evolutionary hypothesis can substitute for the reports of those who have lived through war and conflict and made the choice to turn to music when the rest of their lived experience was marked by deprivation, fear, and violence. In a few months time I will be embarking on my first period of fieldwork, returning to Bosnia-Herzegovina and the city of Mostar for the first time since 2007, and meeting up with some of the people who took part in music projects at the Pavarotti Music Centre from its opening in 1997. By collaboratively exploring the question of why they were drawn towards music-making at that time in their lives, I hope to be able to add their voices and understanding to David Wilson’s observations, and my own experience, of that intense human hunger that music seemed in some way to nourish.

Works cited in this post:
Dissanayake, Ellen. What is Art For (1988), Home Aestheticus (1992), Art and Intimacy (2001)
Osborne, Nigel. (2009). Music for children in zones of conflict and post-conflict: A psychobiological approach. In S. Malloch & C. Trevarthen (Eds.), Communicative Musicality: Exploring the basis of human companionship (pp. 331-356). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Small, Christopher. (1998). Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Stige, Brynjulf. (2012). Health musicking: A perspective on music and health as action and performance. In R. MacDonald, G. Kreutz & L. Mitchell (Eds.), Music, health and wellbeing (pp. 183-195). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wilson, David. (2000). Music and war: Some comments on the Pavarotti Music Centre and Its work. Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, 15(1), 147-152.

Winding back…

The Armidale project marked the end of a very busy few months of projects – between now and January 30th I have no more ‘special projects’ to lead. I still have my usual teaching load in schools, and I have some papers to mark for the university, and some minor additions to make to my Masters thesis before get the final binding done, but I don’t need to plan for any more big projects for a while now. Lots of plans to put in place for 2010, however – the year is looking very full already, which is incredibly gratifying. I’ve received some fabulous invitations to work with different organisations and people around the country.

The last couple of months have been focused on:

  • Writing papers and articles – I wrote three academic papers between October and November and submitted them for forthcoming conferences in 2010. I think I have a journal article left in me now – probably something a bit more substantial, around 5000 words perhaps. Not sure when I’ll write this – maybe when I get stuck into my thesis corrections.
  • Leading Jams with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra – the last of these was on October 31st. We jammed on the Lebanese song Ah Ya Zahn, a song I first learned to sing in Bosnian, while working at the Pavarotti Music Centre in Mostar 1998 (where we called it Ah Ya Ti. I like the Bosnian words better!)
  • Leading a collaborative project between the MSO ArtPlay Graduate Ensemble and the Chordwainers, an ensemble of performers who play on the leather instruments of Garry Greenwood. A very successful, interesting project with a great musical outcome.
  • Teaching the last classes for the year at Melbourne Uni – the Bachelor of Ed students and the MTeach students. Some very interesting sessions, and lots learned by all.
  • Continuing my usual primary (elementary) school teaching load at Pelican Primary and the Melbourne English Language School for new arrivals (these are both pseudoynms). It has been a bit hard-going this term. The students are tired. I am tired. And the Pelicans in particular get incredibly unfocussed and distracted when they are tired. And there are a few tricky, subversive student elements at MELS that I find rather testing this term. But we are getting there… we will get there…!
  • I also got to have a few days away with Tony at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival. He was playing (and played fabulously, as always)…. I sat in the shade, grooved along while drinking local wine, and chilled out, basically. The day after the festival we stayed in the area and went off to Mount Buffalo for a walk up to the Cathedral and Hump, where we perched awhile on a rock, before heading back down.

So it has been a busy term (we are now up to Week 6 of an eleven-week term). I’m happy to be winding back a little bit now, in terms of inventing new projects and coming up with innovative and imaginative ideas. My brain is looking forward to a bit more open creative space.

A couple of shots of Tony in action at Wang:

Tiny 2


Annual stocktake, looking forward… plus a bit of nostalgia

I saw in the New Year with friends down in Queenscliff, a pretty town situated on one of the two peninsulas that guard Port Phillip Bay. We cooked a feast, lit two sets of ornate candelabras*, and did a kind of ‘stocktake’ on the year that was. Questions included:

  • Film of the year
  • Soundtrack of your year (either the music you listened to, or the music that best depicts or describes your year)
  • Item of clothing acquired this year and worn most often (we all had something to nominate here, no hesitation)
  • Favourite recipe of the year
  • Happiest moment (for me this was SB returning to Rome for a further 22 romantic hours with me, back in January, after I managed to get myself on a flight leaving one day later. Oh, the joy!)
  • Biggest surprise or unexpected outcome (responses here included Obama’s win – would any of us have predicted that, two years ago? – and Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generation. We wouldn’t have predicted that in the Howard years either…)
  • Word/phrase/expression of the year (in the media or from your own mouth)
  • Words that sum up your year (we all seemed to offer words like ‘challenging’ and ‘crap’)
  • Biggest lesson learned

There were more… these are the ones I can think of now. Perhaps it is the research frame of mind that makes me enjoy looking back over things in this way and trying to put them in context. Or perhaps it is my determination to put all of the frustration and sadness that marked much of 2008 for me away once and for all. I am designating 2009 as my Year of Plenty. Plenty of what, I am not sure yet. Hopefully plenty of good things. That is the plan, anyway. Yee-ha!

But I can’t resist looking back either. This time last year… that is my current favourite phrase, because this time last year I was travelling, and having the most wonderful time. This time last year I was in Italy, in Lecce to be exact, the beautiful ornate Baroque city in Puglia in the heel of the boot that is Italia. Before that, I ‘d caught up with old friends from the European Mozart Academy in Paris, we’d given a concert in Armenia, I’d been back to Bosnia for the first time in nine years and celebrated a genuine White Christmas there. It seems longer than a year ago. It seems like another life ago. A different person almost.

But that’s the person I want to get back again. We are all at our best when we are travelling, perhaps. Nothing really troubles you.

So here are a couple of photos from this time last year. And if you visit the posts in the ‘Travel’ category you’ll find many more.



* We sang Neil Diamond songs too. It was the only CD anyone had remembered to bring. We worked out ‘Solitary Man’ on the guitar (me) and bass guitar (Nina). And sang away without shame. Sometimes I wonder if I was born in the wrong decade. At least we sang with a sense of irony.

Nine years later…

When I was in Mostar 9 years ago, it was 3 years after the time that the vicious fighting, shelling, destruction had ended. I remember at the time thinking that this was quite a long time after. Now it is twelve years on, and it seems to me that that is hardly any time at all. It is interesting to remember myself then and recognise how much I thought I understood, but how little I really did understand what had taken place for people.

I can see now that people had barely even begun processing what had taken place. Three years after is hardly any time at all. I think that I understood things in theory – I had read a lot about the war before I arrived here in ’98, and was well-informed in one sense – but actually had very little concept of what this meant, or felt like, or actually was

On my last night in Mostar a friend described the early days of the schools’ music program that we all worked on. He had gone straight from school into the Bosnian Army and when it ended he had no idea what he could do with himself. But he was then, and is now, a talented musician – a singer and guitarist. A group of young people formed an arts NGO and began to do music workshops in schools, supported by some visionary people from Edinburgh (Nigel Osborne in particular). He said, when I saw him two nights ago, that it was the most amazing lifeline. He didn’t know what he would have done if it hadn’t been thrown to him.

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Vale Luciano Pavarotti

Big Man

Big Voice

Big Heart

He is known mostly for his magnificent voice, but there was more to the Big Guy. Pavarotti raised money for War Child through his annual Pavarotti and Friends concerts in Modena, and then through subsequent CD sales. Money raised by Pavarotti funded the Pavarotti Music Centre in Mostar, Bosnia-Hercegovina (where I worked through 1998), and the Children’s Village in Liberia.

And such a rich, beautiful, warm voice! He lived his life with utmost generosity I think. An inspiring contributor who touched people’s lives.

Though, War Child didn’t perhaps repay that generosity (see this article and this one here). I believe the music centre and Children’s Village projects are now looked after by War Child Holland. The charity seems to have overcome its scandal and has a strong profile in the UK and Europe. Let’s hope it is more accountable these days, some years on from the corruption scandal.