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Morning Forum audience hears how music made a comeback in Afghanistan


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Louise Pascale discusses the success of her songbook project, which connected Afghan children with music after a 20-year ban.

A Morning Forum of Los Altos audience learned how repression, war and radical beliefs resulted in music censorship in Afghanistan in a March 19 presentation, “Can You Stop the Birds from Singing? The Cultural Impact of Music Censorship in Afghanistan.”

Speaker Louise Pascale, Ph.D., associate professor and director of creative arts in learning at Lesley University, described her first visit to Afghanistan as a 22-year-old UC Berkeley graduate. Pascale, a music major, and her husband joined the Peace Corps in 1966 and were assigned to teach English in Kabul.

She discovered that music played an enormous role in Afghanistan and became a unifying factor for all ethnic groups. She taught some American songs in school and also collected 16 traditional and familiar native Afghan songs. To the best of her ability, she wrote down the melodies and published them, embellished with children’s drawings.

When Pascale’s tour of duty in the Peace Corps ended in 1968, she returned to the U.S. She said it never occurred to her that, years later, Afghanistan would be at war and under Taliban rule.

After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, music censorship increased, Pascale said. By 1992, with the Taliban in power, the government banned all music, as well as stereo systems, cassette players, TVs, dance, theater, film, cameras, photography, sculpture, magazines, newspapers, most books, festivities and children’s toys. Only religious chants were allowed.

After the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, Pascale wanted to return those Afghan songs she had collected to the children of Afghanistan, who had been denied music by the oppressive regime. She collaborated with a number of Afghans on the Afghan Children’s Songbook Project, creating and distributing a children’s songbook in Farsi and other Afghan languages.

She returned to Afghanistan in 2009 to gauge the success of the songbook project. She visited many villages, including Kunduz in the north, where 250 schoolchildren, in traditional dress, had learned the songs and performed for her.

Today, 40,000 copies of the songbook as well as teachers’ guides are in the hands of children and teachers in village schools and orphanages throughout Afghanistan. The songbook project recently received a grant from the U.S. State Department. A second songbook is scheduled for distribution this year.

The children of Afghanistan are singing once again.

The Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos United Methodist Church. For membership details and more information, visit www.morningforum.org.

Kathryn Tomaino/ Special to the Town Crier

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