The Cellist of Sarajevo

It was the longest siege of a capital city in modern history, and produced the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.
Sylvia Poggioli

And everyday he made me wonder
Where did he ever find
The music midst the madness
The courage to be kind
The long forgotten beauty
We thought was blown away
– John McCutcheon
In the Streets of Sarajevo

61ZpqI2PvnL._SS500April 5, 1992 saw the first casualties in what became a 1,425 day siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War.

More than 10,000 residents died because of shelling, bombing, the blockade, sniper fire, and other aspects of the siege.

In the midst of the siege, “the madness” to use John McCutcheon’s word, Vedran Smailović, of the Sarajevo Philarmonic Orchestra, played his cello in publuc. He played in ruined buildings, often performing Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor. He played at funerals during the siege, even though snipers often targeted by snipers.

After mortar fire killed 22 people as the stood in a bread line, Smailović played for 22 straight days in their honor. This part of Smailović’s story has made its way into writings and song. In an article in The Australian, Smailović expands on his experience:

I didn’t play for 22 days, I played all my life in Sarajevo and for the two years of the siege each and every day. They keep saying I played at four in the afternoon, but the explosion was at 10 in the morning and I am not stupid, I wasn’t looking to get shot by snipers so I varied my routine. I never stopped playing music throughout the siege.

Twenty-two days, two years, all his life. The time frame is unimportant. What matters is that Smailović found music and courage and grace and love to make a witness in the face of war and horror.

I give thanks for the Cellist of Sarajevo, and I look for others who, to paraphrase McCutcheon, “do not stand aside … refuse to be defeated … and rage against the tide.”

See you along the Trail.

P.S. After leaving Sarajevo, Vedran Smailović collaborated with Irish singer-songwriter and peace activist Tommy Sands to create an album Sarajevo/Belfast.

P.P.S. I use the image of the CD cover because it is a photo I took of a copy of the CD I own.

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