Tag Archives: Vedran Smailovic

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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The People Have Spoken

On my way to work today, Tommy Sands‘ song “The People Have Spoken” came on the iPod. The whole song is well worth a read or a listen – click on the title on the left. It appears on his CD, Let the Circle Be Wide.

Two images spoke with particular power today. One line comes from the second verse:

Well I say the sun shines on all or on no one

And the whole final verse:

And don’t sing the songs of the wrongs we have suffered
Till first we can hear of the wrongs we have done
And together we’ll write a new song for tomorrow
It’s then, only then, that our day will come

Sands, a native of the County Down in Northern Ireland, has performed with his family of birth, his children Moya and Fionan, Pete Seeger, Vedran Smailovic, and a choir of Protestant and Catholic children among many others. Tricia and I had the privilege to see him in a solo concert in Cleveland more than ten years ago.

His deep commitment to peace shines through his music. He has played a key role in the peace process for Northern Ireland:

Ten years ago [this would be about 1990], Sands started an event called “The Music of Healing.” Musicians from both factions in Northern Ireland – Catholic and Protestant – met to play music together, to test and prove the bonding power of their shared music. Later, the musicians brought leaders from their parties with them; they would open these discussion sessions with music, “to create an atmosphere of neighborliness and humanity.” The discussions were often heated, but never dissolved. According to Sands, the Citizen’s Assembly which, in 1996, began to hold its “consensus sessions,” grew out of these musical exchanges. Led by Peter Emerson, a key thinker in the group, the Citizen’s Assembly looked for new ways of solving conflict and new ways of decision making – moving from “majoritarianism” to a concensus approach – a true democracy where instead of 51% of the people being happy, everyone is. Each voice – even minority voices – are heard, considered, and made part of the final decision. Instead of the up/down referendum, they used the “preferendum,” where representatives rank alternatives. Ex-prisoners from both the IRA and the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) acted as referees or facilitators in fashioning solutions that took all points of view into account. Sands said it was his own son, Fionan, who came up with the idea that each party in the talks should be represented by one man and one woman. It was this Citizen’s Assembly which was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the Good Friday Peace Accords, which remain a source of hope for lasting peace in Ireland despite continuing problems.

He has taken his search for peace on the road – working with Palestinian and Israeli peace activists.

Confronting the evil humans can do, the awful wounds we can inflict on each other, Tommy Sands remains a person of hope and peace. He sings:

The people have spoken, a new day is dawning
The people have spoken, and new day has come

May the day dawn soon.

See you along the Trail.

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Giving thanks for song

Originally written for my work blog:

I give thanks today for those who cannot keep from singing.

Song sustains us, guides us.
Song expresses our deepest fears and our most profound hopes.
Song challenges the powers and proclaims an alternative vision.
Song leads us into living that alternative.

The January Term Doctor of Ministry class meeting at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations attended chapel at the Church Center for the United Nations today. Chaplain Kathleen Stone reminded us of the power and roles of song. And I thought of:

Victor Jara
Odetta
Pete Seeger
Paul Robeson
Sweet Honey in the Rock
Vedran Smailović
Tommy Sands
and musicians through the age whose names I cannot remember, whose names I do not know, will never know,
but whose songs touch and inspire and bless people,
cause tyrants to tremble,
shape and support struggles for justice.
For each, for all I give thanks.

And it seems to me that since I believe Love is Lord of heaven and earth, it might be time to get out my guitar.

See you along the Trail.

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