Healing, Learning and Rejoicing: Origins on the Nai Syrian Children’s Choir

 
 
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The Nai Syrian Children’s Choir continues to impress and inspire audiences – on September 19 2016 at 6 Degrees, a three-day event bringing together leaders on inclusion and citizenship. Nai received a standing ovation at the star-studded opening night, where the Rt. Honourable Madame Adrienne Clarkson told her favorite Nai story to an audience of over a thousand.

How did the Choir start?

Fei Tang, the founder of the choir, describes the inspiration behind the Nai initiative when she was a program manager at CultureLink:

On a cold January night, Monique De Margarie, a piano teacher who worked with my daughters, approached me at a concert. She asked me whether the Syrian refugee children we served at CultureLink would benefit from her free piano lessons, because she’d love to volunteer. While I appreciated her idea, at that time I was more concerned about getting the kids out of the hotels for some fun and helping to winterize them.

In February 2016 we co-organized a skating party with Elvis Stojko and The Second Cup for more than 100 refugees who were staying at the Plaza Hotel. And a week later we partnered with Parkbus to take another group of families to Arrowhead Provincial Park for a full-day ski and snowshoeing trip. In -18 C temperature, parents and children seemed to forget all about the problems that bothered them so badly those days and joined in for silly, wobbly chasing, snowball fighting, tubing and other fun.

On the bus trip home, we met head-on with a winter snow storm, crawling along Highway 400. I was worried about the 35 children on the bus – they’d become so tired and restless, and they might throw tantrums. But, they were not! For four hours, they were singing in the bus – happily and nonstop!

The next day I called Monique and told her excitedly, “Let’s start a choir, Mo! You don’t know how much these kids love to sing!”

Why a choir?

My both daughters are with the Toronto Children’s Chorus (TCC), I have seen firsthand how my children have benefited from singing with a choir. The choir not only gives them formal music training, but also instills discipline in them, teaches them how to achieve harmony in collaboration with others, exposes them to other cultures, and encourages them to make friends with children outside of their schools. I was determined to provide similar choir experience for the refugee children that my kids are privileged to enjoy. And we have done it! For example, our choir has taken part in a musical retreat in Orillia emulating what TCC provides to their choristers, thanks to the generous donation of YMCA Geneva Park and Orillia Vocal Ensemble.

We find the three words “healing, learning and rejoicing” summarize it all. Unlike a conventional music education institution, we are less concerned about perfection of their singing, but more focused on promoting our children and their families’ wellbeing.  My younger girl’s teacher at TCC last year, Shireen Abu-Khader, was an established Arabic choral director. She kindly directed our three initial rehearsals and the choir’s name was her idea. Nai means “the sound of the flute” in Arabic. She cited Gibran Khalil Gibran, one of the greatest poets of the Arabic-speaking world:

“Give me the flute, and sing
immortality lies in a song
and even after we’ve perished
the flute continues to lament”

Nai symbolizes both the Syrian people’s resilience and music’s magic power of healing.