www Benefit Concert for Syrian Refugees

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Breaking news - the two benefit concerts last weekend raised $12,500 for aid for the refugees. We’d love to make that number closer to $20,000 before we send out our checks to the charities in a couple of weeks. If you were not at the concerts, please see the sidebar on the right for how you can make a donation and add to our total to be sent off.

Quick links on this page:
Program summary
Full program - what was performed
Key people behind the project
Donation information
Photos from the benefit concerts courtesy Terry Allen

Benefit Concert for Syrian Refugees

Saturday, May 21 - 7:30 pm, First Congregational Church, Burlington, Vermont
Sunday, May 22 - 3 pm, Montpelier High School Auditorium, Montpelier, Vermont

Cheryl Willoughby and Michael Arnowitt, co-emcees

Pianist Michael Arnowitt has organized a special benefit concert of Syrian music and literary readings to raise money for Syrian refugees and welcome them to our state.

The concert program he has created aims to present a broad survey of Syrian cultures. We hear much about the violence and troubles of Syria and the debate surrounding refugee migration and terror attacks. While the primary goal of this event is to raise money to help the refugees, along the way This concert offers a positive view of Syria and its people, using music, writing, and art to explore Syria’s many cultures .

Michael Arnowitt has organized a diverse group of 30 performers, featuring an ensemble of mixed Western and Middle Eastern instruments, vocal soloists, a choir, actors, and spoken word artists.

Special Syrian-born guest performers now living in the United States include the short-story writer Osama Alomar from Chicago, the poet Rana Bitar Jacob from Albany, and Anwar Diab Agha, a renowned Syrian violinist, oudist, and composer who moved to Winooski, Vermont five years ago. Michael Arnowitt has brought together musicians from the classical, jazz, and world music communities in Vermont and Boston to perform the lively and rhythmic Syrian songs he has selected for the program.

Program summary and description


Syrian pop and traditional folk music songs
Syrian sacred music, representing Islamic, Jewish, Syriac Christian, and Druze faiths
music by Syrian composers of our time, including Kinan Azmeh and Anwar Diab Agha, a Syrian-born musician now living in Vermont
Michael Arnowitt’s Syrian music-influenced jaz composition “Syria-us”
“Lament for Syrian Victims,” a 2013 choral piece written by Yitzhak Yedid, an Israeli composer of Syrian Jewish descent, in response to the chemical weapons attacks in Damascus of that year

Poetry, Prose, Drama

Readings of poetry and prose pieces by Syrian writers past and present:
     Syrian-born authors poet Rana Bitar Jacob (Albany, NY) and short story writer Osama Alomar (Chicago, IL) will read from their own work

     The below poetry and prose will be read by Vermont performers:
     excerpt from the Mu’allaqat, odes from the 6th century considered some of the finest examples of pre-Islamic poetry
     a poem from Druze folklore will be read by a Druze originally from Syria
     set of poems by Adonis with improvised piano accompaniment (born 1930, the Syrian exile Adonis is considered by many the greatest living writer in Arabic and a frequent short-list nominee for the Nobel prize)
     prose piece by Ossama Mohammed (born 1954, writer, film director), The Thieves’ Market - cinematic scenes from a girl’s perspective of school, married life, and demonstrations
     prose piece by Khalil Younes (writer, painter, illustrator, video artist), Chicken Liver - depicting memories and telephone conversations with his best friend Hassan, conscripted into the army and sent to Aleppo
     Reema’s Poem - a poem by a 12-year old Syrian refugee girl
A scene from a play by Sa’dallah Wannous, Syria’s leading dramatist of the twentieth century, depicting an unusual negotiation between the city’s manipulative mufti and his chief rival’s feminist wife who sees an opportunity

Visual Arts

“Unsettled Nostalgia,” the unique 3-dimensional art-in-a-suitcase of Mohamad Hafez, a Syrian-born architect living in New Haven, Connecticut who will be present at the event. Hafez's powerful, surrealistic Middle Eastern streetscapes are architectural in appearance and intriguingly depict cities besieged by war, the fragility of human life, and a beutiful, subtle optimism.

Program performed Saturday and Sunday, May 21-22, 2016

* = with chorus and orchestra

*Jalla man qad sawwarak (How splendid is the creator who made us)
Heidi Wilson, Susan Comen, and Gideon Crevoshay, vocal soloists

Reema’s Poem, written by a 12-year old Syrian refugee girl
read by Tiva, a refugee from Iraq living in Vermont

*Fi lailin katamat sirr al-hawa (In those nights that concealed the secrets of love)
Susan Comen, vocal soloist

Nasheed Ya imam ar-rasul (O leader of messengers), Islamic praise song to the prophet Mohammed

After Long Thinking, poem written by Muhammad al-Maghut
read by leanne Ponder

*Yakharab baitik ya watfi (Peasant’s love song)
Gideon Crevoshay, vocal soloist

Poems for Homelands (Poems for Syria)
read by the author, Rana Bitar Jacob, from Albany, New York
accompanied by Jad jacob, piano

The Passion of War (inspired by the Syrian children refugees)
Jad jacob, piano

Chicken Liver, written by Khalil Younes
read by meg Davis and Marian Cawley

About the art on display
Mohamad Hafez, visual artist and architect, from New Haven, Connecticut

Anwar Diab Agha, violinist, oudist, and composer
3 songs accompanied by percussionists Chris Schroth, Colin Henkel, and Mica McDonald

*Zahrat al-fulla (Arabian jasmine blossom)
heidi Wilson, vocal soloist


*ya sahi s-sabru waha minni (Lament for a lost lover)
Gabe Halberg, frame drum
Heidi Wilson, Susan Comen, and Avery Book, vocal soloists

Psalm 135 (Syrian Orthodox)
Chorus, with Kristin Hagan and Avery Book, vocal soloists

Our mountain is the land of pioneers, poem of Druze folklore
read by Tamam AbuLteaf in both Arabic and English

From the play rituals of signs and transformations, scene 4, written by Sa’dallah Wannous
performed by Therisa Rogers as Mu’mina and Thomas Blachly as the Mufti

*al Qahtanah (Bedouin marriage proposal)
Gideon Crevoshay, vocal soloist
Volkan Efe, nay (Arabic flute)

Muhyedeen Batah, representative of the Islamic Society of Vermont

Medley of poems by Adonis with piano improvisations
   In the City of the Partisans
   This Is My Name
Therisa Rogers, reader and Michael Arnowitt, piano

*Ijmaع?, Ijmaع? bil qurb (Reunite me with my loved ones), musical prelude to:
from the Mu’allaqat (seven Arabic odes from the 6th century), excerpt from The Poem of Zuhair
read by James Hogue

Calling Miss Khadija for jazz sextet by lee Morgan, musical prelude to:
The Thieves’ Market, by Ossama Mohammed
read by Jillian Kenny

The Crying Souls – Lament for Syrian Victims, by Yitzhak Yedid
Chorus, with Kristin Hagan, soprano soloist
conducted by Erik Nielsen

Love on 139th Street, by Kinan Azmeh
Jazz sextet featuring Wesley Christensen, clarinet and Mac Ritchey, oud .

Short stories from the collection “Fullblooded Arabian”
read by the author, Osama Alomar, from Chicago, Illinois

*ya hala bil Dayf (Welcome, guests), song popularized by Samira Tawfik
Avery Book, vocal soloist

*Ya asmar ya hilu (O my dark,handsome love), song popularized by Samira Tawfik

Key People behind the project

The music will be performed by a combination of Western and Middle Eastern instruments, various vocal soloists, and a choir of singers. Altogether, the program will involve a total of 30 performing musicians, actors, and spoken word artists. . Pianist Michael Arnowitt will be writing out the music for the performers based on study he is doing of recordings of Syrian music. The performers will be mostly from Vermont, augmented by musicians from Massachusetts and New York.

Assisting Michael Arnowitt in this project as cultural advisor is Therisa Rogers, a teacher with a graduate degree from the University of Michigan in Islamic Studies. She has lived and worked in Egypt, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates and has travelled extensively through the region.

Michael Arnowitt is a full-time concert pianist who has lived in Montpelier since 1984. He has organized many music events, festivals, and benefit concerts in Vermont over the last thirty years, including a 1999 benefit concert for Balkan war refugees that raised over $10,000 in humanitarian aid for the refugee camps.

Michael Arnowitt comments, “As a personal response to the tragic news of recent times, I conceived of this program to send a positive message about Syrian culture. I also view this project as a way of making a strong community statement that we welcome Syrian refugees to Vermont and would like to ease their pain.”

Michael Arnowitt web-site: http://www.mapiano.com
Michael Arnowitt biography: http://www.mapiano.com/bio.htm

Michael Arnowitt

Montpelier, Vermont
e-mail: MA@MAPiano.com
web-site: www.MAPiano.com
telephone voice: 802-229-0984
mobile or texting: 802-498-3955


Michael Arnowitt, pianist and artistic director
Anwar Diab Agha, violin and oud
Mac Ritchey, oud, buzuk, guitar
Volkan Efe, ney and rebab
Caleb Bronz, drums
Chris Schroth, riqq
Colin Henkel, doumbek
Mica McDonald, doumbek
Gabe Halberg, frame drum
Jeremy Hill, bass
Patricia Julien, flute
Sandra Cathey, oboe
Wesley Christensen, clarinet
Joni McCraw, bass clarinet
Dave Ellis, trumpet
Dan Silverman, trombone
Alexander Romanul, violin
Willie Docto, violin
Bill Pierson, viola
Paul Cohen, cello
Gideon Crevoshay, voice
Avery Book, voice
Susan Comen, voice
Heidi Wilson, voice
Kristin Hagan, voice
Rana Bitar Jacob, poet
Osama Alomar, writer
Tom Blachly, actor
Therisa Rogers, actor
Marian Cawley, reader
Meg Davis, reader
Jillian Kenny, reader
Leanne Ponder, reader
Choir of Vermont singers
Mohamad Hafez, artist

Where Donations Go

Half the funds raised through these benefit concerts will go to humanitarian aid efforts at a refugee camp in Turkey one mile from the Syrian border, through the US-based Karam Foundation. The refugee camp is located in the town of Anjara outside Reyhanli, Turkey. There are about 60,000 Syrians in this refugee area. The karam Foundation funds people working there doing all sorts of great things such as providing tents, winter packages, cookstoves, heating fuel, food, water, medical care and bus transportation for refugee children to get to school.

the other half of the monies will be temporarily placed into a “Vermont Fund for Syrian Refugees,” whose funds will be given out to Syrian refugees being resettled in Rutland, Vermont this fall, and to the USCRI/Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program which will provide these refugees English language classes and help them find housing and employment.

The Vermont Fund for Syrian Refugees is an all-volunteer organization registered as a non-profit with the Vermont Secretary of State. If you cannot attend the concert and wish to make a donation, please send a check to:

Vermont Fund for Syrian Refugees
P.O. Box 94
Montpelier VT 05601

These concerts are co-sponsored by the Vermont Council on World Affairs, the Burlington Peace and Justice Center, and the USCRI/Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. We also wish to thank the generosity of the Mission Committee of the First Congregational Church in Burlington and Montpelier High School for hosting these events. Many thanks to all these organizations for their support.