It’s been a particularly disastrous year for Syrians caught in the middle of a civil war conflict that has claimed the lives of 470,000 people, 55,000 of which are children. Since the conflict began, more than half the population of Syria – 11M people — have been displaced from their homes since 2011.
And at a time there has been a disturbing rise of anti-refugee sentiment across the western world. Be it Brexit in the UK, or the rising anti-immigrant policies by the US republican government, the numbers of Syrians seeking to find a new home to establish the very basics of life are mounting.
While no-one pretends that those of us in the arts can solve these serious and timely issues, there was a small but meaningful gesture that took place last week at Roy Thomson Hall that puts a human face on the crisis.
It all started last December, when Abdo Elias, a 20-year-old musician from Syria arrived in Canada with his uncle George and cousin Yesso. They settled in Mississauga, and have spent the last four months establishing their new lives in Canada. Like many refugees, Elias and his family arrived with very little. They fled Syria with only a few cherished personal items they could carry on their person. This meant Elias had to abandon the very thing that had been at the centre of his identity as a musician in Syria: his trumpet.
Andrew McCandless, Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Trumpet learned about Elias, and that he could not afford to buy a new trumpet. McCandless decided to help. He personally reached out and invited Elias and his family to attend a TSO rehearsal. After the rehearsal, McCandless presented him with a used trumpet from his own collection.
Elias, who does not speak English, was left speechless but the gesture needed no translation.
The lesson here? Maybe those of us in the arts can make more of a difference that we think.