Giving back beauty

We all deserve to be “championed”. For those countries or cultures with few champions, the voice of another in their behalf means more than most of us will ever know. As a result, we decided it would mean much to readers to know the touching “back story” of Chia, the young musician from Kurdistan that so many of you know. The following was written after Chia performed his graduating recital from di Conservatoria G. Tartini, in Trieste, Italy on June 11, 2020 and is shared with his permission.  

YES, you could almost feel the shaking as he stood on the edge of the stage of the renowned Italian conservatory. Yet, all that had so long challenged this young Kurdish man (and his people), had not succeeded in stopping, or silencing, his love of the world — or the beauty he had to give back to it.

                                                   * * *

     Born in Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, Chia has never known a time in his life without actual war or rumors of war forming on edges of his “land”. (The Kurdish people are the largest minority in the world without a country of their own.) When he was three, his family of 8 fled on foot across the steep mountains seeking refuge in Iran.  When they were able to return, they first lived in tents and then moved from house to house, and place to place, in search of somewhere to call “home”. Out of what, you might ask, in a life that had known only hatred and hardship, came the yearning to give back to the world such beauty?   

Little Chia

Photos courtesy Chia

     When Chia was in third grade, he sought for himself the refuge of music. His entire family is musically gifted. During times of war, his father sang daily (live) on the local radio station as a means of giving hope to the people.  In fourth grade, Chia confided to his mother his dream of buying a contra bass.  While others laughed and told him a flute better suited his size, his mother bought him a little piggy bank and told him to put every penny he could earn into it. What he didn’t know then, was that she was finding ways to stretch the family’s budget so that she could slip money into the little bank without him knowing it. With that, and years of patience, he eventually bought his first bass for $400.  

     As he grew up, the bass became his world.  While his schoolmates were all trying to find girl friends, he fought to find “doe, ray, me” on the fingerboard that still towered over his head. His persistence paid off however.  In 2010, he qualified to play in the Iraqi National Youth Orchestra. It took him all over Europe for four seasons until the orchestra was forced to shut down because of the outbreak of ISIS fighting.  Chia’s journey once more stalled, but didn’t stop.

     After two years of trying to get a visa into several different countries to study music (efforts that were greatly supported by a renowned double bass player, Dobbs Hartshorne, who had befriended him and helped teach him), in 2016 Chia finally got a visa to Italy and landed at di Conservatoria Tartini, in Trieste. Here he found a whole new world whose sole purpose would be beauty. So, despite the earlier trials of being turned down by country after country because of his ethnicity, in the end, Chia would land in the land that had shaped such greats as Vivaldi and Handel.

     With time, Chia gained confidence, friends and, not only fluency in Italian, but all the hand gestures that go with it. It was at the conservatory that he was also to be given a dear friend and example: his Maestro, or Master Teacher.  Maestro Sciascia (pronounced “Shawshaw”) would give him more than music lessons. There was almost no lesson without a life lesson tucked into it. With every stern, “Chia, that was awful!” his Maestro would quickly add, “But I KNOW you can do it!”  Chia came to love and respect his Maestro and to understand he was being given something rare: the recognition of his legitimacy and worth.  (Dobbs had also done this.)  

    Perhaps the most life-altering, if agonizing, lesson of Chia’s life was the day Maestro Sciascia listened to him play and then said, “Ah, Chia. Why do you hate me?”  Chia was shocked and protested vigorously, but his Maestro wouldn’t let up finally saying, “You do hate me or you wouldn’t do as you’re doing.”  At that moment Chia realized that he, in fact, was not doing what his teacher had told him to do. But he was shocked to realize that not doing what you’re asked to do is a form of hatred.  (When he told me this story, Chia said that his Maestro is a very religious man, letting the most basic requirements of Christianity, like obedience, inform and inspire all his own playing.)  Chia gripped his contrabass one more time.  Instead of thinking that what his Maestro had asked him to do was too difficult, this time he was determined to play the way he had been told to play.  

    The Maestro smiled.  “That was magnificent!” 

    Three demanding years later, Chia began preparing in earnest for his graduate recital to be held in the spring of 2020.  Before that could happen, his school, his concerts, and the world, found itself “locked up” and left to learn new lessons.  In the long days ahead, alone in his apartment, Chia played on. He also found himself spending a considerable amount of time soul-searching, as well as praying. He began reading both the Koran and the Bible, looking for answers to questions that had too long been pushed aside.  He poured every bottle of wine in his apartment down the drain and sought something more satisfying.  Little did he know, that time would change forever the way he played music.

     After 3 months, Chia was unexpectedly told that the conservatory had decided to let the graduating class perform before 7 judges (in an otherwise empty concert hall), and that the concert would be live-streamed.  He had less than a month to prepare. The thought of playing before 7 scrutinizing judges in the immense hall was unnerving, yet, it would bring with it the unfathomable: the ability for his family “to be” at his concert.

* * * 

     Now, as I watched him perform, it was clear that he was not playing for a grade. He was playing, as he always had — for his life.  In the few moments before the performance began, the image of a young Chia came to him, he later told me. He silently said to that young boy, 
“I will not disappoint the dream you refused to let go of. I will give back beauty to the world with all my heart!”


    It’s a tradition in Italy to give graduates a laurel wreath to crown their achievement.  Since Chia had no family with him,
he bought himself one.
 He then went to his favorite park — a park which, he said, had always been very good to him.  It had given him a refuge — a place of beauty and peace, as well as a place to play his music. It had asked nothing of him in return. Now he wanted to give her something. So he went to the park to pick up trash on this day of his graduating concert. His reason was simple. He knew he had been very fortunate to be where he was. (He had not only been allowed to live in a beautiful, peace- ful country, learn its beautiful langauge and customs, but reach higher than he ever imagined possible as a musician. Each of the judges, for example, had given him a score of 6, the highest mark possible.)  Yet all his life he’d seen what a dangerous thing ego is. So he went to the park to pick up trash to keep his ego in its place.  And that is how Chia’s concert really ended.  —The Editor

 ©InterestEng. July 2013  §  The stories in the magazine portion of the site are written by English language learners. Stories are corrected by a native English speaker.  § Photos are staff or used with permission.  §  To contact us: