Aboud’s Story: Syrian Refugee Makes Music with Bate Violin

The Bate Collection of Musical Instruments at the Faculty of Music has lent a violin from its collection to Aboud Kaplo, a 14-year-old Syrian musician. The violin was restored in Oxford before being sent to Aboud and his family, who fled their home in Aleppo and are now seeking refuge in Lebanon – as are nearly two million other Syrians.

The Bate Collection was contacted by Susie Attwood, a film-maker, violinist and alumna of the Music Faculty. Susie had met Aboud and his parents while filming a documentary at a Syriac Orthodox monastery in Lebanon, where they are now living. She was struck by Aboud’s dedication to music, though he had no access to music education, as he watched YouTube videos and practiced on a ‘cheap and rattly’ child-sized violin. She wondered whether Oxford could do anything, and Andy Lamb, manager of the Bate Collection, was immediately keen to help.

The Bate Collection holds more than 2000 instruments which date from medieval times to the modern day. This is the first time an instrument has been sent out in this way: the collection has strict rules about how its instruments can be used, but allows for loans to other museums and to students. The violin they sent to Aboud is a 19th-century instrument made in Germany by the well-respected manufacturers Wolff Brothers, and once belonged to a former curator of the collection.

Andy Lamb said:

‘The moment I read about this lad’s situation, I realised that the Bate Collection and Faculty of Music could make some kind of positive contribution towards his quality of life. I immediately had an instrument in mind. It belonged to a former curator, Dr Helene La Rue, a very generous person, and I knew that if she had been confronted with this situation, she would have donated an instrument instantly.

‘The violin is not rare or ancient enough to be regarded as a precious resource, but it’s significantly better than a cheap modern factory instrument, and it’s entirely the kind of instrument we would lend to a student here at Oxford. We’d certainly like to maintain some kind of link with Aboud and we want to assure him that there are music colleges that want him to have the best opportunities he can.

‘We are always trying to help the public access our collections, but the idea that we could take this to the next level by sending this violin to a young musician in need is very exciting indeed. This is a new way – a ground-breaking way – for us to broaden access to the Bate Collection.’

Aboud’s parents, Emmanuel and Hanane, said in an email:

‘Your action brought happiness, hope and encouragement to Aboud and to us in the midst of our life circumstances.’

Susie Attwood said:

‘Life is very difficult for Syrians living in Lebanon, but seeing how music provides such hope for someone like Aboud is very moving. I couldn’t just let it go.’

The story about Aboud and his violin was front page news on the BBC website on Monday 19 June, and was featured on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on Tuesday 20 June (click here: scroll to 2:57:00)

Susie Attwood’s film ‘The Wait’ (الإنتظار) is an independent documentary film following the lives of Syrian Christians who have escaped war in their homeland and taken refuge in a Syriac Orthodox Monastery in Lebanon. Unable to work or educate their children, the refugees find themselves stuck in an in-between existence: waiting for visas to the West. Women whose husbands have been killed in Syria or have sought asylum in Europe now await permission to start a life elsewhere. This is the story of their wait. Giving a voice to a Christian minority, the film is centred round the Eastern Orthodox celebrations of Easter giving an insight into the refugees’ spiritual as well as physical longing.

Image credit: Amr Kokash