Music grant aims at helping refugees

Bostonians can attend a benefit concert in support of refugees this winter, thanks to a $2000 stipend that From the Top (FTT)—an organization celebrating young musicians—granted to Avik Sarkar ’19.

Established this year, the FTT Arts Leadership Grant invites musicians between the ages of 16 and 26 to apply for up to $5000 each to spend on music-related community service projects.

Avik, who has played the piano and cello for eight and five years respectively, said he learned about the grant over spring break through the director of the Center for Development of Arts Leaders (CDAL), a program for young musicians in the Boston area. CDAL helped Avik organize other outreach concerts around the city over the past two years, Avik explained.

The idea for the benefit concert came soon after, as the grant presented the perfect opportunity to combine his interest in music and his desire to help refugees living in Boston.

“Given our current political situation and the treatment of refugees in America today, I knew I wanted to somehow get involved,” Avik said. “I wanted to raise awareness about the issues that refugees face in our society and to humanize these people in the eyes of our community, but [until learning of the grant] I was unsure how.”

Avik decided to raise funds for Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights (BCRHHR), a place that provides health and legal services for refugees.

He envisioned the concert this winter with professional musicians and students from BB&N, CDAL, and New England Conservatory (NEC)—his music school for six years—filling the list of performers. In hopes of making the refugees feel more comfortable in Boston, he wanted the performers to play primarily Middle Eastern composers’ pieces, such as Solhi Al-Wadi’s “Trio for Piano, Violin, and Violoncello” and Fazil Say’s “Black Earth” for piano, Avik said. He hopes that these pieces inspired by Middle Eastern musical traditions will bring the refugees a sense of home.

He also hopes to have a string quartet play a piece of his own—which one, Avik has yet to determine—while interviews of refugees speaking about their lives play in the background. Non-refugee attendees will likely pay $5, but the interviewees and their families can attend for free, he said. Due to the stigma surrounding refugees in the current political situation, not many will likely come, Avik predicted, but he said he hoped to welcome some from BCRHHR, since the center will help him promote the event.

When Avik applied for the grant back in March, he submitted a 1500-word statement describing his idea for the concert along with a request for $2000 to pay for the professional musicians and fund the audio and video equipment.

On May 2, FTT named Avik and three others winners of the grants.

“I was extremely excited,” he said. “I felt like my vision for this project had been validated.”

Avik’s friend, Rebecca Mironko ’19, commended his efforts.

“Avik is extremely caring and giving, so it doesn’t at all surprise me that he is combining his talent and love of music with his humanitarianism,” she said. “He knows that he is in a position of privilege, and he is taking advantage of that in a positive way. We at BB&N can really learn from him and begin using our privilege to start conversations and change the status quo.”

Although the location and date are still to be determined, Avik will publicize the concert closer to the winter through social media and word of mouth at the school, NEC, and CDAL.

Hopefully, Avik said, the concert will help change the stigma about refugees.

“I think that, especially in politics today, we often think of the refugee situation as an issue that needs to be solved, rather than seeing this marginalized community with compassion and empathy,” he added. “I hope that presenting the beautiful music and cultures of these places will give the audience a new perspective.”

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