Renaissance: Afghan National Symphony Orchestra

Kabul, Afghanistan.  From a two-story building in Kabul, 140 children and young people are learning traditional Afghan and international classical music from instructors who have come from around the country and the world to participate in the revival, and contribute to building a national symphony as part of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM).


Dr. Sarmast with students in their handsome uniforms.

“Half of our students are orphans,” Dr. Sarmast said, “children who have lost their parents to the war and terrorist violence following the war. These children, who come from our partner orphanages, and in some cases directly off the streets, have lost their families and possessions, but they have not lost their spirit or their talent.”

More than a third of the students are girls and young women;
a decade ago they would not have been allowed to be
educated at all, much less receive training in arts.

“Music is expression,” Dr. Sarmast said. “Our students are fortunate in that they are not distracted by many of the things other young people face – the onslaught of media, video games, consumerism. When a child picks up his or her first quarter violin, you can imagine their appreciation of the instrument. When they begin to listen, when they begin to play, new worlds open up for them.”

A young cellist who may one day be a member of a national Afghan orchestra.
Particularly given the challenging conditions in Afghanistan, the speed and quality with which Dr. Sarmast and his team have built the institutes, programs and performances is itself inspiring! Their work has been embraced by the international media, and coverage has been broad and colorful (see links to videos, audio and articles below). Dr. Sarmast has worked and traveled tirelessly to attract support from various Embassies, and organizations including The Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Society of Music Merchants. The World Bank made possible an acquisition of instruments from Yamaha Gulf. The ANIM would not be possible without the support of the Ministry of Education of Afghanistan under whose jurisdiction ANIM functions autonomously.

With United States Ambassador Ryan Crocker in Kabul.

ANIM’s current school orchestra, the Afghan Youth Orchestra, has frequently performed for President Hamid Karzai, members of the Afghan cabinet, ambassadors from many countries including the USA, Finland, and Germany, and many other dignitaries. In December 2010, ANIM launched the First Annual Afghanistan Winter Music Academy, the country’s first music festival to combine performance and education, attracting eighteen internationally acclaimed guest educators and performers from Afghanistan, Canada, France, Germany, India, Iran, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. With this successful track record and momentum, Dr. Sarmast’s dream of a national symphony orchestra is within reach, as long as the international community and support from national organizations continues.

Students with traditional Afghan instruments.

“We are deeply appreciative and still in need of funding and partnership from private individuals, families, educational institutions, non-profits, musicians and all those in the international community who understand the power of music not only in Afghanistan but throughout the world,” Dr. Samast said, He is the son of the late well-known Afghan composer, conductor, and musician Ustad Sarmast.

Dr. Sarmast carries on in the tradition of his father’s work in music, while continuing
to create opportunities for children including orphans of the war.

All students receive full scholarships to attend the school, which operates under the Ministry of Education with significant foreign funding, notably from Britain, Germany and Denmark. They are awarded internationally recognized music diplomas.

“We will carry on the traditions of our own country, while learning, performing and sharing the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms as well as contemporary composers. Music is the only true international language, so the work we do here can connect the kind, creative and peaceful people of Afghanistan to others who may have only heard the sounds of war through the media over the last decade. It’s time for the world to hear what is authentically beautiful about Afghanistan and to understand, through music, the harmony that is possible.”

A young guitarist smiles in Kabul.







Cynthia Artin is an entrepreneur and humanitarian currently living and working in Kabul, Afghanistan.   On assignment for the  Noori Foundation Afghanistan, and helping to establish a center for war widows and their children, Cynthia will be publishing weekly profiles of interesting people doing good things in what she calls “one of the most beautiful places on Earth.”   Cynthia is a Global Adviser to The James Jay Dudley Luce  Foundation and a new contributor to  The Stewardship Report.

About Cynthia Artin: An American in Afghanistan

View all posts by Cynthia Artin: An American in Afghanistan
Cynthia Artin: An American in Afghanistan
Cynthia Artin has been writing for The Stewardship Report since 2011, starting with her column AN AMERICAN IN AFGHANISTAN. Back from Kabul, but still very active in supporting Afghan social entrepreneurs, she is now inking a weekly column on leaders in humanitarianism who are creating innovative and efficient models for positive change and sustainable impact. Cynthia is Founder and President of Artin Arts, and a James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation Global Advisor.

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