Wherever one looks, innocent children are caught up in conflict. During these last years, thousands of child refugees have trekked from Syria, through Turkey to Europe in search of asylum.
One of these children was Nujeen Mustafa, a remarkable Kurdish teenager with cerebral palsy. She had never been to school – but taught herself fluent English by watching American soap-operas. War drove Nujeen from her home in Aleppo at the age of 16. Her elder sister Nasrine pushed her 3593 miles in a rickety second-hand wheelchair across nine countries to Germany. They navigated rough seas, people-smugglers, bumpy fields and hostile border guards. Nevertheless, Nujeen remained with a smile on her face. She chatted about her dream of becoming an astronaut and the things she had learnt on TV.
Her remarkable journey was followed by the journalist Christina Lamb (co-author of I am Malala). Christina subsequently co-authored Nujeen’s dramatic story in her biography ‘The Girl from Aleppo’.
This five-movement cantata by Kevin Crossley-Holland retells that story. Nujeen’s experience unfolds in the musical narrative; chorales, haunting vocal solos, intense violin solos, restless choruses and body percussion. These all drive a course from country to country to arrive, thankfully, in Germany. In brief, it is a journey of hope and extraordinary fortitude against all the odds.
The National Children’s Choir of Great Britain commissioned the cantata Everyday Wonders: The Girl from Aleppo on its 20th Anniversary. It was first performed by the Choirs in Birmingham Town Hall on 10 August, 2018. Harriet Mackenzie played violin, Claire Dunham on piano and Dan Ludford-Thomas conducted.
We are most grateful to Christina Lamb for bringing this extraordinary narrative to us in her book, The Girl from Aleppo. And to Nujeen Mustafa herself, whose story it is.