International Voices Houston brings to the stage the story of a Kurdish teenager’s escape from Syria

International Voices Houston

Photo: Courtesy of International Voices Houston

The chanting evokes an unsettling scene of chaos as thousands of Syrian refugees flood the border and navigate rough seas in search of asylum.

Yet amid the devastation of war, moments of beauty still pervade the memories of those forced to flee their homes. In Everyday Wonders: The Girl from Aleppo, Nujeen Mustafa, a Kurdish teenager with cerebral palsy, recalls the scent of rosewater, hookahs and pistachios before the ancient city was reduced to rubble.

This weekend, International Voices Houston will chronicle her arduous journey to sanctuary – during which her sister pushes her in her wheelchair 3,500 miles across nine countries – in a concert celebrating the ambiguous concept of home. The program, originally scheduled to premiere for Spring 2020 but postponed due to the pandemic, will take place June 18-19 at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston to coincide with the celebration of June 16 and World Refugee Day.

In addition to Cecilia McDowall’s 20-minute cantata with a libretto by Kevin Crossley-Holland, The Road Home will feature 12 other vibrant works in a variety of languages ​​including Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog, Hebrew, Bosnian, Zulu, Xhosa, Ukrainian and English.

“This program resonates so deeply with our international group of musicians, many of whom were themselves displaced from their homes and ended up here in Houston,” said Artistic Director Mark Vogel, who also serves as Music Director for Congregation Beth Israel and a Professor of Music at Lone Star College North Harris. “One of the things I personally love about Houston is how warm it is to people from all over the world. Our choir is, in our opinion, the quintessential Houston ensemble. It really is a microcosm of the whole city.”

The multicultural community was founded in 1999 by Michéle Lhopiteau-Dorfeuille as the United National Association International Choir and incorporated 15 years later as an independent Texas arts organization under its current name. It now features more than 130 singers ranging in age from 16 to 80, but with COVID-19 the number of them performing at any given concert remains limited. Members, representing 40 nations, volunteer and rehearse every Monday night at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in the Museum District.

“We’re taking it slow because every particular language we’re working with, even English, is new to someone in the room,” said Vogel, who not only relies on the singers’ programming ideas, but also to help teach the Rest of the ensemble accurate pronunciation and certain cultural nuances.

Striving to enrich and educate local audiences through world music, the choir embodies an image of global harmony. Members embrace each other’s differences, show empathy for those in need, and represent peace in a world marred by turmoil and division.

“The way home”

When: June 18 7pm, June 19 3pm with live stream option

Where: MATCH, 3400 Main St.

details: $20-25 upfront, $30 at the box office; or

Though Nujeen and her sister were evicted from the only home they ever knew, they eventually found solace elsewhere, and in a poignant moment near the end of Everyday Wonders: The Girl from Aleppo, the chorus recounts the hopeful conclusion to their journey and sings “Welcome! Welcome to Germany!”

“That glorious chorale in major tonality is just a beautiful and happy moment in the song,” Vogel said. “Then the piano continues with a musical quotation from Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ theme. It’s a really strong moment in history. We all burst into tears every time it happens.”

International Voices Houston members have a heart for giving “where we live” and have made an impact far beyond the stage by doing community service and recently volunteering at the West’s drive-through meal distribution Houston Assistance Ministries have reported. During this weekend’s program, the ensemble will also highlight three local nonprofits that provide refugee services, including Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, Plant It Forward and Project CURE Houston.

“It’s not just about having a motto and talking about it,” Vogel said. “We live this example in our everyday life as a community choir. We come together and share music, all from such different backgrounds and different religions. Getting that on stage in front of people and celebrating and lifting it up is a beautiful thing.”

Lawrence Elizabeth Knox is a Houston-based writer.

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