The Optimist Citizen

A group of Refugees who started an international Orchestra to build harmony through Music

Migration has always been a central issue and feature for the evolution of human race and the development of the modern civilization. But, in the past century and this present decade, we have witnessed that migration has been the outcome of Violent and tumultuous upsurges across the world. May it be the World War II, the Armenian Genocide or the recent Syrian crisis, migration has indeed become a synonym for sorrow. Millions of men, women and children have left their belongings, their homeland, in search of a better tomorrow, a better life.

Lidiya Yankovskaya, a professional conductor working mainly in opera and symphonic music, and her family migrated to USA from Russia under similar circumstances. Here, they were helped by the HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) in establishing a life for them. Lidiya, with the support of other communities and organizations in Albany, NY, received a stellar education in music as a pianist, a violinist and a singer. Content with a successful professional and personal life, the word Migration fazed away temporarily from the mind of Lidiya.

Refugee Orchestra Project

But a trip to Europe at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, last year, gave a new jolt to her conscience “Of course, there was a great deal of backlash for those coming across the borders each day. However, I was touched by the incredible amount of warmth and welcome that many offered to the thousands who were seeking refuge. Many enthusiastically opened their cities, towns and homes and gave their time and resources to help the families in need coming into Europe. When I returned to the U.S., I was surprised that despite our country’s history of accepting refugees, despite our stringent immigration policies, and despite our separation from the land of crisis by an ocean, there was an enormous amount of backlash towards even the idea of Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. to seek asylum “, says Lidiya.

Refugee Orchestra Project

It was then that she realized that many of her own colleagues and friends had no idea that she (and many others like her) had come to this country as refugees. She recognized that it was important not only to share her own story, but to demonstrate the vital role that refugees continue to play in the country’s culture and society. “I realized that this could be most effectively done through the thing I do best–bringing musicians together in performance”, says Lidiya smiling.

And hence, The Refugee Orchestra Project was born. The prime purpose of the Refugee Orchestra project is to conduct concerts that bring hundreds of performers, whose friends and families have escaped to the United States to escape violence and persecution, in a single large scale performance that loudly proclaims these individuals’ importance to the national cultural wealth. The members of the orchestra are as varied and colourful as the lineage of their homeland. Some of their performers are soprano Lubana al Quntar, who recently left Syria with the help of HIAS, bass-baritone Mikhail Svetlov, who escaped Soviet Russia, soprano Yelena Dudochkin from the Ukraine, several individuals whose families escaped during the Armenian Genocide, a woman who grew up on the border with North Korea and many more.

Refugee Orchestra Project

The cultural excellence of this diverse initiative has been backed by a large group of supporters who attend their concerts and support them in every way possible. Ecstatic by the response, Lidiya says that, “I hope that those who participate in, attend, or hear about our performances are inspired to see the vital importance of refugees’ continued contribution to our nation and our world and are inspired to reach out a hand of support to those in need. I am where I am today only due to the generosity of this country and many wonderful people within it. I hope that others, like me, will be able to follow their dreams and prosper despite persecution or war within their homeland.”
And it is this commitment of people like Lidiya and her team that proves as an eye opener for those who still believe in the abject ideologies of colour and race based differences. The Refugee Orchestra Project stands as an absolute testament to the fact that diversity leads to cohesion, and not differentiation. They show us that how our talents, our cultures can add music to our lives every day and make us a true global citizen.

You can support The Refugee Orchestra Project @


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