Violinist Sari Alesh is still tuning the program that he plans to present this Sunday when he headlines Heartstrings, a musical fundraiser for two local churches and the Vancouver Island Counselling Centre for Immigrants and Refugees. Tickets for the show are available at Fig Mediterranean Deli, Long and McQuade, and at the door. The show, which begins at 2:30 p.m. at St. Peter Anglican Church, will see Alesh present a range of musical offerings: western classical music, Arabic and Turkish music.
But if some parts of the program remain in flux, the coming concert nonetheless pursues a larger personal point. “All the fundraising concerts are very important for me,” says Alesh. “I would like to help other people, as some people helped me when I came to Canada.”
Alesh arrived in Victoria in February 2016 as one of 400 refugees fleeing the civil war that has physically ravaged Syria, killed almost 500,000 people and displaced more than 13 million since March 2011.
He arrived in Canada by way of Turkey from Syria’s capital of Damascus, where his mother and two siblings remain.
“I contact them on Skype like twice a week,” he says.
Alesh speaks of his family while sitting at a table in the food court of a local shopping centre not far away from his present residence. Nearly 11,000 kilometres lie between it and his old home, a figure that does not even come close to the approximate the chasm between what used to be and what is.
Alesh used to tour the Middle East and Europe as a member of Syrian National Symphony Orchestra. Now he finds himself living at the outer edge of the North American continent, trying to master a language that is not his own and fitting into a foreign culture. But Alesh does not want to feel sorry for himself.
While he acknowledges difficulties, he says he wants to be optimistic, as he establishes himself in Victoria with the help of his sponsor family and a growing network of friends, musicians and non-musicians alike, that cut across ethnic and cultural categories.
Music has been one channel of communication for Alesh to tell his story. “I am part of this community and if I want to be part of this community, I have to introduce my culture in my way,” he says.
Since arriving in Victoria, Alesh has received a scholarship to the Victoria Conservatory of Music. He has taken on a couple of students and plans to study music education. He may even start a band. These developments alone represent progress.
“I couldn’t play music for a while, because of the war,” he said. “Now, I can play again my music.”
Alesh has been able to share with audiences in Vancouver, Victoria and other parts of Vancouver Island. As such, he has become a cultural ambassador for Syrians, the Arab world and the Middle East at large.
Much of what Alesh has experienced in Syria remains unshared. But his music nonetheless promises to open a metaphysical window into his home, its people and their respective struggles, including his own.
“I don’t want to do that, but it is very obvious in my music,” he said. “Sometimes, I try to hold back, but I can’t.”