Iraq, a country scarred by the ravages of war and struggling under the weight of corruption, is the most unlikely, and yet perfect, setting, for Paul MacAlindin to build a National Youth Orchestra, which would tour Europe and help to rebuild the lives of young people and their simple dreams to make music.
The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI) was borne from a chance lunch during a chance trip to Edinburgh and became the source of a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but also great pride for Scottish conductor, MacAlindin.
In Upbeat he documents the struggles and triumphs as he battled with politics, language barriers, financial constraints, and rundown instruments and tried to create something wonderful. It is an engaging tale, not least because of the fascinating backstory of Iraq and it’s, often catastrophic, ethnic divisions. The reader is also drawn into the frustrations MacAlindin so clearly felt when he came up against barrier after barrier in his bid to give the young people opportunities they could never have dreamed of while bombs rained down during the Iraq war.
Interspersed throughout the build-up to each year of the NYOI are personal stories of the people who made it all possible, as well as of the fight MacAlindin himself went through to get to where he is today. There are anecdotes from those who played in the orchestra talking of experiences gained, friendships formed and divisions healed and the reader wills the orchestra to keep succeeding.
It is a well-written narrative, each chapter a story in its own right and largely told in chronological order from inception to closure. Amidst the music and the politics that form the basis of the text, MacAlindin attempts to answer who the Iraqis really are.
Informative and enlightening Upbeat is the story of an incredible journey which was, in the words of MacAlindin himself, “a beacon of reconciliation and hope for the future”.