How a CNN Article Led to a Poem About Pianos Burning

Image of a burning piano from the U.S. Air Force.

I was reading an article on the CNN website about a pianist and musician in Syria whose piano was taken out and burned by ISIS soldiers claiming that “music is sin.” [The article title: “ISIS tried to silence him, but pianist won’t stay quiet.”] And yet, that didn’t stop the musician from moving away and getting his hands on a keyboard that he now uses to teach children music. Because in teaching them music, he teaches a future generation about art, and beauty, and hope.

The article hit home so much that it inspired me write down some words for a poem. The image that the article created in my head was so strong and so completely poetic, that it didn’t take much to put together a simple rhyme scheme and some simple words that I felt could be easily set to music.

This is proof that you can gather ideas and inspiration from anything and everything around you. Even from news headlines and items in your RSS reader. The trick is making sure you never lose an idea.

Strangely enough, my class in second year high school created and performed a dark play called “Gitarista,” where music was outlawed and so the lone guitarist in the city was apprehended, tortured, and his instrument broken into smithereens in front of a court that found him guilty of trafficking in dreams and hope. How heartbreaking that the fantasy we created onstage for a theater contest is now actual reality in one corner of the world.

Next step in this music process: create the musical backing track, find a vocalist, record it as a spoken word piece, and edit/assemble the final track.

Here is the poem:

The Pianos Were Burning

Chorus
By Sunday, the pianos were burning
The instruments all set on fire
The light in our hearts slowly turning
From sunrise to funeral pyre.

1
At midnight the soldiers came crashing
Through doors that were fragile and thin,
To round up the music we treasured,
To banish all songs from within.

They rolled out my piano in anger.
I asked them, “How could this be wrong?”
On it, they poured fuel as their answer
And burned up the keys to our song.

+ repeat chorus +

2
The neighbors all tried to console me:
“Your family lives!” they all said.
But as we escaped through the rubble,
I knew that the music had fled.

I looked in the eyes of my children.
Their training, I knew, must begin.
The soldiers in black said in hatred
That all of this music is sin.

+ repeat chorus +

3
We live far away from the wreckage.
The ashes of pianos lie still.
But strangers donated a keyboard,
And hopelessness has had its fill.

I now teach the neighborhood children
in secret, to dream and to sing.
The soldiers may outlaw the music
But hope will forever take wing.

FINAL CHORUS
By Sunday, the pianos were burning,
The instruments all set on fire,
The light in our hearts ever brighter —
Consuming the darkness entire.

The song in our hearts ever louder —
Consuming the silence entire.

IMAGE CREDITS: Photo of piano burning from U.S. Air Force. Photo by Airman 1st Class Racheal Watson.

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