You ask me am I crazy for playing the cello in a war zone

One night, I dreamed that I was meeting my friend, a poet named Mariana, in Sarajevo, the city of love. I woke up confused. Sarajevo, a symbol of love? Wasn’t Sarajevo the site of one of the bloodiest civil wars of the late twentieth century? Then I remembered. Vedran Smailović. The cellist of Sarajevo…

You ask me am I crazy for playing the cello in a war zone, he says. Why don’t you ask THEM if they’re crazy for shelling Sarajevo?

His gesture reverberates throughout the city, over the airwaves. Soon, it’ll find expression in a novel, a film. But before that, during the darkest days of the siege, Smailović will inspire other musicians to take to the streets with their own instruments. They don’t play martial music, to rouse the troops against the snipers, or pop tunes, to lift the people’s spirits. They play the Albinoni. The destroyers attack with guns and bombs, and the musicians respond with the most bittersweet music they know.

We’re not combatants, call the violinists; we’re not victims, either, add the violas. We’re just humans, sing the cellos, just humans: flawed and beautiful and aching for love.

Susan Cain, “Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole” (Crown, April 5, 2022)

Image: Manny Becerra via Unsplash


  1. what a powerful and beautiful act.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So poignant…I can hear the instruments’ voices…😢

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How powerful and passionate – and protective. Music as the strongest shield.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes….and more in line with your thought Mimi.

      “A few months later. The civil war rages on, and the foreign correspondent Allan Little watches as a procession of forty thousand civilians emerges from a forest. They’ve been trudging through the woods for forty-eight hours straight, fleeing an attack. Among them is an eighty-year-old man. He looks desperate, exhausted. The man approaches Little, asks whether he’s seen his wife. They were separated during the long march, the man says. Little hasn’t seen her but, ever the journalist, asks whether the man wouldn’t mind identifying himself as Muslim or Croat. And the man’s answer, Little says years later, in a gorgeous BBC segment, shames him even now, as he recalls it across the decades. “I am,” said the old man, “a musician.”

      — Susan Cain, “Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole” (Crown, April 5, 2022)

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Really touched my soul (and stirred peace) in me some years ago:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow. Just read this from the review: rom Publishers Weekly
      “At night, from my window, I can see the white trails of tracer fire and the orange flash of mortars in the sky. I pretend I am watching shooting stars and meteors,” says the nameless girl protagonist of Cutler’s (The Song of the Molimo) moving and, sadly, timely story of the healing power of music in wartime. With winter approaching, food scarce and her father off fighting, the high point of the girl’s week is Wednesday, when the relief truck arrives and the community gathers. Most days, she sits with the other children under the stairs until their high energy levels send them running through the halls, where they taunt an unsociable musician named Mr. O. As the girl stands outside his apartment, she remembers how her father described the craftsmanship of Mr. O’s cello and the command performances of the cellist’s youth. When a rocket destroys the relief truck, Mr. O surprises the children by courageously playing music in the middle of the square and lifting their spirits. Couch’s (Wild Child, reviewed above) soft-focus watercolors in burnished shades of gold, copper and fiery red have a dreamlike quality that effectively contrast with the unsentimental narration. He mixes realistic scenes of the war-torn landscape with a surreal sense of war’s intrusion on this child’s life. While more details about the mysterious Mr. O might have made his change of heart more believable, Cutler’s focus on turning calamity on its head will likely have an uplifting effect on readers young and old.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I am always amazed by those who can do this. Play during war. That book is still not available in Canada until May. On my wish list.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Did anyone hear what Zelensky said when he spoke to the Grammy Awards audience on Sunday night? (…profound and essentially to keep playing and not be silent)

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Christie says:

    Music in a War Zone- reminds me of a share of yours from long ago…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Christie says:

    adding…thought the link would populate…”It Was Unbearably Joyful” about the “The Leningrad Symphony.” – so worth revisiting –

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Powerful!


  10. oh man, that resonates on so many levels with me – as a very mediocre choir singer and an even more mediocre cello player I can only add that more often than I’d like to admit, I cannot sing or play w/o tears rolling down my face… ’cause when you feel the ‘message’ of said music, be it played or sung, I feel overwhelmed with the feelings it unlashes in me. NOT good being the only ‘cello’ in the orchestra and standing right in front of the conductor, being very short with terrible eyesight!


  11. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Beautiful memory … “We’re just humans, sing the cellos, just humans: flawed and beautiful and aching for love. — Susan Cain, “Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole” (Crown, April 5, 2022).”


  12. Beauty in the midst of chaos. I liked the story about the piano player playing in the midst of the Ukrainian shelling too. These things tend to stir the soul and to reassure us all that there is always some light in the darkest of nights.

    Liked by 1 person

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