Residentie Aeham Ahmad

  • DateTue. 4 Sep - Thu. 20 Dec. 2018
  • WithGaudeamus Muziekweek, Het Huis Utrecht, Het Wilde Westen, HKU Utrechts Conservatorium, Hogeschool Utrecht, International Franz Liszt Piano Competition, Operamakers, ROC Midden Nederland, Utrecht University

Aeham Ahmad has started a long-term connection with Utrecht. From 12-20 december, he was in Utrecht to continue the collaborations that started in september or earlier, Also, he had new encounters, such as with the three finalists of the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition and the Utrecht Conservatory.

Aeham became well-known when a strong image started to travel the world in 2014: in the midst of war-ridden Yarmouk, Syria, Aeham pushed his piano in the streets and started to sing and play. His goal was to bring back some joy during the misery of war. Since Aeham fled to Germany in 2015, he has been playing concerts all around the world, from Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom to Japan. In March of 2018 he also came to Utrecht: Operamakers invited him to take part in a presentation in which 800 high school students sang together. It quickly became clear that Aeham could mean a lot for other parties in Utrecht. Aeham signals that there are changes needed in the way we educate the arts, to make a better connection to today’s cosmopolitan society. His stay was prolonged and he made contact with many organizations in Utrecht. This led to a diverse program for september, december and beyond.

From 4-11 september, Aeham first worked with a large amount of cultural and educational institutions, such as Operamakers, ROC Midden Nederland, HKU Utrecht Conservatorium, Utrecht University and Het Wilde Westen. During his stay in december, Aeham worked with Centre for the Humanities, de Bibliotheek Utrecht, Het Wilde Westen, HKU Utrechts Conservatorium, International Franz Liszt Piano Competition, Operamakers, ROC Midden-Nederland Creative College, Stranded FM and Utrecht University (Master Arts & Society, Muziekwetenschap). Read about Aeham reasons to come to Utrecht below.

See an impression of Aehams visit in september 2018:

In december, one of the visits Aeham made was to the Utrecht Library. For a very interested crowd, he sang his songs and told his story, while writer and poet Ozan Aydogan read from Aehams book ‘The Pianist of Yarmouk’. Here you can see a part of that morning:

An important aspect of Aehams relationship is the ongoing project with Operamakers, ROC Midden Nederland Creative College and the HKU Utrecht Conservatory. Together, they are working on ways to renew music education and find a profile for educators that can make a good connection to todays cosmopolitan society.



Since Aeham came to  Germany from Syria in 2015, he has played countless concerts in Europe and outside. But he wants to do more than just perform: for Aeham, music is inextricably linked with learning, communicating and experiencing. That is the reason he wants to come to Utrecht, he tells us between his performances.

“I’m playing in Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom,” Aeham tells us on the phone. “This is my daily life now.” He think it’s beautful that so many people come to listen to him play, but he also has a strong desire to teach. “I want to give music education and think about a new form of doing that,” he says. “Just like I tried to do in the war, but during a war it’s hard for people to listen.”

For his education, Aeham studied at the conservatory in Damascus before he became a piano teacher. “At the conservatory, I mostly learned how important it is to be able to play Rachmaninov and Chopin very fast,” he says. “What then, when you enter the job market, suddenly it proves difficult to find work as a classical pianist and you might end up sitting at home.” Aeham doesn’t want to be fixated on becoming a perfect classical pianist. Rather, he approaches music in a broader perspective, for instance by listening to someone with a different musical background such as jazz or folk. “In high music education, we didn’t learn to improvise or to look at things differently.”

Communication through music
Aeham aims to take away as much boundaries attached to music making as possible. “Many musicians play very beautiful notes, but what happens when you’re playing with someone from a very different background, such as Syria or Africa, who can’t read music at all?

For Aeham, it goes beyond taking away practical hurdles between musicians. “Music education is something you can apply in many different ways and at many different levels,” he explains. “I may not be the best pianist ever, but I did give lessons to children who lost their parents in the war: how can I teach them life?” Aeham recognizes the chances this gives. “I have many means to do the this. Sometimes it’s through talking, sometimes it is with humor and other times it is trough singing. It’s not about learning from a book, it’s learning by doing. I may have studied at the conservatory, but nobody taught me to educate children in situations like that.”

A beat from the Middle East
And that is exactly what is important, Aeham believes. “There are many refugees, also in Utrecht. How can you help them through music, singing and art? War gives art new rules. It leads to Aeham not having carved out definitively how he is going to do all this. “I have many ideas in my head. We will see which of those will lead to something, and which will not. It’s not self-evident: ‘this is what we’re going to do’. My plan is to be flexible and be active.”

How opportunities for this can arise on the spot was illustrated at a school in Utrecht during Aehams earlier visit in March. “Some guys had made a rap song about refugees,” Aeham says.” But the beat underneath it was American. I explained that there are also many Oriental rhythms. Had they heard of rhythms from Afghanistan or Pakistan? There are many colourful rhythms that you might use for a rap about refugees from these countries. We looked at how we could combine a beat like that with Dutch lyrics. I was able to give them that idea, to make that connection. I find it interesting to build further on that.”

Aeham stresses that doesn’t see himself as some big artist who is coming to teach the great musicans of Utrecht with much fanfare. “But we are trying to achieve great things together, and to develop ideas. That is what this residency entails for me: I’m coming to learn and to give.”