Syrian transplant spreading harmony with Pianos for Peace

Syrian transplant Malek Jandali has seen the effects of war.

He has seen bombed churches and murdered hostages. He has seen the tiny body of a little boy from his homeland, washed up on the shore.

Now, he wants to use what he calls the “soft power” of his art to bring about a solution.

A classical composer and part-time Atlanta resident, Jandali wants to use music to unite, and he plans to do that in an unusual way.

His fledgling organization, Pianos for Peace, has accumulated 28 donated pianos, and plans to acquire perhaps 70 more. Next April, the pianos will be decorated by local artists and set up outdoors in neighborhoods around Atlanta, where, for two weeks, the residents and visitors can play them to their heart’s content.

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Afterward, the pianos will be donated to schools, community centers, hospitals, nursing homes and other locations, where Jandali hopes they will become magnets for harmony.

He sees Pianos for Peace as a social event, not a music festival. He hopes it will trigger conversation, bring about shared song, or, at the very least, inspire a legion of learners to try out “Chopsticks” for the umpteenth time.

“What is more beautiful than having colorful pianos all over the city of Atlanta for everyone to enjoy and play?” asked Jandali, 42. “The message is building peace through communication.”

Jandali, a naturalized American citizen, has an international inclination. He was born in Germany, raised in Syria, and in 1994 won a music scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, in Winston Salem. Raised a Muslim, he earned his keep by serving as the organist in a Christian church.

His music frequently combines Western forms with Eastern sounds, as in his “Syrian Symphony,” recorded in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Pianos for Peace has an antecedent, also called Pianos for Peace, organized in Rochester, N.Y., in 2013 by a University of Rochester student, but Jandali said he was inspired by a music festival in Paris, in which every corner featured a musician or an ensemble. “I was amazed by how the entire city becomes a concert hall,” he said.

There are challenges to situating pianos outdoors in Atlanta in the spring, when April showers are likely to come our way. Jandali said an “ambassador” will be assigned to each piano. The minder will keep it from harm and stand ready to cover it in case of foul weather. There also will be a full-time piano tuner, working to combat the effects of humidity.

Jandali is a dreamer. He’d like to see the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Elton John involved — though he has no commitments from either.

But, he’s also practical. He knows that great compositions and brilliant performances won’t necessarily emerge from his pianos, though occasionally they will.

He will be happy to hear whatever music happens to bubble up. “We’re going to make a lot of noise,” he said with a smile.

Jandali has a letter of support from the city of Atlanta’s Office of Film & Entertainment, and a board of directors with some well-connected members.

Plus, he has an idealistic optimism that is contagious. It was on display during a recent conversation with Lois Reitzes, host of “City Lights” on WABE radio.

“I believe,” Jandali said, “that music can help people, it can change the narrative. And spread peace.”

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