John spreads goodwill through the power of music

John FergusonAmjad Dabi had a simple wish: to keep polishing his technique on his favorite piano compositions by the French Impressionist masters Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. But in the midst of a brutal civil war in his native Syria, his artistic pursuits became more futile and perilous by the day.

Last September, the young pianist was injured by a car bomb that exploded outside a school for music near his home in a residential area of Damascus, Syria; a dozen civilians were killed. A few days later another car bomb blew out the windows of the conservatory where he had been studying.

“We’d be playing music and hear explosions going off nearby,” says Mr. Dabi, who looks uncannily like US composer George Gershwin and whose face bears scars from the first bomb blast. “It felt like living a nightmare that was never going to end.”

But for Dabi and another young Syrian musician, violinist Andrey Mukaddasi, who founded an interfaith string orchestra in Damascus, the nightmare did end. Soon both were on a flight to Bangkok, Thailand; from there they eventually would head to the United States to continue their studies.

“I figured we should get them out of there before they came to serious harm,” says John Ferguson, a classical pianist from Houston who helped the young Syrians leave their war-torn country by arranging scholarships for them at music colleges in Texas.

Mr. Ferguson is the founder of American Voices, a US nonprofit whose mission is to spread goodwill across developing nations by helping aspiring young musicians indulge in their passion for the all-American art forms of jazz, Broadway musicals, and break dancing, as well as classical music.

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