Photo Courtesy of Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra

Orchestra Rouh, the newest of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra’s education initiatives, is celebrating its first anniversary in March. Orchestra Rouh provides multi-lingual music instruction and numerous community performing opportunities for children of Syrian refugee families in Kalamazoo. Rouh means "soul" and "spirit" in Arabic.

The program was developed by two Kurdish-Iraqi WMU graduates, violinist Ahmed Tofiq and cellist Bashdar Sdiq, along with WMU Arabic instructor Hend Hegab. As part of the Arabic-speaking community in Kalamazoo, the three began helping Syrian families during their resettlement. They noticed that while parents were very busy dealing with securing housing and accessing basic needs and services, the children needed something to engage their minds and lift their spirits.

Tofiq and Hegab approached the KSO in February 2017 to ask for help launching the program, and by March, students had instruments in their hands. The Suzuki Academy of Kalamazoo provides space. Meyer Music lends instruments for the program at no cost.

Students attend three sessions per week, studying violin or cello, with orchestra rehearsals and percussion classes on Fridays. Tofiq serves as project director, conducting the orchestra and teaching violin. Sdiq, who served as the original cello instructor, has returned to Iraq, but still Skypes with the cello students and their new instructor to celebrate their progress.

Parents say they appreciate the program because their children already have a reputation for doing something special within the community. One father shared that when he took his child to a dental appointment, the dentist said, "Wait, didn’t I see you on TV? You’re a part of that orchestra, right?"

The program benefits from the dedication of a network of volunteer drivers who are connected with the families through co-sponsor arrangements.

KSO is actively fundraising for the program to support professional instructors and equipment, both through grants and individual giving. The program was recognized for excellence with a Carnegie Hall PlayUSA grant for the 2017-18 school year.

Note To Our Donor Advisors:
You’ve already shown your love for this community by creating an Advised Fund at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Through Partners in Philanthropy, we offer you an opportunity to demonstrate that love again by supporting one or more of the projects highlighted with a grant suggestion from the fund you established. The programs shared in this publication are among the recent funding requests we’ve received from local nonprofit organizations.

To support this program, download the grant suggestion form here and select Orchestra Rouh or make a grant suggestion using Kalamazoo Connect at