October 19, 2012

Bill Nemitz: In harmony with brave girl's quest

PORTLAND – Con Fullam stood on the stage of Portland High School's empty auditorium Wednesday afternoon, face-to-face with 27 teenage girls who know all too well what it's like to live in parts of the world where women keep their heads down and their mouths shut.

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Judith Abdalla, an immigrant from Sudan, prepares to perform “Song for Malala” with the Pihcintu Multicultural Children’s Chorus Wednesday at Portland High School’s auditorium. Composed by songwriter Con Fullam, the song honors the Pakistani girl wounded by the Taliban and will be posted on YouTube with the hope of being an international sensation.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Malala Yousafzai is attended to by rescuers after being critically wounded by the Taliban earlier this month for pursuing an education.

The Associated Press

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Tune in to NewsRadio 560 WGAN at 8:08 a.m. today to hear columnist Bill Nemitz talk about this column and other issues.

"So the reason we're here today is because there's a little girl in Pakistan named Malala Yousafzai who, for six years now, has been going to school because she wants to be a doctor -- in spite of the fact that the Taliban has threatened her with death," Fullam told his pin-drop silent audience.

As he spoke, that same 15-year-old girl lay in a British hospital bed, slowly recovering from an attack in which Taliban militants boarded her school bus in Pakistan on Oct. 9 and shot her point-blank in the head.

"So you're here today to sing about it, OK?" Fullam continued, his eyes suddenly moist, his voice breaking. "Let's make it happen."

And with that, swaying side-to-side as one, the girls began to sing ... 

There's a girl in Pakistan who's fighting for her life

Because she chose to stand up for her rights.

She dared to speak her heart and so she paid the price.

Too brave to be denied, she made the sacrifice ...  

Sometime on Monday, if all goes according to plan, composer/songwriter Fullam will post a music video titled "Song for Malala" on YouTube.

It won't be the first time in the limelight for The Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus, founded by Fullam six years ago to literally give voice to young women who have fled war, poverty and, yes, mindless men for the life we all take for granted here.

But this time is different.

In the past, Pihcintu -- the name is Passamaquoddy Indian for "when we sing, our voices carry far" -- has sung to the whole world from stages as far away as New York City and Washington, D.C.

This week, from their own hometown in faraway Maine, they sang to a girl whose simple quest for peace and equality in her Pashtun homeland has set the Taliban back on its prehistoric heels. A girl whose plight now resonates far beyond her home city of Mingora in Pakistan's restive Swat Valley.

"If not for a pleasant twist of fate, every kid in this chorus could have been Malala," said Fullam. "And so I thought it very important for them to make a statement to her -- and for her." 

Malala, child of peace we will not let you die.

We'll give your hopes and dreams the will and wings to fly.

We'll sing your song for everyone on Earth until

Your wish for peace for all will finally be fulfilled ... 

Nine days ago, Fullam was scrolling through The New York Times' website when he came across the still-breaking story about Malala.

An outspoken advocate for educating girls in a region where even whispering such a thing can put you in the Taliban's crosshairs, she'd been gunned down in broad daylight.

And as authorities rushed her to the nearest hospital -- she was later evacuated to a facility in England that specializes in war wounds -- they feared she was near death.

"I broke down in tears," Fullam recalled. "And I decided we had to do something."

Grabbing a pen and paper, Fullam sketched out the song in just 20 minutes. Then he called Dan Merrill, a singer/songwriter from Portland and Fullam's friend and frequent collaborator, who with equal haste laid down the instrumentation and recorded the lyrics.

Monday afternoon, members of Pihcintu -- at full strength, the chorus encompasses 32 girls from 17 countries -- trooped into the basement of The Root Cellar at the base of Portland's Munjoy Hill for their weekly rehearsal.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Con Fullam directs the Pihcintu Multicultural Children’s Chorus Wednesday as it records his song about Malala Yousafzai.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


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