Last Tuesday night, my cousin invited me up to the beautiful Earlham College campus to attend a talk by Arn Chorn-Pond, a human rights leader and musician. Chorn-Pond, the subject of the documentary The Flute Player, was speaking as part of a lecture series sponsored in part by a lecture series endowed by my cousin in honor of his mother. I attended out of family obligation, then, but I left with a sense of humility and a need for reflection.
Chorn-Pond, whom I am embarrassed to admit I did not know of prior to the lecture, is a Cambodian who, as a child, was separated from his family and put in a work camp with hundreds of other children. After having been forced to take part in a number of killings (including those of family members), Arn was chosen, along with six other children, to learn to play revolutionary songs on the flute. The Khmer Rouge soldiers brought in an older musician to teach the children; after one week, they determined that the children had learned enough, so they killed the old man and some of the other students. Arn learned enough to play for the soldiers and, as a result, was one of fifty children to have survived the work camp.
Arn later escaped the soldiers and found his way to a refugee camp. He was eventually adopted by an American family, and moved to the United States. As an adult, he became a crusader for world peace and children's rights. In addition, upon returning to Cambodia, he discovered that 90% of the "traditional" musicians of his generation had been killed, and he began a project to gather and record the remaining musicians.