Afghan musical prodigy sang in secret — and now he’s a Hunter College grad
As a 5-year-old boy in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, Elham Fanous and his dad sang in secret.
“We had to close the door, curtains down, so no one would hear the sound of music, which was banned,” he told The Post. “We would be killed.”
From that harsh childhood, Fanous has attained the American Dream.
The talented classical pianist — and budding composer — graduated May 29 from Hunter College. He will pursue his studies at the Manhattan School of Music on a full scholarship.
After the US liberated his homeland from the Islamic extremists, his father encouraged Fanous to take up an instrument. He chose the piano upon hearing Vladimir Horowitz on YouTube, and taught himself to play by watching the site’s instructional videos.
“I just fell in love with the looks, the shape of the piano, the sound, and how I can express so many emotions,” he said.
The teen prodigy enrolled in the fledgling Afghan National Institute of Music in a rundown building with only one piano for 25 students.
“We had to wait on line to practice for 10 to 15 minutes,” he said.
But as the school gained a reputation, it was targeted by militants. In 2014, a suicide bomber attacked during a performance, seriously injuring the school’s founder.
The school shuttered, Fanous snuck into a Kabul hotel lobby, where he found a piano and played Chopin’s Nocturne. The enchanted guards refused to kick him out.
Finally, Fanous called on Leslie Rosenthal, a Scarsdale mom of two sons he had met in 2013 during a US tour with the Afghan National Youth Orchestra, when he performed solo at Carnegie Hall.
Rosenthal’s mother, Hunter alum Nancy Fadem, was a retired teacher of English as a foreign language. She tutored Fanous via Skype to prepare him for the CUNY entrance test.
Hunter College embraced Fanous. “We saw something special in him and the Hunter family supported his potential,” said President Jennifer Raab. Donations flowed in from alumni, including Frayda Lindemann, who serves on the Metropolitan Opera’s board.
“I have an American family — the people who helped me come to the US,” Fanous said.
He has big dreams. “One of my plans is to produce a volume of my own compositions,” including arrangements of songs he learned from his father in Afghanistan.
“My main goal is to inspire people and be a cultural ambassador for my country,” he said. “I want to keep music alive in places where it’s been dangerous.”
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