Monday 6 August 2012

What He Could Give

Lyrics and music by Marion Parsons © 2004

True story of the “Cellist of Sarajevo” who played in the streets to honour bombing victims; see below for further notes.

He put on his tie and tails for the concert of his life
And took a little folding stool into the empty square
He tried the tender cello strings, he drew the horsehair tight
A rich and clean adagio came haunting through the air.

    And he played for the opera, for beauty torn apart
    He played for Sarajevo, to mend her riven heart
    And he played for the innocent, the merciful, the brave
    And for the spirits of the lost, what he could give, he gave.

Since the ruin of the theatre, there was little to be done
Till he became a witness to the deadly mortar shell
That fell into a market where the crowd lined up for bread
And turned his gracious city to the capital of hell.


And on the crater left behind, for three weeks and a day
For every man and woman lost, for every child slain
Against the beat of sniper fire, his cello prayed for peace
And sang for all with ears to hear, to kindle hope again.


Vedran Smailovic was Sarajevo’s premier cellist before the seige of Sarajevo in 1992.  He witnessed a bombing that killed 22 civilians in a marketplace, and for the next 22 days, he put on a tuxedo and took his cello to the spot where the bomb had landed, and played Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor. 

This is one of my two most requested songs (the other being Anne of Three Minutes) and has been performed by the Toronto a cappella trio Sweet Thyme.


  1. Thank you, Marion. Somebody has posted a video of an Iraqi musician continuing this tradition, so I shared your song, which I love--Jenn in Albuquerque

  2. Thanks for sharing this story Marion, Well told!