Tear a root from the earth


Music by Johnny Walsh with Qais Essar and Gramophonic
Lyrics by Johnny Walsh
Book by John Bair
Directed by Marina McClure

Tear a Root from the Earth is a new folk opera that fuses American and Afghan music traditions to tell the story of an Afghan family as it deals with repetitive foreign intervention, first by the Soviets in the 1980s, and then by the Americans in the 21st century. The piece is epic in scope and sound, creating an experience through which audiences can build emotional connections and develop deep understandings of the actions and motivations of the Afghan people that many know only from gory images and devastating headlines. In so doing, we encourage audiences to explore the West’s connection with Afghanistan. 

Tear a Root from the Earth is a collaboration between composers Johnny Walsh and world-renowned Afghan rabab virtuoso Qais Essar, arranged by and for celebrated Americana band Gramophonic.

Creative team bios

Johnny Walsh

Johnny Walsh (Music & Lyrics) is the cofounder, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist for the Americana folk band Gramophonic. He has been writing music for nearly two decades, playing in orchestra pits since he was in high school, and playing rock & roll with his father since he was old enough to sit upright. He has been developing Tear a Root from the Earth with Gramophonic since 2011. When he isn’t writing and playing music, he serves as UN Ambassador Samantha Power's senior advisor for South and Central Asia. While writing Tear a Root from the Earth, Johnny worked for the State Department’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, America’s top overall diplomat for those countries. 

Qais Essar

Qais Essar (Co-composer) is an international artist, composer, producer, and experienced live performer who carries on the traditional legacy of classical Afghan instrumentation as established by Ustad Mohammad Omar Khan. A student of not only both classical and traditional forms but western music as well, Essar is able to also present the Rabab with a fresh new perspective. In composition, he strives to bring the age-old Rabab into the 21st century, in an innovative fashion. Essar has collaborated with many prominent artists and masters covering the musical spectrum, performing domestically and internationally. His first LP, The Green Language (2014),  was a #1 bestseller on Amazon. His second LP, Tavern of Ruin, was released in July, 2016.


John Bair (Book) is a New York-based writer. His work focuses on the trends and forces that shape our contemporary world. In addition to Tear a Root from the Earthhe is developing a web series about space travel, a screenplay about human trafficking, and a novel about individualism in youth culture. He is a surrogate writer for Hillary for America and an editor for AfterWords, an online publication uniting victims of sexual assault and their allies.

Marina McClure

Marina McClure (Director) creates emotionally charged theater, opera, and spectacles by fusing striking visual design and physical work with performers. Her work has been seen throughout the US and in Canada and South Africa. Marina teaches directing at The National Theater Institute at the O’Neill and has been an artist-in-residence at Dartmouth and Connecticut Colleges and a guest director for Handspring Puppet Company. She is a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, a script reader for the Public Theater's Emerging Writer’s Group, and a resident director at the Flea (NY). She has assisted Lisa Kron & Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home - Sundance), Anne Bogart/SITI Company (BAM Next Wave), and Nataki Garrett (An Octoroon - Woolly Mammoth). Marina frequently develops new work with Aleshea Harris, Emma Stanton, Sara & Reid Farrington, Drew Foster, Nick Benacerraf and Emma Green. Upcoming: CasablancaBox (HERE, NY), Leisure, Labor Lust (The Mount, MA), workshops of a new folk opera, The Dryway. MFA: CalArts.


Gramophonic (Band) is a Washington, DC-based quartet which includes by turns cello, mandolin, accordion, guitar, bass, and percussion, including Central Asian tabla drums. Gramophonic shares a passion for the stories and cultures of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and China, and its songs explore members’ past lives in these countries through the American folk, blues, and roots music they grew up with. The band is a mainstay at prominent DC-area music festivals and performing venues like the Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival and the Rock & Roll Hotel.



The creative team behind Tear a Root from the Earth is now casting Afghan or Middle Eastern singer/actors in anticipation of several workshop and performance opportunities across the US in the coming year. 

Click here for character descriptions. Note: specified vocal ranges and ages are flexible; we are more interested in the right person than the indicated range. 

To audition: 

  • Record a 1-2 minute video of yourself singing a big rock song. Think Bruce Springsteen or Amy Winehouse. Rock our socks off.  
  • Email your video link along with a headshot and resume to:


For all inquiries, please contact Marina McClure:

Additional links

Gramophonic (Band)

Qais Essar (Co-composer)

Marina McClure (Director)