19 Apr 2012

Middle East Experience

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As I was en route from Tel Aviv back to Spokane I thought I would share a few thoughts about the experience here in the West Bank region (my fourth time doing this kind of work/performing etc. in the Middle East ) and with the Edward Said Conservatory of Music.  (These are just a few ‘snapshots’ of my day-to-day experience…I continue to resonate deeply about the situation, and will write more when I have some quiet time.) The competition I judged is held over a 2-week period, and includes western instruments and Arabic instruments.  There are 4 international jurors for each instrument, and each instrument has 3 category levels.  Students competed from several cities, including Gaza, and those who could not travel into Jerusalem competed via web cam.  Several times students who had been given a ‘pass’ were denied at the last minute, so some would travel all the way back to their city, and compete on the web cam from their local music school.  One boy from Ramallah in the upper piano division (age 16) had never been to Jerusalem, and had a pass for the first time…he was so excited just to see the old city after he played.  (Ramallah and Jerusalem are about 30 miles apart)  I also performed and gave master classes in several branches of the conservatory…they are so excited about finally getting a permit to re-build the music school in Gaza, though this will not be easily or quickly done.  They are simply grateful to have 2 pianos this year instead of one.  (Puts a perspective on our practice room situation at the university for sure…) Everywhere I play and teach the students are so eager to learn and understand more about classical music, and the conditions of the conservatory, depending on the branch, are drastically different than we would expect.  I was so moved once again by how excited the teachers and students are to connect with people from other countries, and especially performers/teachers who can offer pedagogical ideas and demonstrate the nuances of artistic delivery in music that is still quite new to this culture. 

 I experienced first- hand the long lines at checkpoints by traveling between cities alone and on foot.  I was in Jerusalem on ‘Land Day’ last Friday (it was big on BBC news but perhaps not in the U.S.) and witnessed the dramatic protests, military, skirmishes, etc…. not to mention one horrific scene in the Damascus gate area as I was trying to get through.  I was determined that the students I was to teach were going to have as “normal” a day as possible, in the midst of this annual demonstration.  And 2 days later in the same place I was walking with the Palm Sunday procession from the Mount of Olives through Lion’s gate…I walked with the groups from Africa because their music was amazing! 

 The daily experiences were incredible, and I was deeply touched by the sincerity and passion the people here have for music, education and developing positive relationships with people from all parts of the world…and in the ESNCM they do this with music, and the growing activities in musical study that are happening here.  In every school there are signs about peace and understanding, and how to focus on this in everyday life.  It took me over 4 hours to travel 30 miles to teach one day….and many of these teachers do this several times a week.  After teaching for several hours, I played a concert, and then returned to Bethlehem which took another 3 hours.  (All public transportation or on foot.)  In the midst of conflict, difficulties, and un-predictable daily scenarios that we cannot imagine, the people I work with here in the Middle East are trying to elevate the human spirit, and especially to provide something meaningful for the young people … and it is having a profound effect.  So much of my experience is beyond words at the moment, but I plan to take my journal notes and put something more cohesive together than my current rambling.  Music indeed serves as a universal language as we know…and in the current situation in the Middle East, it is one of the expressions that IS making a difference.

salaam alaikum,  Jody

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