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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Music Promotes Peace in Palestine

Overture to peace in the West Bank
Article from -

Visiting musicians help give Arab youth the power of music at `Violinist' camp

July 05, 2008
Oakland Ross, Middle East Bureau
The Toronto Star

AL-FARA, West Bank–Take a limestone prison that once held Palestinian political detainees, add about 100 Arab children, furnish them all with musical instruments, sprinkle in 23 music teachers, most of them Europeans.

Let these ingredients simmer for five sunny summer days in the West Bank – and what do you get?

A somewhat wobbly performance of a Mozart Divertimento, followed by a properly wistful rendition of Pachelbel's Canon, all accompanied by a passel of earnest but happy young Palestinian faces, not to mention a proud parent or two.

In other words, you get just what Ramzi Aburedwan was hoping for.

"To bring them all together – this is really something," said Aburedwan, 29, prime mover behind a five-year-old Palestinian artistic endeavour called Al-Kamandjati, Arabic for The Violinist. "This year, the evolution has been tremendous."

This year, Aburedwan brought his summer music camp for impoverished Palestinian kids to this former political prison in Al-Fara, a small town outside Nablus in the northern West Bank.

An accomplished violist, Aburedwan recruited nearly two dozen musicians from various countries – including the United States, Britain, Germany, France and Italy – who are donating time and talent to help raise the level of music in a part of the world more closely associated with bombs and political bluster.

The instructors included an oboist and a flautist from L'Ensemble Orchestrale de Paris, a violinist formerly of the London Symphony Orchestra, an Australian conductor who now teaches music in Italy, and a German musicologist currently resident in Marseille.

You could call them Musicians Without Borders.

"These kids in five days of lessons are going to get farther than they would in 12 weeks of one-lesson-a-week," said Peter Sulski, a Boston-born violinist who divides his time between Massachusetts and London – and now the West Bank.

"I'm a community activist when it comes to music. I've long believed in music as a force for good."

In fact, all the children – who range in age from 7 to 16 – study music year-round, enrolled in programs Al-Kamandjati offers at a newly renovated building in Ramallah, de facto capital of the West Bank. The organization also offers music training in the Gaza Strip and in Palestinian refugee camps in southern Lebanon.

In the West Bank alone, about 300 youth study music in ongoing programs offered by Al-Kamandjati, which also distributes musical instruments without charge, thanks to funding from a variety of donors, both Palestinian and foreign.

Only the most highly motivated of those students were invited to the camp at Al-Fara, which unfolded within the low-rise, stonewalled chambers and courtyards of what used to be an Israeli jail and is now a recreational facility operated by the Palestinian Ministry of Sports and Youth.

Aburedwan said his father once was incarcerated here, and he remembers coming to visit, accompanied by his grandmother. But that was then, and this is music.

"It has been great, beautiful," said Rasha Dolani, 14, from the West Bank city of Jenin. "I want to be a great pianist."

Maybe she will be, although few, if any, of the children who study at Al-Kamandjati are likely ever to earn a living from their instruments.

That is not the point.

"Mostly, it's something else," said Sulski. "The idea is to strengthen their minds, their sense of cultural history, so that they can become a force for the future."

Still, it may seem odd that Arab children – heirs to a rich musical legacy of their own – should be schooled on Western instruments in a Western musical tradition.

Franz Dartmann, a German musicologist who is working on a new curriculum for Al-Kamandjati, said the distinctions between different musical styles are less important than the power of music itself.

"It's a bridge," he said. "It's another kind of music they can learn, and they learn it with pleasure."

That they do, as was apparent during an open-air concert the students performed on the final afternoon of their five-day summertime adventure.

Gusts of wind played havoc with the sheet music, but the players soldiered on, performing in ensembles, duets or individually for an audience of family, teachers and friends.

For a time, it was almost possible to forget the concert was taking place in the Middle East, home to what might well be the world's most stubborn conflict.

"If we all have something in common, it is music," said Aburedwan. "I just want to bring some hope and share something that I believe in so much."

Full article at Palestine Music program Promoting Peace

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