Sweet Notes Of Change
Dec 12 Update: Devon has sent us an update!Check it out.
Dec 15 Update: Devon has sent us another update!Check it out.
Many of these stories here at The Sietch have been around change that can be affected by education and the environment. My story of change involves education, but of a different subject: music. Also, the blogs and stories of change contained on this site have focused on community and expression of opinion. My love for music and for community has recently expanded well without the borders of my violin teacher’s lesson room here at Clark University. This entry is the beginning of a story of change to occur.
Palestine, baroque music, and an environmental science and policy major; how could all of these be in common? Let alone, how do they add up to a story of positive change?
My major is my main area of focus and energy at Clark. However, it has also afforded me the opportunity to be influenced by a community of extremely philanthropic students and faculty from all walks of life and corners of the globe. One of whom happens to be my violin instructor, Peter Sulski . Peter has been going to Palestine for ten years both performing and volunteering in the refugee camps. Ten years ago, he met a young man that had been recently introduced to the joys of being able to play the viola, Ramzi Abu Redwan. Now, Ramzi, along with some French musician friends, run the non-profit Al Kamandjati, a music school for the children of Palestine. Al Kamandjati runs on a lot of heart from the lives it has touched through the music it creates.
So where does the change fit in? I will be making a trip with Peter this December (2006) to helpto provide my services during a Baroque music festival. Through my own network of friends, I hope to collect instruments and music books to bring along as a donationfor the students at Al Kamandjati in exchange for the first hand experience of Palestinian music and song. Better understanding through music that is shared is the best soul food in the world.
Check back for an update upon my return!
Devon is back! and has sent in these reflections..
Reflection 1 –First Impressions
(note , did you know that French keyboards are designed differently from the QWERTY setup that we have….as such know that it took some time to write this)
Waking at 4 am Monday morning, I could scarcely believe that the day had finally come to leave for Palestine ! I had spent most of the previous evening packing clothes, shoes, odds and ends, and most importantly instruments! One, a violin donated by a good AmeriCorps friend of mine (Double!), and a bag of recorders from my friend Joanne at Clark. Peter arrived in limo promptly at 4:30 and off we were to Boston.
As we rode along, Peter rapidly told me of all the musicians that would be joining us in Ramallah to perform in the Baroque festival. The first musician I met was Chloe, a violist originally from Newton, MA. She teaches lessons in Providence to inner-city youth; similar to the mission of Al Kamandjati. We both enjoyed tea and coffee while wondering about the flights ahead of us. The flight from Boston to Heathrow was smooth and early. Only being my second international trip, I feel that it may still be too early to be fair in critique between this flight and those I have taken of late in the US. One thing I do appreciate is the food on the plane. Breakfast and lunch were both excellent. Also, having your own personal screen on the seat in front of you to watch provided films can help pass the time. I fortunately had a seat between my window seat and the rather smelly lad next to me; nice manners when I needed to get up and done though.
The Heathrow airport was impressive with its endless tunnels, large posters of ads to further confuse the jet-lagged passengers, and an impressive mall of stores surrounding the terminals. With some time to stretch , I picked up a converter (which I am hesitant to use in fear of melting my video camera) and stared enviously at the diners seated around a sleek counter selling raw seafood delicacies ; must treat myself on the way back . The three hour layover flew by and we were soon walking to were our plane would depart from. Within 50 feet of the terminal, I knew it most definitely was the right one since amongst other seated passengers there were men and women in traditional Hasidic dress. At one point, all the men gathered near a window and bobbed along to their audible prayers.
Boarding the plane I hoped that this time, my neighbor would at least be more pleasing to the nose . A meal and movie along with a nap passed until upon descent, I spoke with the young man seated next to me. Turns out he was a composer that was studying at Harvard, returning for the holidays. My inexperience with the classical music field kept me from realizing that a man he mentioned is one of the leading classical composer’s of late. Well without further ado, we arrived to Tel Aviv!
We stepped off the plane into early morning darkness, but upon passing through customs and collecting our bags, the eastern sun shone through the windows of the airport. Peter was held up due to his passport with stamps from Syria and Lebanon, but not for as long as we expected. He was soon able to buy an international cell that he called our main host Ramzi on. After a misplaced call to Ramzi’s uncle, Peter found the right number and was told that our ride should be there. This second search of the fountain lined foyer resulted in finding a beaming man in a long trench coat named Kamal. His truly genuine smile and ease with which he spoke to us all made me feel as if I had known him for ages.
We climbed into his white VW van, plastered with no-smoking labels just as he lit the first of many cigarettes that I would see burned by all in the coming day. Careening through the landscape, the van brought us by hillsides teeming with rock and crag with small stands of olive trees, reminding me of time I had spent in Andalucía (southwestern Spain). Although, the dusty film covering all structures and trash littered landscape was more reminiscent of trips to P.R., TX, Mexico and S.D. My first checkpoint was from Jerusalem into Ramallah; Canadian and Mexican borders cannot compare to the intimidation of multiple armed personnel (women too!). Kamal’s plates and registration allowed for quick admittance so we were soon on our way. The first task was for Chloe and I to move into our flat that we would be sharing with three other women: Celine, Sabine, and Helene. After quickly moving our luggage, we had a much needed snack and were soon off to bed (it was roughly 8 am upon sleeping). I slept like a rock until Chloe woke me at 2 pm to get ready to head to the music center.
The Al Kamandjati center is absolutely beautiful with its large door beckoning young minds to come and explore its cavernous rooms. The afternoon and early evening was spent changing my violin’s strings, assisting Celine in the office, and chatting with the other musicians here. One of my most exciting surprises was to meet Douglas. Turns out he is the cousin of a girl that I ran with and my sister danced with, Missy M. Growing up in Southwick and attending U Mass – Amherst to study clarinet, he was able to reflect with loads of enthusiasm on everything that makes my home of Western Mass wonderful.
Throughout the day, the mosques play prayers/songs that could either be played from recordings or are being read/sung live. The haunting pitches that these voices have lend itself as a strange contrast to the Mozart flowing from these musicians I have just met. It is with this imagery that I will leave you with. I do hope that I will master this keyboard soon or find an internet cafe with a ‘normal’ keyboard lol.
Update from Ramallah 2 .
The weather was cloudy and cold yesterday (Wed). All of the buildings have tile floors and stucco walls. So, you can imagine the chill that you feel when you are inside rather than outside. I am told that they build the homes this way in order to keep cool during the warmer months. Now and for the next few months will be the coldest time of year, just as it is at home. To keep warm, portable heaters are placed in the room and are most often gas powered. Many of us are also wearing many layers of clothes to help against the chill you can feel just from sitting still.
All of the musicians are practicing the more than seven pieces that will make up the performances of this Baroque festival. It has been wonderful to be a classical ‘roadie’! Slowly I am learning more about different composers as well as techniques used to perform. The amount of practice that the others are putting in has also inspired me to practice as much as I can. It is a little intimidating since I only just realized how resonant the walls are, allowing all to hear each time I retune my strings and again play through my wonderful Polish beginner book. However, the enthusiasm and discipline that the children have for playing gives me renewed confidence in performing with a group next semester. A group of about 12 had a performance for their families here at the center last night and we were all invited to attend. The first performer was a little girl, who looked to be about 5 or 6 years old, and played on an oud, an Arabic stringed instrument that makes me think of the stringed instruments of the medieval period. She was absolutely precious! A few others also played solo performances on ouds, followed by an orchestra performance incorporating violin, flute, accordion, oud and drum. I later found out from their teacher that they had only practiced the songs for two weeks! This only further impressed me with their abilities and dedication to their instruments..
After the concert, a group of us went to relax at Ramzi’s apartment, but did not have him with us for long. With the concerts and the center, he is constantly running around making sure all the arrangements are in place. Also, he is very social and just loves to talk with all the children and parents. Instead, my new friend Saeid entertained us with his humor and imitation of Spanish song on guitar. Oh, we ate some absolutely amazing hummus, olives, and goat cheese with different types of bread. In general, the food is great here, especially bread and fruits. Orange and other fruit juices are all freshly squeezed. Sandwiches are all falafel with cucumbers and salad. I have not tried coffee yet, but the teas have been very nice. .
Today is the final day of practice before the concert series. As a practice, the group performed at a lunch reception for an award being given to Ramzi by an award program created in honor of the Prince of the Netherlands, Prince Claus. All played marvelous considering it is only their third time performing this Mozart piece. The reception was held in a beautiful restaurant downtown filled with palms and other tropical plants. Everyone was quite excited to share lunch with each other, enjoying the many snacks including ‘Arabic lemonade’ to drink; made of lemons and mint, brilliant green in color. .
We are all still doing well despite the declining situation in Gaza that I was told about this morning. The checkpoints are all closed for now and we will need to wait and see if things may improve enough so that we can perform there on Sunday.
Yesterday, after the lunch performance, I joined a few of the gents at a cafe for tea and a Boston crème donut. The donut was absolutely fab and I felt quite refined eating it with the knife and fork it was served with. I never would have guessed experiencing such a common fast food from home here in Ramallah. Outside of the cafe, a group of boys were playing soccer on a field defined by small rocks and goals by flower pots.
I have had some opportunity to walk around the streets a bit when I helped Saeid post flyers for today’s performance. This was at night on Wednesday and the streets were absolutely filled. However, it was mostly men that were out and about. It was quite a contrast to the morning walks that we (Chloe, Helene, Sabine and I) take from where the taxi drops us to the center. At that time of day, women are about in groups or accompanied by their children. To some extent, I guess that it could be that the women are at home cooking as well as not safe to roam the streets at night. Saeid says that even some men do not walk at certain times at night so as not to encounter others looking to cause trouble. However, the weekends are full with activity; numbers making all feel safer to be out on the main drag of shops and markets.
The store fronts are spilling onto the sidewalk with their goods. Produce stands have boxes of fruits and veggies lined in front of their windows. The colors seem brighter to me when they are arranged so closely together and in natural light compared to when I am looking for fruit in the produce isle at home. Men pedaling carts sell either breads or nuts to passersby. Each time I pass a sandwich shop with its joint of lamb spinning in the window I instantly feel hungry (sorry veggie-lovers). So far, I have restrained from exchanging my money so that I wait and see the main market or have the opportunity to travel to the other cities. I do have my eye on a small rug and want to have some help in picking some music.
Today the center has truly come to life with children coming for lessons. Even the copy room and rooftop have become spots for rehearsal. A young boy is learning accordian (playing Jingle Bells) while a small group of girls have come to learn how to play kamandjat (violin). Upstairs, my group of musicians is perfecting pieces for tonight’s performance. And I, well I am just a glow with taking it all in; time to go see if I can join in with the accordion player. Love you all and will try to send more updates as I can, but it may be difficult now that we will start traveling.
Hi to everyone that is following my blog. Today is my last day in Ramallah, hard to believe. It has been an incredible experience meeting all these musicians that come here to teach. Yes, things have been very tense depending on the city and daily circumstances, but life is continuing. Stores and shops still open. Children go to school. However, they have no where near the security or comfort of freedom that I have had in the US. The concerts have been performed in churches, and because of this, I have felt like I have been viewing the many cities here from the eye of a hurricane. Inside the church and on its grounds, I have experienced a calmness wash away my unease at being surrounded by more than one foreign language.
Not knowing Arabic or having time for following the news, only bits and pieces of information passed on to me by others, has kept me from being more uncomfortable during times of overwhelming longing for a sense of familiarity with what surrounds me. This does not in any way imply that I would wish to accept the constant fear and danger that the people here live in.
When I reflect on our visit to Gaza, I am still in disbelief of the war stricken bleakness that we first drove through, a direct contrast to the explosion of life and color that lay within the walls of the Latin Church where we later performed. It will be some time before I think I will be able to really be aware of all that happened there. I shiver at the thought of what walls could possibly replace the fences that lie between America and Mexico; there is a silent anger at the humiliation one feels passing through such a checkpoint as we found at Gaza.
As the group is practicing, I have been able to sit in a pew and listen in awe as I think of my own musical ability, wondering if I could ever achieve even half of what some of the violinists, violists, and cellists posses.
This trip has definitely been different than what I had expected I would experience in terms of the work I would do for Kamandjati. I have a new appreciation for full-time performers and their managers after assisting with set up and break down during the baroque performances. It will be nice to be done with moving a 30 year-old harpsichord around narrow side streets and up slick tile stairs. With this, I leave to attend a chamber music concert this evening and will next post once home. Peace to all and the best holiday wishes to you and your families!
Continue to read about Devons journey here.