Those who are following these posts -- this first one brought some needed laughter, but the second one shocked me to remember what happened. In the series -- I went not knowing anything, and I came out knowing too much. My time as a music teacher in Pa--
Here is update 6, started on Jan 20.
Well, my orchestra program at the conservatory, which started as a lame animal with 3 dysfunctional legs, suddenly grew a fourth, stood up straight, and ran like a racehorse to the finish of 3 concerts in which we performed the first mov't of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony among other things. This all happened after a 4 day orchestra camp in Birzeit where I was graced with the magnificent collaboration of S. B. from Germany as wind coach, and J. and P. (brass players) from Germany and Sweden. The concerts were on Jan 8, 9, and 10 in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Ramallah, respectively, and although of course permits and other crap hindered (mostly administrative blunders) some details of the performances and rehearsals, in all it was a great success that we are all very proud of, and I am motivated to create an even greater concert this spring. . . on the list of repertoire is Beethoven 5, first mov't, and some other pieces I arranged such as Chiqulin de Bachin, la Donna e Mobile, and Summertime.
Ramallah in general is still damn cold, but I think in all respects things are warming up .. and all parts of life are going to become better. The rain is falling like mad today and rivers are running down the streets, but at least the 4 days before showed some abatement of the creeping cold. People are talking now, administrations are sorting out their differences (including my own conservatory, which has it’s own lion’s share), and I think things can only look up from here.
I have become a much more aggressive, strong, and insistent person from my whole Palestine experience. . can you believe I could have surpassed what I was before!! Take last week for instance. I traveled from Ramallah to Bethlehem with two of my Ramallah kids and one Jerusalem. This takes forever, first a service out of Ramallah, then a bus to Jerusalem Old City, then another bus to Bethlehem checkpoint, then a taxi to Beit Sahour where the Bethlehem conservatory is. Well, in any case, of course the Kalandia checkpoint was slow etc, and so by the time me and these kids get to Bethlehem checkpoint, 2 hours have gone by and we’re exhausted. So then when we get there, the soldier who is unconcernedly talking on the phone while filing her nails, refuses to let them through (these are 10-12 year olds) because if they don’t live or work in Bethlehem they can’t go in (even though they're Palestinians). I told her this was not acceptable, that I had a whole orchestra waiting for me, that these kids belonged with the orchestra, and that I definitely could not do without my bass player, and that we had already been traveling for two hours. She said if she was the captain, she would let me through. So, I said, fine, let me speak with the captain. Ok, she said he was coming, five minutes later he was still not there. So I asked her, was he coming now, or next year, or in 5 years? He came, I said that I definitely could not do without my bass player, and he let us through. I ARGUED WITH A CAPTAIN! My triumph for the week.
The point is not my triumph, actually, my point is that this country makes people aggressive, rude, strong, insistent. I now know why the old ladies push on their way through the checkpoint and on the bus. I now know why people honk like mad when there is a traffic jam. We simply don’t have patience for the unnecessary, since there is so much enforced unnecessary hindrances. If it had been me in September with these kids we would have headed back, wasted our day with travel, and not gained anything except down-trodden bitterness. Well, instead we had our small triumph, if it means anything. It means the captain has a good heart, it means that walls aren’t everything, that humanity can soften the cement to let a young bass player attempt to play tango with 8 other kiddies.
Tonight there were two “opera” singers and a Greek pianist who “graced” our Ramallah Cultural Center stage with a shoddy performance of famous arias and musical theater pieces. The concert was strangely advertised as a piano concert with accompaniment of singers . . a sign I should have well heeded. The tenor sang with an apple in his mouth (or so it seemed) and had absolutely no sense of diction, in whatever language he was singing. In fact, it didn’t even matter what the language was, it all sounded like one stuffed up drone. His real finesse lay in the musical theater, in which his dramatic acting was definitely the highest point of his performance. The soprano was ok, and also seemed more at home singing Show Boat than La Traviata. And her high C at the end of Boheme’s first act was pretty good, although I’m glad I couldn’t see how she must have had to contort her face to get it, because of course both her and Rodolfo are off stage for those last blessed notes. The tenor’s name was Coke, and let me tell you, when they sang the last encore from the Fledermaus, he must have snorted some before coming on stage. I shouldn’t be so harsh .. but just because we’re in Palestine doesn’t mean we don’t have standards here!! People can’t just come here to use our stage as practice venues for performances that they would never be allowed to do in other places!
Enough frustration. There are so many fantastic things here it would be stupid to dwell on the bad. Fantastic number one: it snowed here!! And the Palestinians revelled in it. Fantastic number two: we got a new Swedish pianist that temporarily joined the faculty, and we are planning a whole chamber music concert with him . . finally an opportunity to perform! Fantastic number three: the health club I’m part of has a Russian ballerina fitness trainer who has made it her personal goal to get me into shape and teach me ballet. She’s pretty intense . . insists on abdomen training every day. That’s pretty much the one muscle that I don’t seem to have. We’ve decided to do our training with Tchaikovsky and other classical ballet composers as a nice relief from techno aerobic music. Fantastic number 4, living in Palestine is like having a humungous family in which everybody takes care of everybody.
Take care all and I wish you a thousand good thoughts from across the miles.
Update 7, Feb 11, 2007:
Walla, (very satisfying Arabic expression), it’s February and there are so many exciting, terrible, promising, hopeless things to tell about my (and others) little life in Ramallah.
Do you remember that I said . . things are getting warmer .. it looks like organisations are talking, and things can only look up from here? I was slightly mistaken. As I thought we were at the lowest point and that out of default we could only go up, things miraculously got worse. On a personal level, the Conservatory almost brought me to the point of quitting due to some administrative blunders/actions regarding the orchestra and other things. Without details, and with a current sense of relief I now happily spread the news that within the last 3 days things have turned remarkably for the better . . which I will get to later. Anyways, outside of my egotistical little sphere but yet still relating to me: 1. A man who came to the healthclub every morning, and was best friends with one of my own friends, and in fact had participated in a jolly game of Pictionary (the best game on EARTH!!) at my house, was shot in the head by the Israelis. They were undercover in Ramallah and were trying to stoke a conflict between the two rival factions by dressing as Hamas soldiers, which made a Fatah security commander nervous, and when he called his extra guard (which Khaldoun was part of), for some reason shooting broke out. My friend was devastated, as was pretty much everybody around me (he was a person very much respected by many people in Ramallah). 2. So, after my friend lost her best friend, she then lost (day before yesterday) one of her former piano students in a gas station explosion also near Ramallah. On top of that, the very day that Fatah and Hamas agreed on a unity government, the Israelis provoked the entire Muslim world by digging beneath the third most holy site for Islam, the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, under the pretext that some ramp needed renewal. Hence, there was massive rioting in Jerusalem, and of course this affects the entire West Bank, because security was heightened, which froze the checkpoint at Kalandia, of course causing more rioting from Palestians insistent on traveling to Jerusalem . . .
So between illegal murders, explosions due to carelessness and stupidity, administrative blunders, funerals, provocation and rioting, the end result has been (for me) that I have been on permanent “vacation” for at least a week now that everything that I had in my calendar was cancelled. And so, you see, when you hit bottom, you can always dig more (beneath holy sites, at that) to hit the next bottom. Sorry for the pessimism.
I’m really not negative at this time, to be honest, because heek iddinya (you remember?? –“such is life”). And things now really ARE looking up. My orchestra is suddenly doing fantastic!! Now that we have a very strong administrative grip on the whole project, thanks to the departure of a tired and disorganised lady and the subsequent arrival of a young positive and energetic Mohammad Maragha, the students are responding with much better progress. The policy regarding practicing and attendance that they signed, and a month long trial period imposed by me (determining staying in the orchestra, or moving back to beginning orchestra) is creating competition and motivation to practice their music (!!! What a CONCEPT!!!), be extremely attentive during rehearsal, and take tardiness seriously. Not only that, but we have a substantial amount of Birzeit camps planned for this semester, and that is where we really make the most progress. For the advanced/intermediate orchestra we have several projects; some of them are playing the Mozart Requiem with the choir of London, and they all are playing the first mov’t of Beethoven 5. Also some smaller pieces, . . and I think after the Beethoven we will feed ourselves the veggies of orchestra .. a nice Haydn Symphony mov’t. . probably 44.
About the other things . . they are terrible. Shock numbs the soul. It becomes something that you begin to think of as “heek iddinya” . . because there is too much to plague you pysche with remorse and sadness and regret and anger and negativity. Maybe sometimes the only solution to big problems is a substantial shock and blow. Maybe for humanity that’s the only thing that brings us to action, conflict, and later, reconciliation. Brings us to reflection as well. My friend talked to me a lot during the last week about her grief and disbelief, and her questioning of everything, including the will herself to continue living. And she said you can only understand when it happens to you . . you can only sympathise completely with another’s pain when you feel it directly yourself. She was referring to all of the Palestinian women that she has seen on the news weeping over lost loved ones . .
Speaking of lost loved ones, I lost both of my cats. One was stolen by the street boys, and the other I think was terrorised by the bully cats in the neighbourhood. I’m not going to do the whole saving the cats from the humane shelter again. Expensive and sad. Palestine is not made for having cats . . you should keep them inside if you have them (I refuse, totally terrible for an animal), or you should realise that outside they must be the smartest, toughest, (dirty) buggers to claim their fame in the survival of the fittest. Maybe I’ll get a bird . . . . . . NOT.
Regarding music, I think that for some strange reason, what you would think to be a very far location regarding classical music, Ramallah is actually doing me some good?! I’m learning so much about what is fundamental to music when I teach my choir and my orchestra. Intervals especially. Breathing!! Playing an instrument or singing is like exercise, without oxygen you completely unwittingly fail. And also, I’m getting all these crazy opportunities to perform on every single instrument that I play: violin, viola, flute, singing, and even piano!! My piano chops thank goodness are improving, and I’m accompanying many of my students on their exam pieces and also on audition tapes for abroad. . plus I love practicing La Traviata in the morning with a CD to accompany a virtual Sutherland, . Callas. I’ve found the funniest methods to stretch the brain, . . try sight singing Isolde from Tristan and Isolde first act at tempo with a very old recording where the tonality (if discernable) is hard to hear. Walla, (lots of emphasis on the “W”) you find strange pastimes when you get to make them up yourself!
Well, anyways, let’s all get ready for a tremendous Valentines’ day with lots of virtual hugs and benevolent thoughts. Forget the material presents, let’s just all get along and be friends!! Walla!!!
Many regards . . I hope the sun and the moon smile down on you in peace!