In 2006-7 I grew up. I needed a job. I reviewed the website musicalchairs.info daily and finally stumbled upon something that I was ecstatic to apply for and do: conducting two orchestras, 1 choir, and teaching violin and flute all in 1 place - the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music. I didn't look at the flag, and applied. When I got the job, I realised that I would be moving to Pa. les tine. I was 25 years old. That was the year that I grew up and lost my stupid American naiveté.
In these series of blog posts I'll be sharing the email updates that I sent to my friends, family, and colleagues at the time.
March 4 2007, Update 8:
Dear All, the time is flying and March is already here. . . wow, and of course a new month means a new update!!
Today the Int/Adv orchestra and I finished the final orchestra camp in Birzeit before we head off to a tour to Dubai on Friday. The whole Conservatory is buzzing with excitement, and of course everybody wants to go. Actually, the fact that the orchestra is going is due to a blessed mistake! The sponsors had requested classical and Arabic music, and said that they could bring 15 musicians. The conservatory arranged for chamber music and soloists, but then the director got the fatal call the Dubai sponsors and audience were expecting an orchestra, and would cancel the whole occasion unless an orchestra was sent. (strange for them to think that 15 people could constitute an orchestra?). Anyways, Suhail, by boss and director, called me into his office and with rings under his eyes and with an exhausted and quasi helpless sigh explained the situation and asked if it would be at all possible to manage to pull this one off.. OF COURSE!! I love the impossible challenge! Not only, but I put another “impossible” on top of the first impossible by saying that the orchestra should not only play it’s old rep, but also the new project, Beethoven 5. The kids ATE it up! There was practicing like you wouldn’t believe, especially since the places to go to Dubai were limited (now to a healthier number of 40) and therefore competition was driving flying fingers and screaming bows. So after two intensive weekend orchestra camps, we are ready to go with Beethoven 5, Schubert 8, and some other small pieces!
As I get more opportunities to conduct and rehearse, my teachers words are haunting my dreams and thoughts as I examine and re-examine what I am doing with these kids. The more you do it, the more you realize that conducting is not only music, but also conducting mentalities, mindsets, trying to mend this relation here and there, stoke some spark of imagination or energy in this mind or that, give confidence to the doubtful, snap the whip at the lazy, all at the same time as being a dual subject of hatred or admiration. And trying all the time to keep the footing on some level of respect and discipline needed to produce a productive rehearsal and a happy orchestra.
It’s not only the kids minds that I deal with . . it is also the teachers of the kids. Those who study with teachers involved directly with the orchestra excel and have great attitudes, and those who study with teachers with noses in the air towards orchestra only THINK they are adequate, but in fact are dragging the group down . . it’s all one mental game!
Back to the grand old Ramallah, a little bit of everyday life. Fridays SUCK traveling. Friday is the big prayer day for Muslims, many of whom want to travel to Jerusalem to pray. This means that Kalandia is quite busy and stormy . . usually by the middle of the day there is some kind of riot, small or large, and the last 3 weeks have been upsetting with the road into Kalandia closed by Israeli jeeps chasing after Palestinian youths. Explosions, guns . . . what a mess. It sounds very dramatic, and the first time I had to go through it, my heart was pounding and I want to return to Jerusalem pronto. But the line of traffic of course always finds a way around the danger and life and business goes on in the midst of chaos, so upon the friendly reassurance of a bus driver I know, I got into a Service going through the refugee camp, and was fine getting back to my next rehearsal in Ramallah. Drama is normal . . I think people need drama anyways. If it’s not openly displayed like in cases here, then people make up soap operas anyways in compensation. I need drama. One of my older students told me I’d should be an actress, that I’d really succeed, and I told her my mom was one. She wasn’t surprised. Well, if conducting fails, I can always then turn this new course of life upon the healthy recommendation of a 22 year old beginning violinist.
Before other mundane things can be mentioned, I might share a thought that came to me the other day of what Palestine is doing to my brain. You remember those commercials with the egg and the whole egg versus the fried and then the head line, “this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs?” Well, let’s say that my brain before Palestine was an egg depleted of calcium, with therefore a very soft weak shell, ready to crack at the minutest chink. (not so really, but in comparison this works). And now, my brain is the inside of the egg still, but the shell has become this massive iron clad suite of armour impervious to bullshit, taxi drivers, honks, shitty remarks from men on the streets, rude choir members, and retarded actions from anybody who interferes with my work and life. This is Hebe’s brain. This is Hebe’s brain on Palestine.
Ha, getting on with other features of life. My goodness I never thought this country could be green! When I first moved here it was all yellow and white and some light brown interspersed with some dirt colored olive trees, trash, and sheep. I was thirsty for green, fresh pine, snow, lakes, mountains, grass, bluebells, give me the Alps PLEASE! But, hey, it’s totally completely green now. YES! When I went to Amman in Jordan to renew my visa, the countryside was so strangely a combination of my places I’ve been, a sort of mix between the Palestine hills I know by now, the Mexican plantations I saw as a child in Ixtapa, and GREENness. Speaking of Amman, it’s the Los Angeles of the Middle East. You’ll see lots of Kentucky Fried Chicken, chique salad bars, and very modern but somewhat materialistic people. Anyways, one the way back, first the Jordanian soldiers gave me trouble because the Israeli soldier on the way out had stamped the wrong passport, so the Jordan visa was in one passport, and the stamp in the other. It took at least 5 of them shouting at each other and frowning at me for a while for them to decide to let me pass. Then, when I went to enter Israel again, the Israeli soldiers asked to speak with my alibi. So I called my friend very fast when I they put me in the waiting room, so that he was prepared for their call. Immediately when he started speaking to them, he told me that he didn’t give them a chance to speak, that he was very insistent that I had to come back to Israel, that I needed to be there for a long time, that I was VERY famous, and VERY Zionist. I was ushered through with courtesy. I had no idea what was going on or what in the world he had told them to get me through like that. This is Hebe’s brain on Palestine. Iron eggshell.
Other trite little things, I love going to the healthclub still, especially to see my dear friend Katya everyday (the sweet Russian mafia ballerina insistent on abdomen exercises), and she’s gotten my flexibility to the point that my brain flew with joy upon realizing that one day I was doing the splits! Next thing you know I’ll have given up conducting, my new profession of acting, and instead I’ll join Cirque du Soleil as the Iron Egg contortion artist.
I wish you all well and I’ll try to make my orchestra play with such an extreme amount of bow and resonance that the air waves from our Dubai concerts reach you all over the waters.
I started this email differently, and very negatively, but I rethought and let me start afresh. Spring is here!! That’s a good thought.
Let’s start with something funny. Since I’m preparing to do a Haydn Symphony with the orchestra, I’ve been reading a book about Baroque string technique, and one of the first things it says in bold letters is “Inequality is ok”. Me with my narrow mind naturally was on the music track, but during a rehearsal with 5 of my advanced kids joining the Mozart Requiem performance with the Choir of London, I shared this excerpt of the book with them to apply it to a particular passage. One of the cellists, a hilarious and hip girl named Duja, immediately blurted out, “racists”. I almost split my sides with laughter.
It’s true . . such early music was based on “racism” . . inequality in everything!! Beats, sound production, temperment (tuning), timbre, vibrato usage, harmonic hierarchy, phrasing. And as human rights became more hotly demanded . . music answered with the “democracy” of sound structure to the point where Schoenberg announced that all pitches were equal! Way to let completely go of the tonal system. Is a system better? Or does it instill/uphold racist tendencies? Well, anyways, I’m glad I have a Duja to remind me that I should keep thinking rather than accept and live blindly with the information around me.
Lets find another funny thought . . I’m learning the cello!! I guess the actuality of it is not so funny, it’s really amazing. . I should have done this a LONG time ago, it is miles and miles better than the violin. So now my fingers are stretching so completely out that between the viola and the cello, when I practice violin it feels like a tiny insignificant (high pitched) little toy. They funny part comes that the first week my room was nicknamed the cowpen for all of the mooing that emitted from my cello. Well . . . you always need to wade through the shit before you start walking on grass, and luckily I got through the beginning phases. I’m proud to say I’m already at Grade 4 in 2 weeks!! My cello kids are stressing with the competition ☺.
Other news: the Choir of London is here on a massive rampage to demonstrate to the world what they are proud to call the Palestine Mozart Festival. Some teachers of the Conservatory (Emma-clarinet, Lasse-piano, Bettina-cello, Gennady-horn, and I-flute and viola) played an enormously satisfying chamber concert for the benefit of the Choir of London’s pocket-book as part of the Festival, . . but we were glad to do so and especially for the opportunity to perform so much Mozart for a good cause. In addition, my own Jerusalem Chorus and 5 little kids from my orchestra joined the CoL in a performance of the beautiful Ave Verum Corpus yesterday at the Friends Boy’s School (at which girls attend as well?!) . . and amidst all of my ups and downs in the last few months, those 6 minutes (we did it twice) of conducting brought all my heart and love for the profession back again. What a magnificent thing . . beautiful voices revering one of the last compositions of my favorite composer . . life excels possibility so rarely!
In addition, most of the teachers of the Conservatory plus some of my students and choir will perform the Requiem next week.
I’m working furiously on intonation with my kids, but there are some that simply don’t have the sound in their ears. It’s understandable considering the tonal system is a system and if it is not installed initially, it is very hard to expect anything of quality to happen reasonably. So in compensation my CD burner is smoking and puffing with overtime work so that I stock their ears with anything I think might start their intonation engines working . . by now my entire beginning orchestra has the Brahms Symphony 1 (we’re playing a theme from it) and I’m hoping that this will spark some realization. The one cellist that has the biggest problem (she’s 8 years old I think?) also constantly answers with the Arabic yes. This means that if I correct her, or ask her if she knows where we are starting, or tell her F#, not F natural, or talk about time signatures, etc etc , .. she always nods vigorously yes and with lots of conviction in her eyes . . but she actually has no idea what I’m talking about and so she really means no.
That’s another really funny topic that ALL foreigners find exasperating upon coming to this part of the world. When Arab Palestinians say no, they don’t do anything except raise their eyebrows. The other option is to give a very subtle click of the tongue while raising the eyebrows. It’s hilarious if you know about it, but frustrating to no end if you have no idea what is going on. But it’s so engrained in the culture to look for this slight miniscule sign, that even if a taxi passes you at 40 miles an hour, and honks to see if you need a ride, you can do this very little movement of the eyebrows and he will immediately know that you prefer to walk. Not that they always stop if you do happen to need a ride. . the other day I was walking home at 12pm at night in the cold horrible fog and far from home and upset, and I very obviously needed one, and two drove past honking and then sped off with glee. . . grrrrrr. So basically employing Murphy’s laws and applying them to taxis . . when you don’t need them they are like mosquitos buzzing around you, and when you really need them, they are totally absent or intentionally unavailable.
April!! The end is near… phew. I’m sick of Palestine. What a statement!!!
The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, the sheep are baaing, the cats are kittening, and the boys are ANNOYING. As a foreigner, and one that sticks out considerably for being female, tall, and usually unwilling to acknowledge anybody or anything on the street, I feel like a real minority harassed by disgusting men and stupid boys. Sexual harassment laws (or any laws, for that matter) are still not quite in place (and it is doubtful they ever will be) and in consequence I wish I could hurl daggers out of my ears (rather than having to look at them) and burn every one of their irises with poison and lasers. Sounds very dramatic . . and it is. Inside, I am fuming, steaming, boiling, gnashing, scalding and whatever else you prefer to add, with resentment, and yet I know from my childhood with my foster brother (not sexual harassment . . just bad behavior) that is better to ignore and pretend it isn’t happening rather to get outwardly angry and acknowledge it . . the outcome of course satisfying them and promoting more. I want to learn knife-throwing, karate, and bring a big ugly mean dog with me wherever I go and to guard my house (some dumb kid followed me home and made as if he was going to rob me the other day) . . and then I reprimand myself for these dumb thoughts. Why resort to violent thoughts? The usual fault of humanity under stress. Well, anyways, I make it sound more dramatic than it actually is. To be honest, there is an exponentially larger rate of crime in the States than there is here . . so I should just learn to thicken my tolerance level.
That’s the little news from this end . . and I’m looking forward to July when I’ll finally be coming back to you all again. Yours always,