JULY 2006

Music on wheels
By Noam Ben Ze'ev, Ha'aretz

The Balata refugee camp near Nablus is not known for its cultural life. Yet, despite the poverty and ruin there - thousands of families survive on food stipends and hundreds live in shacks - residents of the camp find solutions to their hunger for culture and art. There are programs in community centers for women and youth and in schools to meet this need. Now, a new program has been added to the curriculum: music education, including instruction in musical instruments.

This week 11 children from the camp, ages 7-13, are visiting the French city of Lille. During the first days of their visit, they received intensive musical training from Ictus, a contemporary music ensemble, and today they will appear in a festive concert in the city's opera house. The concert will be the culmination of an extraordinary effort to collect instruments for Palestinian and Israeli children. Ictus leader Lukas Pairon, who founded the complex project, may now gaze in satisfaction at the realization of his dream - a dream many of his friends considered absolutely unrealistic.

Two or three times a year, for more than three years, Pairon has been coming to Israel with members of his ensemble to work with Tel Aviv University students and children from Nazareth and major cities in the West Bank. Their determination to stay with friends rather than in hotels made Israel and the territories their second home. Refusing to settle for one-off expressions of identification, they devote themselves to continuous field work, which produces intimate ties with local musicians.

"We are neither peace-minded politicians nor promoters of an ideology of coexistence," Pairon says. "We are working within the context of independence on both sides. Thus, when peace comes, we will be at a better starting point than others."

On one of their visits, Pairon came up with the idea of collecting instruments. "I mentioned, during a Belgian radio interview, that Palestinian children lack instruments and asked for donations. Within a short time I received dozens of instruments at my private address," he says. "That encouraged me to found a special non-profit organization devoted to this."

Leading Belgian musicians supported Pairon's Music Fund, and the first collection campaign yielded hundreds of instruments. "Donating an instrument is unlike any other donation: It is highly personal and very emotional," Pairon says. "There is a story behind every instrument. The donor imagines the child who will play the instrument, and thus people take an imaginary trip from Belgium to Palestine and Israel to bond with the children."

Pairon decided to escort personally the instruments to their destination. He learned to drive a truck and embarked last winter: He crossed the frigid European continent, hopped on a ferry from Italy to Greece, sailed all the way down to Piraeus, and from there boarded a ship that docked in Haifa in January.

People watched the enormous truck emblazoned with the message "Give Music a Chance" traveling the length and breadth of the nation to unload its bounty: flutes, clarinets, percussion instruments, string instruments of all sizes, five pianos and guitars. All were handed to outstretched hands to the resounding echoes of the truck's message.

"I was afraid of what I would find here after Hamas rose to power and elections were held in the territories and Israel, but I do not believe our projects are in any danger," Pairon says, on his latest visit to Israel. In addition to musicians from his ensemble, two experts in instrument repair joined him to conduct workshops in the territories, "so that a league of instrument builders and restorers will evolve there independent of Europe," Pairon explains. Pairon also inspected the level of music education during this visit - particularly in the Balata refugee camp, where four music teachers arrived from Lille.

The mood in Nablus has deteriorated following arrests and funerals. Won't your musicians be affected by that?

"To tell you the truth, yes," Pairon admits. "They are worried, depressed and irritable. We want to work at a high musical level, and under current conditions I can't blame them if they fall apart."

A visit to the Nablus casbah with Pairon reveals a determined, fearless man disturbed only by the posters of martyrs in every corner of the city. "I decided to express my shock in response to this, and repeated over and over that the immortalization of these suicide bombers makes me sick," he says. "I was happy to discover, among the Palestinians, wonderful people who also oppose this and support only non-violent protest."

On the way back to the Green Line we pass through Ramallah, where Pairon's colleagues repair instruments with pupils at the Al-Kamandjati School of Music. Back in Nazareth, Pairon is thrilled by progress made there by students at the Al-Mutran School since he and the ensemble began teaching.

Why don't you introduce them to students in Nablus, Ramallah and Bethlehem?

"We intended to do exactly that," Pairon sighs. "The plan was to have Arab-Israeli pupils join the current trip to France so that both sides could meet for the first time. But the school canceled at the last minute."

Making Gaza history

A year ago, a few months before the instruments arrived, Pairon first visited Gaza to prepare for his project. His hosts' requests appeared reasonable, in European terms: Meet with everyone involved in music education in the Gaza Strip in order to distribute the instruments best. It sounds simple - but given Gaza's harsh socioeconomic situation, it is extraordinarily difficult to promote music education. Pairon stood firm and for the first time in the costal strip's history, musical figures from all four corners of Gaza assembled to discuss music.

"We need much more than musical instruments: We need teachers to instill the population with a sense of the significance of music," one of the participants said. "Give us [fishing] rods - not fish. If you want to help, bring us people to teach us how to teach."

Controversy surrounded the issue of who would take responsibility for the project in Gaza, and one of the teachers suggested the Ministry of Education, in line with a Western conservatory model. Pairon opposed the idea and presented the example of Belgium, a nation that permits bureaucracy and clerks to interfere with music despite their lack of understanding, he says.

"We established an association of musicians first, and only later turned to the government," he says, making it clear that the Music Fund would only provide instruments to institutions where it had direct supervision. Finally, they decided to house the instruments in two main institutions: The Al-Qattan cultural center and the Gaza Broadcasting Service, which sponsors an orchestra and a choir.

The musical instruments arrived a few months later. Pairon was not permitted to enter Gaza with the Give Music a Chance truck, and the instruments were unloaded and packed into vehicles at the Karni crossing. At their destinations, the vehicles were greeted with tears of excitement: Guitars were pulled from cases, wind instruments were polished, and the piano was rolled to a place of honor on the auditorium stage of the Al-Qattan Center for the Child - a cultural center that serves a fifth of the 750,000 children in the Gaza Strip under the age of 15. The center provides them with books, audiovisual and reading rooms, an extensive garden, a theater and musical performances. The Gaza Broadcasting Service's own Arabic orchestra, accompanied by eight male and female singers, welcomed the instruments in a moving concert in a densely packed room, where classic Arabic music rang in a professional, stirring, emotive performance.

Despite deteriorating conditions in Gaza, Pairon does not surrender: While Gaza does not appear on his current itinerary he continues collecting instruments in Europe at an avid clip, and he will return in December to distribute them. "We will not give up on Gaza," he says. "There is still a lot of work there." Meanwhile, he continues to meeting with the mayor of Ramallah, local Belgian Embassy officials and Israel Embassy officials in Brussels, among others. All of them, except Israeli security figures, go out of their way to help him and the diplomatic and institutional front he has established here appears steadfast.

As someone who works on both sides, aren't you disturbed that the instruments are mainly given to Palestinians? There are certainly needy Jewish Israeli children who lack them.

"I do not oppose also giving to Jews. Our job is to help musicians and if there are those in Israel who make a request [for instruments], we will certainly provide. The instruments are intended for anyone who needs them.

MUSIC FUND, soloists from ICTUS
and four young music teachers
in Israel and Palestine from 1 to 9 january 2006

Coming to Nazareth is like coming home for me. It is really as a second home for me to be with Maha and Duaibis Abboud Ashkar, the parents of the pianist Saleem Abboud Ashkar.
Saleem was our special guest at the final concert at the National Opera of Brussels at the end of the first big collecting campaign of Music Fund last April. He is a young Arab-Israeli pianist now living in Berlin and making a career thanks to invitations to perform as soloist with conductors Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, a.o., and this coming Summer with Riccardo Mutti and the Wiener Philharmoniker.
For this reason, Saleem is also an example to many young Arab-Israeli and Palestinian musicians dreaming of a career as a professional musician in the field of classical western music.

Lukas Pairon and Duaibis Abboud Ashkar (Orpheus)
© Pol De Winter
His father Duaibis decided seven years ago to accept a pre-retirement from his job as an engineer for an Israeli communication company, and started to work for one of the larger schools in Nazareth, the El Mutran school of father Shoufani, in order to start up a project around music education. He wanted that other children would profit from the experience he had had as parent of two kids wanting to become musicians - besides Saleem, also his younger son Nabeel is becoming a musician, a young and talented violin player - by helping to set up music educational schemes for children and youngsters from the Nazareth area.
When Ictus started to come to Nazareth three years ago, Duaibis and his organisation Orpheus had only just begun with their music lessons in the El Mutran School and the children were only in the very beginning of discovering and learning music. What he succeeded to get to as results in those few years is a real miracle.

Students from Nazareth in Ictus rehearsal studio (Brussels, April 2005)
together with (from left to right) teachers Nabeel Abboud, Stéphane Ginsburgh,
Georges-Elie Octors and François Deppe
© Kimiko Nishi

The El Mutran school music department now has about seventy pupils, beautiful facilities thanks to the support of the director of the school, father Shoufani, and good teachers from the jewish communities around Nazareth thanks to the help of Uri Ben-David of the kibbutz of Mizra, a.o. Orpheus has recently also started similar programmes in five other schools of the region. (see :
It has over the years been a growing pleasure for the musicians of Ictus to come and teach these amazingly promissing, talented and hardworking young students.

What we experienced today has been as a culmination of all these experiences of the last years though.
This week is a very special week for music education in Nazareth : it is the beginning of a music workshop - leading to a concert on 12th January - for chamber orchestra and chamber music ensembles, which is being organised for the first time by the Barenboim-Said Foundation (see :, in collaboration with Orpheus and also including the participation of Ictus from 4 to 7 January.

Students El Mutran School, Nazareth
© Lukas Pairon
This workshop of one week brings together 35 young music students, 9 coming from Nazareth and the others from the West Bank (3 from Bethlehem, 4 from East-Jerusalem and 19 from Ramallah). It is an initiative which is unique in many respects. The teachers in this workshop are of high standard and are being sent by the Barenboim-Said Foundation (Berlin, Sevilla, Ramallah, Nablus, Nazareth), Al Kamandjati (Ramallah ;, Orpheus (Nazareth) and Ictus (Brussels ;
The synergy of these different organisations into this one workshop creates a very strong platform, which I hope will be able to endure. It is a.o. so very positive that the kids from the West Bank get the possibility to travel to Nazareth in Israel. Projects between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians in the territories are physically not possible, mostly not wanted and not happening, except sometimes far away from this region in Europe or in the US. A limited amount of very interesting projects between Jewish and Arab Israelis - such as the ones in the kibbutz of Mizra - do exist and are possible in Israel.
A project like this one bringing together Arab Israeli kids from Nazareth and Palestinian kids from the West Bank is complicated but possible and will hopefully be even more developed in the future. Orpheus and his founder Duaibis Abboud Ashkar can be proud to be the host of such a wonderful initiative.

Duaibis Abboud Ashkar (Orpheus)
© Lukas Pairon
I have been speaking a lot with Duaibis today and found out that his organisation Orpheus is going through very hard times lately, related to a weak financial basis. Except for some programmes which are being sponsored by private foundations and others by governmental agencies, the organisation lacks structural funding to cover its growing potential. It is difficult for Arab-Israelis to find support for such cultural initiatives which are not focussing on traditional Arab music and culture. Arabs must develop Arab music, not any other form of classical or popular music.
Why this reasoning in the field of music, but not when one talks about law or mathematics or physics or most other fields of study ? Duaibis says it is not acceptable and defends the position that Arabs have the right to perform whatever music they are interested in and like, also western classical music from Mozart to Boulez. He is so right in everything he says and defends. I also love his approach to music education, keeping away from formal scholastic learning methods whereby everyone learns the same tune on a recorder, and opting to create situations which make young children and adolescents curious about music and music making. In order to awaken this curiosity, Duaibis organises concerts, invites professional musicians as teachers for short work visits from abroad, gives his pupils chances to experience the pleasure of performing music in ensemble, etc. Duaibis Abboud Ashkar is as I am an adept of the philosophy of enthusiasm.

During this first day of Ictus in Nazareth, cellist François Deppe was especially active in this music workshop, while guitarist Tom Pauwels gave guitar lessons with a group of kids from the El Mutran school. Both were completely absorbed in this work from the moment of their arrival in Nazareth from Tel Aviv this morning until late in the evening.
The four young teachers from the Université de Lille also immediately found a place in this lively surrounding and were asked to participate actively in the workshop as well. It must have been a dreamed of occasion for them to get introduced to all these players in the field of music education of the region, as well as with the type of students and their potentials.

Pol and I came with the Music Fund truck to the place where the music workshop was being held and took two hours of everybody’s time to have a look at our ’music instruments shop’ : we unloaded the instruments and composed packages for the different music projects participating in this Nazareth workshop (Orpheus, Barenboim-Said Foundation and Al Kamandjati).
It allowed the teachers of the different projects to check the instruments one by one and make choices fitting the students needing specific instruments. This intervention also gave us the pleasure to see some of the donated instruments immediately being adopted by some of the students, such as the viola and cello which were donated to Orpheus in Nazareth.

In the afternoon, the Music Fund convoy left Nazareth for a few hours to pay a visit to the kibbutz of Mizra nearby. Ictus has been teaching shortly at the music centre of this kibbutz during the first year of its programme in the region and we have met with our partner in Nazareth thanks to Uri Ben-David from Mizra.
We wanted to show him the truck and the instruments so that he could visualise the impact of the initiative. They gave us a few welcome-concerts by groups of mixed students from the Arab and Jewish communities of the Mizra area, as a gesture to congratulate us on the succes of our project. Very kind indeed.

Pol and I retired not too late to our respective homes and rooms, so that we could get up in time to leave Nazareth tomorrow morning, leaving the musicians of Ictus and the young teachers from Lille behind in Nazareth, and hurry to our next destination : Ramallah.

Music Fund truck in Nazareth
© Pol De Winter

Comment:"Know" is a tricky word : when the young Israeli musicians, for example, went to Ramallah, they were astounded to see things they didn’t "know", because nobody showed them : that Ramallah is very like Jerusalem in its topography and architecture, that "The armed ones" who are constantly being shot at by the Israeli army are not dangerous or murderous but gentle merry young boys, who guarded them with Kalachnikows and played Shesh besh with them and spoke Hebrew with them because they learnt it in Israeli prisons ; that the people in that city are - how unbelievable - just like them ; that they are admired and not hated, and that their visit is admired and not sneered at. They kept telling me this : we never see These things on Israeli TV.
Indeed TV shows Palestinians, but as enemies, or as poor, depraved, almost savage people ; and not as what they really are to us : brothers who share the same land. So we "know" about them as such, and we do not know them for what they are : equal human beings.
Maybe it is indeed a matter of offer & demand - not showing because nobody’s interested ; but maybe it’s "chicken & egg" : not interested because it isn’t shown.
NBZ, Tel Aviv Une présentation de l'ensemble Ictus et de son directeur ...

Lukas Pairon : Je suis directeur de l'ensemble Ictus, composé de 20 solistes spécialisés dans la musique classique dite contemporaine. La plus part des compositeurs que nous jouons vivent encore, nous collaborons même avec eux et les recevons parmi nous. Parlez-nous de la genèse de votre projet en Palestine …

Lukas Pairon : Tout a commencé lorsque j'ai reçu une invitation il y a trois ans pour un voyage vers la Palestine. Le but était de développer d'éventuels contacts avec des artistes palestiniens. En juillet 2002, je me suis donc rendu sur place pour 7 jours durant lesquelles j'ai visité les villes de Nazareth, Jérusalem et Ramallah. Le concept a vu le jour en octobre 2002 ; à partir de là nous avons tout de suite mis sur pied les workshops(ateliers) et les masterclasses à l'aide de musiciens de l'ensemble Ictus envoyés sur place. Cette opération s'est depuis renouvelée une dizaine de fois. S'agissait-il d'un concept qui visait le long terme ?

Lukas Pairon : Nous souhaitions dès le départ que ces actions s'inscrivent dans la durée! C'est la raison pour laquelle j'ai insisté pour instaurer un travail de partenariat avec certaines écoles. Nous avons d'ailleurs choisi de mettre sur pied un projet pédagogique qui consiste à donner des cours dans un nombre limité d'écoles avec lesquelles nous développons des relations de travail privilégiées. Après un certain temps, cela nous permet d'apprendre à connaître suffisamment les communautés avec lesquelles nous travaillons, même si nous nous y rendons que de temps en temps. Avec qui vous travaillez sur place ?

Lukas Pairon : Dans les territoires, nous collaborons avec la Edward Saïd National Conservatory. Un établissement assez bien organisé subdivisé en trois antennes dont une à Bethléem, Jérusalem et Ramallah. Jusqu'ici, nous avons surtout travaillé avec l'antenne située à Ramallah ! Pourquoi ? Par facilité d'accès ?

Lukas Pairon : (Rires) Non! Parce que beaucoup de bons élèves se trouvent à Ramallah … Ce que nous effectuons est un véritable travail de soutien. Nous entreprenons des incursions et apportons avec nous des partitions de musique contemporaine. Nous essayons également d'ouvrir une fenêtre sur des réalités que ces personnes ne connaissent pas. Ce qui constitue une expérience motivante pour les élèves. Quelle est la durée de vos séjours ?

Lukas Pairon : La plus part du temps, nous n'y séjournons pas plus d'une semaine. Sur les cinq jours, nous restons toujours trois jours à Ramallah. Ensuite, nous faisons escale à Tel Aviv où nous travaillons depuis décembre 2003 à l'université avec les étudiants surtout sur des compositions. Cette année, nous nous sommes concentrés sur l'antenne du Conservatoire de Ramallah puis nous avons consacré une journée à l'antenne de Nazareth où l'on trouve une excellente école dirigée par le Père Emile Shoufani.


"Words are useless and politics in meltdown."

Gilad Atzmon's New Quartet at the Vortex Jazz Club, July 1st

Gilad Atzmon (saxophones), Frank Harrison (electric piano and electronics), Yaron Stavi (double bass) and Winston Clifford (drums).

Unveiling Gilad's latest quartet - expect hard hitting, edgy, urban electro-acoustic jazz. A return to raucous high octane blowing by one of the tightest outfits this side of the Atlantic.

From a previous gig of this Quartet John Fordham of the Guardian wrote:

The band frequently worked themselves up to thrashing, Coltrane-quartet climaxes, with Atzmon making the connection explicit in quotes from Afro-Blue and A Love Supreme. Flying double-time sax solos over driving jazz swing or intense ballads joined Atzmon's Charlie Parker allegiances to the microtonal pitching and woody sound of Middle Eastern reed instruments. In the second half, the world music and the funky connections became stronger, with bassist Yaron Stavi opening with a bowed drone for Atzmon's swooping soprano-sax sounds; followed by an infectious bass hook underpinning clarinet ascents reminiscent of the Rhapsody in Blue overture; and a polemic on the Iraq war that combined Middle Eastern dance-grooves with Coltranesque free-jazz. Atzmon looks to be on to another winner, with or without computer assistance.