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WAR DIVIDES, MUSIC CONNECTS
Using music to bridge divides, connect communities,
and heal the wounds of war and conflict.
February 19, 2014 •• Palestine Community Music
Stories, music and smiles – Remy van Kesteren

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This week’s blogpost features the Dutch harpist and artistic director of the Dutch Harp Festival Remy van Kesteren. Remy founded the music competition and festival in 2010 when he was still a student, as he felt there should be a harp-event that focusses on more than the competition for the first place: “we felt such a meeting of students from all over the world should in the first place be inspirational and positive. That’s how the combination of a festival and contest originated, where contestants not only strive for the first place, but also have as many inspirational encounters as possible within the same week”. The festival, which will take place from February the 26th until March the 2nd, also aims to boost the public image of the instrument and its possibilities. This year’s theme of the festival is “Story telling”, a theme that resonates a lot with what Musicians without Borders is doing, such as in the rap-programme here in Palestine. Listen here to the story of the orphans from the S.O.S. village in Bethlehem – our newest release from the rap-programme! You can read the translated lyrics on our very own bandcamp page.

Remy, how did you become the artistic director of the Dutch Harp Festival?
“I first thought of creating a harp festival in 2008. I was participating in a couple of international contests and suddenly asked myself why we did not have one in the Netherlands. When I spoke to my fellow students I suddenly realized that some of our shared experiences with these other international competitions were not always so great. The contests mostly emphasized the competitive part, whether we felt such a meeting of students from all over the world should in the first place be inspirational and positive. That’s how the combination of a festival and contest originated”

The theme of the festival this year is “storytelling”, referring to the old harp-tradition in which the travelling musician had the specific social function of spreading news and telling stories. How does the festival connect this tradition with social life in the 21st century?
“I wanted to update this old tradition to now and therefore thought of many different ways to tell stories throughout the festival. First of all, within the competition we challenge the competitors to formulate their own stories and make their own programs and presenting them on stage (something that is not at all common in international music competitions). Secondly, in the festival we try to tell a different sort of story with every single concert. Historical sagas, murder mysteries, music and poetry, children stories, and so on. And we will create a news show, because by telling the tales from other places, the harpists of centuries ago were also ‘newsbringers’. Therefore we have asked composers to write new works during the festival within a day, based on the news. In this way we hope we can bring the old role of the harp back to life, and place the instrument in the middle of society again. Where it belongs!”

The Musicians without Borders in Palestine projects focus mostly on bringing music to people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to make music, and therefore did not have any musical training. Can you explain what music means to you, as someone who is involved with music on a daily basis?
“For me music is everything. A life without music is unimaginable. It gives words to that what I cannot say, it expresses emotions that I sometimes don’t even realize are there. For me, music is stronger than anything and if there is anything that could bring us closer to each other, it is this universal language that we all speak and love. I can only hope that one day we will all have the freedom to make music and then, I think, we may realize that we are not so different after all.”

Thank you Remy van Kesteren for sharing your story with us!

Please also visit our bandcamp site, and support our program  by buying one of our songs!