Living and working in the Middle East for the past seven years has shown me many examples of the first phrase: war divides.
However, I believe the second phrase is true as well. Luckily, as a music trainer for Musicians without Borders as well as Sounds of Palestine, I witness how music connects on a regular basis. Even during small fights, the results achieved through music can be incredible.
Our partner organization Sounds of Palestine holds instrument group lessons twice a week for 70 children from Aida and al-Azzeh refugee camp. The young children receive music lessons in different group formations with 2 to 30 children per group.
Today, it’s time for the lesson of Ruba and Majd (not their real names), a seven year old girl and boy from al-Azzeh refugee camp. Ruba has a troubled home situation and often cries during the cello lessons. Majd has cognitive and physical developmental delays, and although he can not keep up with the other kids, he loves playing the cello.
When Majd picks up one of the two cellos I prepared for them, Ruba starts shouting that this is her cello. I try to calm her down and tell her that all the cellos are the same, so she can just play on the other one, but Ruba starts crying and refuses to play on the other cello. Majd didn’t seem to be willing to exchange cellos and I also didn’t believe we should just do whatever Ruba requests. I decided to start the lesson and fortunately, Ruba picked up the other cello and started playing. The rest of the lesson was kind of depressing, with Ruba looking very sad and Majd unfocused and barely playing a note. I decided to end the lesson with our new uplifting orchestra song. Because it was still too difficult for Majd, I let him play the rhythm on the La-string, while Ruba played the melody. Surprised by the good sound of these two voices together, Ruba suddenly started smiling. It was the first minute of the lesson that Majd actually played with complete concentration. When we finished the song, I told them it’s time to pack up the cellos and go home.
But they were unstoppable: Ruba’s mood has changed 180 degrees, and with a broad smile on her face she tells Majd to play the La again, while she “will be playing the song” Without my interference, they start playing the song again, and again. Only when the other staff entered the room and urged the kids to clean up because the transportation was waiting outside to bring them home, they agreed to stop.
As the project manager and music coach of Palestine Community Music, Fabienne van Eck gives music workshops in refugee camps, isolated villages and hospitals. Since 2012, Fabienne has been the supervising music teacher for Sounds of Palestine, a project for children in refugee camps that combines music and social work.