Tag Archives: youth

When Music Becomes a Place of Subjugation

This article was extracted from a 972 Magazine article: When Music Becomes a Place of Subjugation 


In our ever-growing jungle of protracted conflict and systemic injustice, there is an unquestionable need for inter-group reconciliation encounters between Israelis, Palestinians, and Palestinian-Israelis constructed with peacebuilding and human rights education. What is often missed is that peacebuilding and reconciliation are not simply the answer. They must and can only be a solution when applied through a critical praxis that addresses systemic injustice and inter-group power dynamics even within peacebuilding and reconciliation endeavors.

As a musician-activist educator, and member of this extended peacebuilding and reconciliation community, it is my responsibility and the responsibility of my colleagues to speak out when this crucial aspect of our work has been violated. I experienced that violation a number of weeks ago when attending one of the only openly public “peace” events that seem to exist in Jerusalem. To my shock and dismay, we just don’t get it.

As widespread violence continued to blanket this divided city, there was a pocket of hope: this year’s first in a series of open and free-to-the-public musical “peace” events.  Several years ago, this idea was birthed with the purpose of uniting Israelis and Palestinians through song and dialogue. Israeli and Palestinian communities would come together for a night of bilingual singing and teaching of each others’ narrative songs, break bread together, and engage in dialogue. I had attended one of these events in Jerusalem in 2011. To my understanding at that time, it upheld many of the values it committed to as an equalizing, joint Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding and reconciliation encounter.

Over the years, dozens of peacebuilding and reconciliation organizations have sprouted, focusing on many mediums such as sports, dialogue, and the expressive arts as a means and end to transforming conflict. While the aspirations of these organizations are noble and well-meaning, they often cloud overall peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts. More often than not, they do not address, whether through unwillingness or ignorance, the direct power dynamics and inequality that continue the patterns of systemic injustice and conflict, rather than producing new patterns based upon building equal social relationships that can challenge inequality, lack of freedoms, separation, segregation, and mistrust. These patterns of systemic injustice and conflict, which are intertwined into the socialization of society through educational, ideological, and political systems, will continue unless critically challenged.

Now several years later in 2014, with two more “casual” wars behind us, apartheid-like, silencing legislation in our midst, and greater lack of trust and understanding, I still wasn’t expecting this musical “peace” event to be particularly critical of the occupation. I wasn’t expecting something revolutionary that pushed the boundaries of society here that feel, often on both sides, entrenched in decades of scars, fear, and pain. Yet, what I saw and heard was nothing like what the event had been in 2011, and was hardly an acceptable event to unite Israelis and Palestinians. It achieved “whitewashing” at best.

How could it be at a musical “peace” event between Israelis and Palestinians that there was practically no music played or sung in Arabic, unless sung by Israelis? The event’s MCs, who happened to be one Israeli and one Palestinian from Shuafat, said that this event was not about “Kumbaya.” We were told that attending was a hard thing to do, and that we would undergo a challenging experience. There was also some mention that it was difficult, if not practically impossible, for anybody to attend from Shuafat Refugee Camp that night because the Israeli authorities had closed off the camp in the wake of more cyclical violence in the streets of Jerusalem. Mostly people continued to smoke and drink their beer. The Israeli announcer controlled the conversation. The Palestinian announcer seemed to be looking for space — any space.

After the announcers and two singers, both surprisingly Israeli who were supposed to teach the audience songs in Hebrew and Arabic, finished their bit, the main act began. I expected from this famous globetrotting Israeli artist something strong and meaningful as part of the main act, shared with a Palestinian-Israeli singer.  I thought he could be a voice speaking out against the sickening violence, and inequality enveloping us. I thought he could be the amplification for activism and solidarity at this musical “peace” event. I wanted him to recognize, to be of witness of what is happening here that affects both Israelis and Palestinians, even if in disproportionate ways. Nothing. All the while, the crowd continued to drink and smoke, while a few individuals slipped through the crowd passing around little stickers promoting an upcoming event against racism in Jerusalem.

As I stood with a Palestinian member of the Israeli-Palestinian youth organization I work for — from Shuafat Refugee Camp — who had suggested attending this event in the first place, I couldn’t help but wonder how he felt and what he thought. I personally felt embarrassed. What kind of event was this anyway? A party to celebrate Mizrahi-ness as a translation for Palestinian-ness? To find the “Arab” in each and every one of us? To party like it’s “haflah-time”? I tried to read his face. I tried to see how comfortable or uncomfortable he felt with each passing faux pas. All I could think of, from my “critical pedagogy in education” lens, was how this event, meant to be liberating in the wake of violence, separation, racism, only continued to subjugate him. We hadn’t entered a public space of freedom; it was the same space as practically everywhere else here for Palestinians, just masked and packaged differently.

I am not lambasting this particular event to condemn it from happening again, or to say that those who organized it don’t mean well. I also recognize that the growing strength of the BDS hinders Palestinian participation even in the most critical programs that address the inequality, violence, segregation, racism and occupation. This is also why these types of events are so crucial to tackle the multiple forces on both sides that divest from building a safe, equitable future for all. In all seriousness though, if we who consider ourselves to be “peacemakers” or who work for or with peacebuilding and reconciliation organizations cannot uncover the continuation of power dynamics within our own programs and events, if we cannot think critically of our words and actions, then what we are doing at the end of the day does more harm than good for peace, justice, and those most marginalized in this relationship: Palestinians.

If this is what exists, then it’s not enough. If we in this field do not engage in praxis[1]nor familiarize ourselves with the teachings of Paulo Freire, Johan Galtung, Ann Berlak, Zvi Bekerman, Monisha Bajaja, and Amin Maalouf among others, our programs will further the patterns of systemic injustice and conflict rather than liberate. We ask ourselves why there isn’t peace? Well certainly peace and justice won’t come if we continue to work this way. If even we can’t name the inequality, then who will?

This goes to say: we, in the field of peacebuilding and reconciliation, must look at our programs and events that bring together Israelis and Palestinians through a much more critical lens. Essentially, we must re-educate society to witness the power dynamics that exist here and learn to challenge them, in addition to building trust and mutual understanding. We must be open to being the stranger, thoughtfully and critically addressing the systemic injustice even we may contribute to, despite our best intentions and hopeful hearts.

*B.G. Silver is the pseudonym of a musician-activist educator living in Jerusalem. Her current jam includes Janelle Monae, Brahms, Bustan Abraham, Alicia Keys, Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham, John Legend, Amy Winehouse, Dvorak, Umm Kalthoum, and Beyonce. The author asked not to use her real name in order to protect the organizations she works for and the increasingly sensitive work they do.

[1] “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (Freire, 1970, p.34)

 

An Invitation to Question: How Can Music Education Become a More Dialogical Space?

Is music an expression of our reality or the creation of our reality? Where does technique meet possibility and where does learning meet technique? How can multiple truths and multiple perspectives exist in the same co-created space, and how can we express these multiple truths and perspectives with and through music? These are a few of the questions that were explored in this year’s Improvisation Class during the Cultures in Harmony-Atlas Music Festival.   The festival, held in Tunisia in the small town of Beni Mtir near the mountainous border with Algeria, seeks to implement Track II Diplomacy in the form of cultural diplomacy between Americans and the West, and Tunisians and the MENA region.

Credit: Ny No

Credit: Ny No

The name “Improvisation Class” is merely a label for the class to exist within the structure of a mainly classical music summer camp for Tunisian youth. When exploring and redefining the possibility of musical creation and interaction, no clear title seems to exist. Similar to the lack of label, the way in which the class co-created musically through a dialogical process of learning and sharing is generally unheard of in what is considered classical music education and pedagogy. I believe what we co-created challenges how music education is overwhelming taught and calls to question what could be. In the words of the late education philosopher Maxine Greene, “Imagination has to do with possibilities; never settle with what is!”

I suspect one of the greatest challenges music education faces today (or even yesterday as a violist myself who grew up completely immersed in a classical music education regimen) in our ever globalizing world is exactly what Maxine Greene speaks of: the imagination of possibilities. So often, we musicians are trained rather than taught. Our musical goals focus on digesting, and external benchmarks instead of creating. And so often, the flow of knowledge is merely from teacher to music student without even the consideration of how the music student can and should add to the flow of knowledge and understanding. This translates beyond the space of learning, but even to who is considered a musical creator versus a musical vessel. In the current music education environment in the classical music world, young musicians are often expected to follow this one-way hierarchy of teacher-knows-all and student-knows-none-until-told. This issue is not exclusive to the classical music world; its traces can be found in the teaching of other music genres, such as jazz, and inadvertently, continues to marginalize and undermine music genres, such as hip hop and rap, in music education. [1]

Now for those musicians and music educators getting ready to run for it after these last sentences, don’t go anywhere just yet! Join me for a moment in questioning not what music education is, but rather what it could be. I believe there are possibilities in which a youth musician achieves musical greatness, and musical creator. And in this process it is not only the responsibility of the musician or music educator, but as well the youth musician. How does a music educator create this type of dialogical space with her or his students? What are the benefits of doing so in the first place? And finally, why question our current system of musical learning by asking what could be? Elements of our Improvisation Class can perhaps shed light on these very questions. Of course, all learning should be contextual to each space of learning, which suggests adopted ideas and concepts from here must be contextualized to their new settings, too.

Our Improvisation Class consisted of around 25 youth musicians from the ages of nine to 19 all with various levels of experience, whether on the violin, piano, guitar, voice, sax, darbuka, and accordion. I sought to provide a certain structure that enabled a few key elements that could lead to the possibilities of musical greatness and musical creator through our dialogical space, where knowledge, understanding, and skills were transferable to outside musical and non-musical spaces. Whereas the process of sharing musical knowledge and understanding should be a two-way street, I believe musician and music educator is responsible for providing the initial structure in which creativity can thrive.

1. All ideas are welcome within our fundamental social agreement of listening, respect, and responsibility to our peers, our creations, and ourselves.

We all have a natural desire to feel appreciated. When we feel appreciated, we are more willing to confront vulnerability positively as moments of growth and self-transformation (see Brené Brown’s TED Talk: The Power of Vulnerability). In providing structure in which creativity can flourish, I wanted to welcome everyone into a setting where youth musicians felt safe or at least safer in sharing their ideas, feelings, and emotions musically and verbally. In our entire group we all agreed, including myself as a facilitator-participant, to listen, respect, and be responsible to each other, our creations, and ourselves.

2. Every youth musician has valid experiences, and has gained understanding and knowledge through these experiences, in which to teach and share with the group.

In harmony with challenging what education philosopher Paulo Freire termed the “banking concept” where students are looked upon as empty vessels awaiting for their teacher to fill their mind with knowledge, our Improvisation Class was a problem-posing (Freire, 2000) space in which peer learning flourished and youth musicians built upon previous musical and social experiences. Progressive education philosopher John Dewey speaks of experiences as a continuum of quality doing and undergoing (Dewey, 2007), which builds knowledge and understanding, ultimately leading to personal growth and openness to further growth through continuous doing and undergoing (Dewey, 2007). The first day of our class began with a spontaneous jam session that morphed from the original beats of my rhythm sticks on the chairs in our circle to saxophone solos flowing on top of violin, viola, percussion, guitar, and piano. In other words, youth musicians’ previous musical knowledge and experiences were acknowledged and respected straight from the beginning.

3. The invitation is there. I am not the absolute teacher; they are not the absolute students. We each have differing responsibilities and roles to play in the space we build together, which contributes in a unique way to the dialogue and music we co-create.

Credit: Ny No

Credit: Ny No

In setting up the space where peer learning could flourish, I chose to implant opportunities of teaching, learning, leadership, and teamwork amongst the youth musicians. I might have overseen the spark of certain conversations and musical ideas, though ultimately, each youth musician had the freedom to take the conversation and musical dialogue where she or he wanted. The most important factor in enabling this location of possibility was each youth musicians’ agreement to enter our social agreement where each person’s freedom was dependent on the other’s. As Alfred Schütz describes in Making Music Together: A Study in Social Relationships, “Each of them [musician] has, therefore, to take into account what the other has to execute in simultaneity. He/She has not only to interpret her/his own part, which as such remains necessarily fragmentary, but he/she has also to anticipate the other player’s interpretation of his/her – the other’s – part and, even more, the other’s anticipations of his/her own execution. Either’s freedom of interpreting composer’s thought is restrained by the freedom granted to the other.” (Schütz, 1951, p. 94-95)

These three elements of structure created the possibility for the youth musicians to be:

  1. Loyal to the local/known; Openness to the new/unknown (see education philosopher David Hansen’s Cosmopolitanism and Education)
  2. Self-express through multi-modal means, putting youth musicians constructively on-edge from the start
  3. Co-creating a space equally belonging to each one of us in “withness”

In planting the initial structure of the Improvisation Class, I was able to put our adventure on pathways to discover deeper societal issues, with and through musical co-creation, that were taboo in Tunisian society and across multiple societies. A big element of the class was the focus on certain social/environmental/political issues that were self chosen by each youth musician, and then grouping together youth musicians interested in overlapping issues, such as privilege and war, peace, and justice to work together to explore those topics further musically and with dialogue in their new, micro community. This also presented the opportunity for each community of youth musicians to establish their very own social agreement for their group, describing how they would create and share with each other. The results of each community’s focus on their various topics led to authentic music making with the purpose of learning, both musically and socially, all as equals with various responsibilities. To push this concept even further, each exercise surrounding these topics included elements of individual teaching, learning, leadership, and teamwork, in addition to group teaching, learning, leadership, and teamwork. Here are a few of the exercises that combined all of these elements:

  • Musical Sensitivity Line, where youth musicians stood in a line in front of the rest of the class, and first created a number of free-flowing stories verbally as individuals and then as a team, and then musical compositions as individuals and then as a team.
Music Sensitivity Line

Credit: Ny No

  • Human DJ, the co-creation of a human soundtrack where one youth musician is the DJ and determines the sounds and rhythms of each youth musician in the group. Then, the DJ rejoins the circle and a new DJ from the group takes the stage.
Human DJ

Credit: Ny No

  • Teaching of a new musical idea by each member in each community, and then the entire community choosing at least two newly learned musical ideas to teach to the other two communities, and vice versa.
  • Choosing any two new musical ideas from any community, whether your own or another’s, to create a cumulative composition for the final concert

Some community’s cumulative musical co-creations were a reflection or statement based upon their specific issue, whereas others did not mirror their issue. However, every group nonetheless underwent a spherical, deepening process of building knowledge and understanding based upon past experiences and new experiences through multi-modal means to co-create what did not exist before. This process is on the pathway of musical creator and musical greatness.

In summation, it is crucial that we, musicians and music educators, question whether we are co-creating with our students spaces of learning and teaching that foster the imagination of possibilities. There is so much more to describe about our Improvisation Class’s six sessions together, yet not enough room or enough words. Each day could have it’s entirely own reflection. What is clear is how our Improvisation Class was youth-centered with horizontal learning, and inclusive and participatory practices supporting peer learning, authentic music making and learning, and critical thinking of deeper issues in our societies and the role we, and especially youth, can play in making music that impacts our world. I believe these transferable skills will translate beyond our Improvisation Class’s special space, and into less safe spaces in everyday life.

Credit: Ny No

Credit: Ny No

And finally, is this a negation or replacement of the current classical music structure? No, it’s not. Replacing one ideology with another never solves the root issues at hand. In John Dewey’s Experience and Education, he does not advocate for traditional education to be completed replaced by progressive education without thought and deep investigation of the meaning behind both. “For in spite of itself any movement that thinks and acts in terms of an ‘ism’ becomes so involved in reaction against other ‘isms’ that it is unwittingly controlled by them. For it then forms its principles by reaction against them instead of by a comprehensive, constructive survey of actual needs, problems, and possibilities.” (Dewey, 2007, p.6) I invite you all to be the stranger in the development of new educational spaces that constructively question what music education has been and what it could be, and finally, to invite our youth musicians to do the same.

[1] For more on this, please read David A. Williams and Randall Allsup.

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APA Citation: Gottesman, S. (2014, October 19). An Invitation to Question: How Can Music Education Become a More Dialogical Space?. Retrieved from: https://musicintervention.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/an-invitation-to-question-how-can-music-education-become-a-more-dialogical-space/

REFERENCES

1. Brown, B. (TED Talk). (2010, June). The Power of Vulnerability. Podcast retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability

2. Dewey, J. (2005).  Art as experience (pp.45-55). Penguin.

3. Dewey, J. (2007). Experience and education. Simon and Schuster. 

4. Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum.

5. Greene, Maxine. “Inaugural Maxine Greene Lecture.” 2013 Preemptive Education Conference. Teachers College, New York. 26 Sept. 2013. Speech.

6. Hansen, D. (2010). Cosmopolitanism and education: A view from the ground.The Teachers College Record, 112(1).

7. Schütz, Alfred. “Making music together: A study in social relationship.” Social Research (1951): 76-97.

HEARTBEAT Releases Newest Song: Bukra Fi Mishmish

The Israeli and Palestinian youth of Heartbeat released their newest song Bukra fi Mishmish (Tomorrow When the Apricots Bloom), which is an idiom in Arabic for “when pigs fly.” It signifies when the impossible happens.

I am incredibly proud of the Israeli and Palestinian youth I worked and performed with during this song’s development and to see such a great final outcome. Mabrook! Mazal Tov!

Enjoy and check out the lyrics below!

Lyrics:
(Siwar)
Say what you want to say.
I just want to play.
Give me my violin.
Smile for a brighter day!

(Moody – in Arabic)
If there’s hope, the power to work, and art, then there’s life.
My lyrics can move mountains. There’s music and equality.
Without fear there’s no patience, ’cause you don’t know what you would lose.
(That means if you know what you’ll lose, you’ll get scared. Then you know you need to be patient.)
Tomorrow will be better! Try to create and believe, Yes YOU Can.
There’s the sun and its rays, yes there’s hope down here.
The moon and even a bit of light, there’s hope, even if it’s small.
An important step in your life is to hope.
Take your step towards change.
Make your anxiety disappear.
To be free, you have to liberate yourself!

(Guy – in Hebrew)
All day I’m looking through my window and I understand whatever is his is mine and whatever is mine is yours. We are supposed to even be brothers, but to me it seems that doesn’t really matter to you.
We’ll break down the walls, and take down the flags and then we’ll discover a world where everything is possible. When we understand that we’re all human beings then forever and ever we will be able to live.
We will be able to live!

BUKRA FI MISHMISH

A HEARTBEAT Production

Words and Music by:
Talia Ishai, Tahel Garion, Siwar Mansour,
Guy Gefen, Dekel Adin,
Moody Kablawi, Ami Yares,
Ziv Sobelman-Yamin, Hasan Nakhleh,
Yonatan Feiner

Performed by:
Guy Gefen: Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards,
Drum Programming, and Steel Drum
Moody Kablawi: Vocals and Claps
Siwar Mansour: Vocals and Violin
Dekel Adin: Recorder, Electric Guitar, Bass,
Saxophone, Vocals, Keyboards
Ami Yares: Oud
Tamer Omari: Darbukka, Drum Programming, and Claps
Aaron Shneyer: Drum Programming, Claps
Drums inspired by Ziv Sobelman-Yamin.

Directed and Produced by Aaron Shneyer

Additional music production by
Tamer Omari, Guy Gefen, and Dekel Adin

Special thanks to:
The Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance, and Peace,
Noa Yammer, Tamer Omari,
Michal Gefen, Shoshana Gottesman,
Ami Yares, Jon Goldstein,
Am Kolel, Marcia and Ira Wagner,
Cheb Kammerer, Rob and EIleen Coltun,
Avi Salloway, Amitai Gross,
Luz Maria Uribe, Sarina Hahn, Jesse Kahn,
and all who have helped bring Heartbeat,
and specifically this song to life.

HEARTBEAT is an international community of musicians, educators, and students using music to build mutual understanding and transform conflict. Founded in 2007 under a grant from Fulbright and MTV, Heartbeat empowers Israeli and Palestinian musicians by creating opportunities and spaces for musicians from both sides to work together, hear each other, and amplify their voices to influence the world around them.
For more information, please visit: http://www.heartbeat.fm

Bukra Fi Mishmish

© 2012 Heartbeat | New Sound Foundation, Inc.