Music: Honing their craft

The Music in Omer festival keys in on music education.

December 23, 2016 13:05
Chen Zimbalista

Chen Zimbalista. (photo credit: PR)

The Music in Omer festival, an exciting new event for the entire family, will take place during Hanukka on December 26 to 28 at the Open Museum in the Industrial Park in the southern town of Omer.

This will be the second edition of the festival. The first one took place in Tefen in August. The festival is part of the Zimbalista Music Factory project.

This time, charismatic conductor and percussionist Chen Zimbalista emerges as an educator and perhaps even more – a social activist for whom music education in Israel is an instrument for fostering understanding between the younger generation of Israelis, Jews and Arabs, coming from different segments of society, living in the center and the periphery. Under the guidance of leading Israeli classical music performers, the youngsters, aged 12 to 18, will hone their art.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” says cellist Adiel Schmidt, who participated in the first edition of the Zimbalista Music Factory as a teacher and performer and is now returning to the project in Omer. “But from my longtime friendship with Chen Zimbalista, I knew he had wings, so when he is in the picture, everything takes off. And that is what happened in Tefen.”

Schmidt goes on to explain that the project is different from many of the master classes around.

“It is for real. It is like we tell the kids: ‘You want to go professional? OK, get on the train, it’s already leaving. We are about to show you how it works in the big world.’ The kids were probably not ready for it, but they soon realized that this wasn’t a summer vacation camp. We treated them with a lot of respect, like little adults. Our message was ‘Your ego, your background or your past achievements don’t matter. We’re here to do something good together, something that justifies human existence’ – and it worked. After all, music is an extraterritorial language, a tool to express oneself. They were carried away by Chen’s ability to inspire, and quite soon the kids, who didn’t know each other before, started sounding like an orchestra.”

The upcoming festival is built on the same idea.

“There are experienced musicians/ teachers in every group of the orchestra. They are not the leaders but rather guides, instructors. The moment the kids have problems, the instructors show them how to solve them, how to overcome the difficulties,” he says.

“It is not by chance that Chen calls this project “a music factory,” says Schmidt. “Over the years, music education in Israel has become more problematic. The frameworks are lacking, and the existing ones are expensive,” he explains.

For Schmidt, who is an accomplished performer, teaching seems to be a vocation and a mission. He invests his skills, talent and energy in making music education in this country a little better.

But that was not always the case. In 2002, the aspiring young cellist moved to the US, saying that he was really disappointed with the music life in Israel, with the lack of possibilities for young musicians and insufficient state support of classical music.

“It was really great in the US. I won several competitions, I performed a lot, I earned my second and third academic degrees at the Juilliard school of music,” Schmidt recounts. “But I never felt at home there. In almost a biblical way I returned seven years later, in 2009. This change of place also brought about a change in my attitude toward music making. I’ve come to the conclusion that being a musician is not only about performing music – at least, for me. In the following seven years I learned many new things. I hope I’ve become a better cellist. I learned conducting and concert management, I started playing Baroque music, which is less commercial but is closer to the roots of music making and is more intimate. I also felt that it was time to pass on my knowledge to younger musicians, and I even entered into the administrative aspect of music education. For a year I managed the Yuval Music Center in Haifa, and then for three years the Ma’alot Tarshiha music center in the Galilee. I call it ‘my Zionism,’” he laughs.

Schmidt says that living and working in the North gave him the opportunity to see Israel in a different perspective.

“In terms of culture, Tel Aviv is perhaps the only world-class city in Israel, with a high concentration of culture consumers.

This makes the local culture industry more intense and attracts important artists from abroad. In the peripheral areas, the situation is the opposite. Culture consumers are quite dispersed, hardworking blue collar workers constitute the majority of the population, and the distances between the towns and villages are far. So although local educators are doing their best, with all the support and subsidies, a kid in Ma’alot Tarshiha receives less than a kid in a big city. And that is really sad,” he says.

As the manager of the Ma’alot Tarshiha music center, Schmidt added more educational programs to local schools.

Using his connection in the music world, he brought in more teachers and performers.

“Lectures, concerts, scholarships, discounts, instruments for kids and what not. Lots of work, and I am so happy I did it,” he says.

He concludes, “Today, looking back at those three years in Ma’alot Tarshiha, I see it as a blessing and I think of how else I can contribute to the development of music education in this country.”

The Music in Omer festival takes place December 26 to 28 in Omer. The varied program features music by composers such as Bach, Piazzola and Bartok. The public may attend master classes and rehearsals free of charge.

Concert tickets cost NIS 35. Call (08) 990-8100. A gala concert will take place on January 1 at the YMCA in Jerusalem. For tickets, call 054-767-6766.

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