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Bethlehem Academy of Music

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 04.07.2008:

Promoting Palestinian and International Cultural Ties through Classical Music Efforts of the Bethlehem Academy of Music

Cultural activities within any society – whether East or West – have a similar purpose: namely to foster a sense of not being alone in this world and to overcome barriers and borders. This serves to enhance the international awareness of humanity and is important for the development of peace and the elimination of conflict.

In the case of countries like Palestine, the issue of culture consists of two major components. The first can be considered external: how to reach the world with a cry for justice, a cry that is aimed at those in the world who are supposed to be cultured to tell them that culture cannot be separate from justice and freedom should peace be achieved. The second can be considered internal: hope. The goal of culture in Palestine is to introduce hope into a society that has been and continues to be tormented by occupation and tragedy. Hope allows us to open up to and develop stronger links with the cultures of the world.

With this belief as its founding principle, the Bethlehem Academy of Music, a non-governmental organisation, has been active in the Bethlehem area since 1996. It aims to support music education and cultural awareness among Palestinian youth and adults.

During the past ten years, the Academy has developed a strong affiliation with international culture related to music. Through hosting several concerts with soloists and chamber orchestras that have come to Palestine from abroad to perform, the Academy has provided an ongoing opportunity for Palestinians to witness, hear, and appreciate music cultures of the world. It has recently organised a variety of cultural weeks during which audiences were treated to performances by Japanese, Danish, Polish, Norwegian, and other visiting musicians. The Academy has also helped to develop a growing pool of resources on the music of other countries and has even begun a weekly radio programme.

Another significant contribution of the Academy to the intercultural dialogue between Palestine and the world is a programme that has been developed to rewrite Arabic music as classical works for string and other instruments. The music of Abdul Wahab and Farid Atrash, for example, was rewritten and performed as string quartet music by a German string quartet; Lebanese songs were rewritten and performed by a Japanese chamber ensemble for wind, violin, and piano, and as a string interlude performed by a Danish chamber string orchestra. In addition, works by Palestinian composers were performed by visiting musicians on instruments such as the bassoon, piano, etc. This fall an organ concert by a Polish organist will include works by the great Palestinian composer Augustine Lama. A couple of years ago parts of a symphony by the great Yousef Khasho were performed in Bethlehem and Nablus by a visiting Polish chamber ensemble. Music students have performed Arab music and songs in some European countries too.

An affiliate of the Bethlehem Academy of Music, The Frederic Chopin Palestinian Society (FCPS), has been promoting the music legacy of the great Polish composer Frederic Chopin since 2001. Why Chopin? The world knows very well the depth, richness, and superiority of Chopin’s compositions not only in terms of virtuosity but also with respect to his love for the fatherland and the fight for freedom.

For hundreds of years, the Polish people have resisted annihilation and have shown the world how powerful the love of freedom can be. This tale of Poland’s love for freedom, which so closely resembles that of Palestine, can be exquisitely told by the wonderful music of Frederic Chopin. And the hope that is engendered by this story can contribute to the development of culture within Palestinian society.

Dr. Saleem Zougbi

Bethlehem Academy of Music

Frederic Chopin Palestinian Society

Rgis Week in Palestine

July 2008

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