odd bus

I was hired as a violinist for the Philadelphia premiere of “A Concert of Concern,” part of the Sacred Rights, Sacred Song organization of musicians and social activists. As stated in the program, Sacred Rights, Sacred Song envisions Israel as a healthy Jewish democracy in which the spiritual civil rights of all Jews are protected; Judaism is expressed and celebrated freely and equally by men and women and in its myriad forms of observance; and matters of personal status and spirit are governed by a Public Jewish Law that welcomes vibrancy and creativity. The mission of Sacred Rights, Sacred Song is to educate the North American Jewish community about challenges to religious freedom in Israeli society and motivate them to provide moral, visible and financial support to promote a Jewish democratic society based on the notions of gender equality and freedom of worship.

 

I wasn’t sure what I had agreed to when I got the call, but I was excited to be playing with some other musicians from The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia as a part of this project. Sacred Rights, Sacred Song commissions renowned Jewish composers to set music to lyrics that tell stories of religious and civil rights concerns in Israel. Composers featured on this premiere were Gerald Cohen, J.A. Kawarsky, Fran Gordon, Naomi Less, Jerome B. Kopmar, David Gooding, and Ellen Schiller. There was not much “in between” when it came to the music I was provided: it was either easy, held notes and simple, repetitive rhythms or lines so fast, high, and complicated that they might’ve come out of a violin concerto!

 

We had one rehearsal and a day-of dress rehearsal prior to performing in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater on 12 Cheshvan 5777 (if I read my Jewish calendar correctly), and to say the instrumentalists felt uncertain is putting it mildly. Our conductor, Cantor David Tilman, was a friendly gentleman whose inconsistencies might have been a result of stress caused by the free-spirited choir. The ultimate goal of the concert was to energize a modern Jewish Democracy movement that works to remove the definition, interpretation and application of Public Jewish Law from the control of an ultra-Orthodox minority in the modern Jewish democratic State of Israel, or so the advertisements said. It didn’t seem like this performance was well advertised, and so it wasn’t surprising to look out and see a rather sparse audience, but everyone involved in producing the event seemed pleased with the outcome.

 
Ben was able to take photos:

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Here are some of the lyrics:

The Odd Bus

If a public bus has a certain number,
the rules on that bus must change.
I know that in a democracy, that sounds a little strange.

If a public bus stops at certain places,
all passengers should beware.
The seating on that public bus is neither just nor fair.

It makes no difference what you think
or what principles you hold.
It’s been decreed that on that bus,
as a woman you are told
where to sit, go to the back
‘cause that’s the will of G-d.

Don’t you think in a democracy
that is a little odd?

The Woman at the Wall

Did the birds join in chorus when the Levites proclaimed
Hallelujah, praise be the Name?

As I sit in my garden surrounded by sound,
I try to imagine what my ancestor found
when she came to this place.
Was there fear on her face or barely a trace
of awe and of wonder when approaching the steps with her sacrifice ready,
were her hands shaky or steady?

And what of the bird to be consumed by the flame?
Did the chorus of birds sound exactly the same?

Images of Av

On a hot Jerusalem day in mid-July, we learned that the camera does not lie.
Images from our Holy Place reveal the strength on Anat’s face
as she embraced and protected our Torah.

To the horror of those who traveled from afar,
each standing with mouth open and ajar.
As we saw the police of the Jewish State, bow to the fear and hate of those who deny a woman’s public right
to connect through prayer and song to our Creator of light.

Do we dare to sit in silence as this tyranny approaches?
No – the time come to say to our State that this way encroaches
upon the rights of all Jews who seek the Sacred at the Western Wall.

Am Yisrael, the pictures and the videos, like shofars call us to remember
that intolerance and hatred were the spark, the smoldering ember
that ignited the flames of destruction, in days long gone by.
Just like sacred memory, these images do not lie.

A Sacred Prayer

Each child has a sacred right to survive,
whether from Gilo, Gaza or Gadera.
In the Divine image each child is made,
whether from Haifa, Beit Hanoun or Hadera.

A sacred song must now be sung,
to remind ourselves that”We Are One”
is not just about a special tribe
but also about looking deep inside
to find a way to heal the Rift.

May we use song, our sacred gift
finding words, joining voices, Arab and Jew.
A New Year, a new commandment,
this we must do.

 

 

 

social intellgence

Week 2 at KIPP was, in many ways, very similar to Week 1, but with some added visitors! Peter had been absent on Monday and seemed to be still getting over whatever illness had debilitated him, but despite a haggard morning he was ready to hit the ground running at the start of the school day. I tuned the 16 violins when I arrived so that they were mostly in tune by the time students came to the music room.

The 5th grade classes began their lessons with a “Do Now” worksheet that had them matching words like bass clef, treble clef, half note, staff, and quarter note to their symbols. After reviewing the answers to these questions — each of which could’ve been answered using posters and other visual aids in the music room — students filled out the names of each violin string as well as the notes on the D string on a blank grid. The goal for these classes was to be able to pluck through “Hot Crossed Buns” by the end of the lesson and maybe make it as far as “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

The first group, Northwestern, had more behavior problems than I had anticipated based on last week, and I ultimately marked one student as non participatory for the day and three other students identified with behavior/focus problems. If IEP or similar accommodations exist for students at KIPP, I am not privy to this information (yet?), so I can only assume that all students are capable of demonstrating the social/emotional levels necessary for participating in this class. Particularly frustrating for me was a situation with one child who had been a bit problematic last week but had made a complete turnaround with his attention and attitude this week. He was engaged and participating and asking for help when he needed it, and I was really happy to see such a positive change. Unfortunately, mid-way through the lesson he lost $1 from his paycheck because Peter thought he heard him plucking his strings when they were all supposed to be in rest position. Because I happened to be sitting in the chair next to him at this time, I was certain that it wasn’t his strings that were being plucked, but this was almost impossible for Peter to discern. The result was that the deduction derailed this child’s focus and he became bitter for receiving unwarranted punishment. He earned his money back in a hail-mary offering of a giant sum of money, but he missed out on the last few minutes of instruction for the week because of the resentment he felt.

Naomi arrived during the first Haverford class, after Peter and I had discussed a new plan for me to pull out students both as a supplement to his lesson and a proactive approach to discipline. I took kids out in pairs, first singing finger numbers and note names of HCB, then individually fingering on their instrument as they plucked, and finally confirming that they could pluck through HCB with good position and tone. One student’s mother was also observing the class and came out in the hallway with me as I walked her daughter through the same process. This class was able to get all the way through Mary Had a Little Lamb, though they weren’t as successful with that tune as they were with Hot Crossed Buns. This group got as far as the last two worksheets in the “Do Now” packet which prompted them to identify notes in treble clef spaces and on treble clef lines.

West Chester, the next 5th grade group, was also quite successful with the blend of pull-out and large group instruction. It is unfortunate that one student, who claims to have studied violin at his old school, is already struggling to progress at the same rate as his peers because of his sense of superiority from already being introduced t the violin. Fingernail length for both boys and girls was the most significant problem for this group.

Each of these 5th grade classes got to watch a YouTube video from the Brooklyn duo named Chargaux (named from a blend of their names: Charly and Margaux). This one was a cover of “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift, a song that many students recognized although I did not. Both these ladies were so charismatic and appeared to be having fun with their cover song. In addition, they have nice posture and position that students can model.

Some of the things that stuck with me from my day here was the use of a lesson plan objective as a student behavior tool (Peter had a selected student read the goal for the day, in this case, “We will be able to play Hot Crossed Buns using F#, E, and D”), the continued challenge of keeping the thumb anchored while plucking, and keeping the left thumb behind the first finger tape as opposed to opposite the 2nd finger. Peter used the word “cardboard sound” to describe the sound produced when the finger doesn’t entirely depress the string, and many students need to be reminded to keep their first fingers down as they play second fingers, partly to avoid this cardboard pizz quality.

The afternoon was filled with Kindergartners! I did the same introductory lesson with these kindergartners as I did last week (minus the dowel bows which we didn’t get to last week and only proved to be a distraction in the lesson). Of 6 groups of about 5-7 students per group, I added close to 20 students to my “wishlist” for violin class. As these are still trial groups, I’ll have more sample lessons to teach next week, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we came up with 40 or more beginning violinists to participate in Pre-Twinkle activities each week.

 

 

 

 

 

camerata

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Camerata Philadelphia is an ensemble I had heard very little about in my years living in Pennsylvania. I had mostly assumed that it was a part of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia or, at least, played similar repertoire. In fact, it is a much smaller organization with a more of a focus on string orchestra repertoire than chamber symphonies.  Camerata Philadelphia is conducted and assembled by Stephen Framil, a well-traveled cellist who performs classical music as well as jazz and more eclectic genres, and this Camerata’s mission is to make the experience of great music accessible to all.

After a bit of gig shuffling, I was happy to be able to accept a call to play with this ensemble for their concert last Saturday. On the program were Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No. 5 in Bb, Dvořák’s Serendade for Stringsand a work by contemporary composer Stanley Grill called Meditations for String Orchestra. Our concertmaster, Luigi Mazzocchi also joined the maestro in a performance of Duo for Violin & Cello, Op. 7 by Zoltán Kodály.

Not much explanation was given for the eclectic programming, but it seemed like much about this concert was put together quickly. Though both the Mendelssohn and Dvořák were familiar works for me, the first — and only — rehearsal was unnecessarily stressful since we received seating upon arrival and had to wrestle with unmarked parts. Luigi did his best to jot in bowings when he could, but I felt uncomfortable being so unprepared as a principal 2nd violinist having to defer to an evolving 1st violin part. The majority of music was marked by the end of that rehearsal, but since it ended late on Friday night, there wasn’t much time to let it “sink in” before the sound check on Saturday morning. Things were cleaner by Saturday night, our second performance in the McInnis Auditorium at Eastern University, but most of us left even that one feeling defeated.

I’m not very proud of the product here, but it still might be worth viewing if you want to get an idea of what can be accomplished — if even a small amount — in a short time frame:

Mendelssohn mvts 1 & 2

Mendelssohn mvt 3

Dvorak mvt 1

Dvorak mvt 2

Dvorak mvt 3

Dvorak mvts 4 & 5