Why so many instruments?

By Lindajoy Fenley

Students ask how members of the ensemble met, how they formed their group, what’s life like in Israel and whether it’s hard to learn to play an instrument. In Alexandria, one of the youngest asked why they had so many instruments.

Vocalist Talya Solan, leading the Q&A section of the workshop, explains there are many instruments because Jewish people migrated to her 62-year-old country from all over the world, bringing a diversity of musical traditions with them. Drawing on their grandparents’ heritages, members of the ensemble represent Yemen, Bulgaria, Hungary, Morocco, Greece, Turkey, Poland, Uzbekistan, Iraq and the United States. Fellow Israelis represent even more cultures.

She also tells workshop audiences that Israel is a small country surrounded by Arabic neighbors, and is located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa. The location, as well as the origins of the citizens, also influence its music and culture. When a young Woodland Elementary student wanted to know how far the ensemble had traveled to get to Minnesota, everyone was astounded to hear about a 17-hour plane trip. Another student asked, “Did you eat while you were on the plane?”

Many Israeli ensembles are eclectic in their musical tastes. Percussionist Aviad Ben Yehuda, who has a collection of different-sized, round frame drums, plays cymbals, bells, a goblet-shaped darbouka and a Peruvian box called a cajón. Yonnie Dror has more than a dozen wind instruments from Europe, the Middle East and even Australia.

Sefi Asfuri Hirsh tells students about the frets on his Greek bouzouki and the advantage of not having them on his oud. Non-fretted instruments, he explains, can play Middle Eastern tones that may sound a little out of tune to a Western ear, but are every bit as true as the notes most of us are used to hearing. He then shows them how he plays the violin in an unfamiliar position—perched on a small board on his knee with a loose bow. That’s the way his great grandfather played it.

Avri Borochov has only one instrument—the double bass. But, he says, it’s so big he doesn’t need or want anything else. His versatile instrument works well for many different genres—from both folk and classical Western ones to those of the Middle East. To illustrate this point, he usually plays two versions of the same melody, first in the European style of his mother’s family, then in the Eastern way of his father.

In less than an hour, Mid-western school children learn a myriad of things about Israel’s musical diversity. Many of those who want to hear more will insist their parents bring them to the concert that finalizes each week-long World Fest residency.

This week’s public concert will be held on Saturday evening at the Discovery Middle School Auditorium. For more information, including how to get tickets, check out our events page.

Children raise their hands to ask questions.
Children always have plenty of questions for Talya during the Q&A portion of the workshop.
Bouzouki, oud and violin
Bouzouki, oud and violin
Flute, clarinet, ney, duduk, zorna and shofar
Flute, clarinet, ney, duduk, zorna and shofar are among Yonnie Dror's dozen or more instruments.
Sefi holds the violin upright and plays with a bow.
Sefi Asfuri Hirsh plays violin Middle Eastern style, upright and on his knee.


Your road stories are so wonderfully descriptive Lindajoy, I almost feel as if I were there. I’m very sorry to have missed this particular group after having the pleasure of meeting you and the very talented group ‘Esta’ in Spearfish, SD when you were here with them. My wish is that the weather smiles favorably on you for the rest of the tour and you all have a safe trip back home and to your loved ones. I will eagerly await your next tour to this area.

It was such a joy meeting all of the ensemble members in Hartford. I wish I had more time to get to know each one. Reading your story helps me understand their music and the instruments.

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