Sharing ancient instruments and ancient song

By Lindajoy Fenley

Toryn quickly shot his hand up when Yaniv Taichman asked the students if they had ever seen an 11-string, fat-bellied, fretless instrument like the one he held up. The fifth grader from North Dakota’s Prairie Rose Elementary School surprised the visiting Israeli musicians when he said it was an oud.

For most young Americans—and even older ones—the predecessor of the guitar would be an exotic instrument without a name. But Kayla Kilwein, Toryn’s music teacher, had introduced the oud and other instruments she knew her students would hear at Sofi and the Baladis’ workshop well before their trip to Dickinson State University’s Beck Auditorium for the workshop. Kilwein augmented the Arts Midwest World Fest study guide with an educational video about Israel and its music.

“The study guides that were provided were so helpful in preparing us for our musical experience,” Kilwein wrote in an email after the workshop. “We were able to make stronger connections to the music, instruments, performers, and cultures upon reviewing the materials. I believe that made for a very memorable musical experience with deeper meaning.”

Elementary students were captivated by the Arts Midwest World Fest music.

At two separate workshops on Wednesday, students from Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson, and Prairie Rose schools recognized the qanun’s relationship to the piano and were fascinated with Jonathon Dror’s demonstration of basic wind instrument principles.

Jonathan asked students to imagine how a shepherd thousands of years ago picking up a simple cane might have discovered how to make music by blowing on it the right way. He illustrated his story by rolling up a poster to create a simple flute. One girl described that as “magic.”

The Israeli musicians told students they weren’t offering magic. Rather, they explained, they were sharing what they love: ancient instruments and ancient song.

When a couple of students commented that some of the music reminded them of their favorite video games, the musicians replied that it’s quite possible the composers creating the video game sounds draw from Middle Eastern music. This music is also common in Hollywood, Jonathan said, noting that the ney, a cane flute that makes a crying sound, is very popular on movie soundtracks.

Yaniv Taichman and Yosef Bronfman play the oud and the qanun, respectively.

While Yaniv told them his oud was the king of the instruments in the Arabic world, Yosef Bronfman countered that his qanun, which looks like the innards of a piano, was the boss. Because it has so many strings that it is a chore to tune, the other members of the Baladis must tune to him.

Jonathan Dror shows students a shofar.

Jonathan, who opened his presentation with the familiar notes of a Mozart melody, but switched to an Arabic ney and an Armenian duduc, helped students understand the difference between Western and Eastern musical traditions. He and the others explained how Eastern music has many more tones than the 12 that Western ears are accustomed to—notes between the notes, they said.

Yshai Afterman and his frame drum.

Yshai Afterman presented complex rhythms on a variety of percussion instruments and explained how instruments like his are used around the world. He noted that the simple frame drum is the only instrument mentioned in the Bible. He had other instruments from Peru and Africa. Israeli musicians are eclectic.

Yshai and the other instrumentalists, as well as vocalist Sofi Tsedaka, who moderated the workshop, led the singing, and engaged students in rhythmic clapping, held the interest of the students for hour-long workshops for elementary students Wednesday, just as they had for middle and high school students the first two days of the week.

The student who had answered the first question of the workshop managed to squeeze in a last comment before the Baladis played their final piece. Toryn said he remembered the name of the oud because his brother used to irritate him by practicing guitar, the oud’s modern offspring. During the workshop, the fifth grader had trained his eye on the ensemble’s percussionist and later said that, if given a chance, he would like to play drums.