First week blessed with sunshine

By Lindajoy Fenley

Although gray clouds pushed by cold winds chased away the unseasonably warm weather Friday night, Sofi and the Baladis enjoyed pleasant weather throughout the week they were in Dickinson, North Dakota. Even on a cold Saturday afternoon, the sun reemerged in time to go to the Dickinson State University concert venue.

We stopped at the Painted Canyon overlook before touring the southern part of the 70,467–acre park. The sun had blessed the group’s day off as the Israelis—some in the United States for the first time—explored Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

On Thursday, we got close to a herd of feral horses, listened to the chirping of numerous prairie dogs, watched a badger go in and out of its burrow and got several distant looks at the bison that characterize the area.


DSU music students and Associate Professor Wosss played music together Thursday evening. Photo by Samantha Wohletz.

Associate Music Professor Jeremy Wohletz, our host for the week, organized an intimate jam session Thursday evening, following our national park visit. “Improvisation can challenge some of our students,” he said, “but they enjoyed the opportunity to play with the visiting musicians. There was a buzz on campus all week.”

The week of workshops that reached 1,500 students began at the local middle school where 584 out of the 857 students attend music classes taught by the husband-wife team of Les and Laurae Dykema. It ended with an intimate group of just six of Wohletz’ university music students.


Students gathered around Yosef to better understand the qanun.

Students at the last workshop included a voice major as well as a clarinetist, pianists, and a tuba player. They all learned why Jonathan Dror keeps a collection of neys (to accommodate the key a singer might choose); Yosif Bronfman plays both short and a long slides on a qanun string (depending on whether then next note is an octave jump or a fourth step up); and the definition of a frame drum (the diameter is longer than the instrument’s depth).

Friday had begun with another workshop, also in the DSU student center, that catered to children as young as five and residents of senior citizen housing.


William and his brother get a close look at Jonathan’s shofar.

DSU Music Professor Brent Rogers brought his two young sons to both Friday presentations on campus. He said the boys were fascinated with Jonathan Dror’s shofar. The musician explained that it is actually a ram’s horn and is used in synagogues. Later, when I asked five-year-old William what instrument he would like to play, he came up with something very North Dakota: the long horn of a wild bison.


Print and broadcast reporters interview ensemble.

Newspaper and television reporters met with Sofi and the Baladis between the two Friday workshops.

“It’s really cool to have something like this come to our town,” Grady McGregor of The Dickinson Press told me as he put the finishing touches on his story. “I was enraptured the whole time,” he said, noting that he didn’t expect the ensemble’s presentations to have so much personal information. “I was glad to hear her (Sofi’s) story,” he said.

Television reporter Steve Kirch of KXNEWS also interviewed all the members of the ensemble and attended the Saturday night concert to wrap up his coverage.

Rachel Klein, a student who had visited Israel twice and introduced the group at the Global Table event the previous Wednesday, told Kirch she had never heard anything like the group’s music before. “It was a viewpoint I had never really heard before, so it was nice to hear that.”