Riveted audiences applaud Baladis

By Lindajoy Fenley

“That was amazing!” exclaimed Willow, a first grader at Red Cottage Montessori School as Sofi and the Baladis finished their first song at a morning workshop. Her enthusiastic commentary continued throughout the morning workshop that brought the Samaritan music to a small group of schoolmates from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Montessori students gathered inside while snowflakes fell outside the window.

“I like the decorations,” Willow said when Yaniv Teichman showed the children his oud with filigreed sound holes.

Young students who had prepared with Arts Midwest study guides admired the “decorations” on the instruments.

Montessori teachers had prepped the students for the visit. The children knew the five musicians were from Israel. “It’s on the other side of the globe,” one of them announced.

The curious children paid close attention to each musician’s explanation of his instrument. They even tried to create their own paper flutes after Jonathan Dror demonstrated how an early version of his ney might have been discovered thousands of years ago. Imagine someone picking up a hollow cane and blowing across one end, Johnathan said before he rolled up a piece of paper and blew across one end.

Montessori students tried to make their own paper flutes.

The children also found out what fasting meant when Sofi explained that her song Sea of Mercy was a prayer to end the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) fast and they grasped the meaning of improvisation when Yaniv said, “I will play you a small piece. I will invent it just for you.”

Marjorie Hanson of Colorado, in town to visit her 99-year-old mother knew how to dance to the Baladis at the Downtown Plaza senior home.

Other Red Wing audiences were also as extraordinarily attentive as the open-minded Montessori children – even those at an evening presentation held in a wine bar. It’s not unusual for noisy drinkers in a bar to push live music into the background, but the dozen adults who came to Oliver’s Wednesday evening were quietly riveted to the Middle Eastern sounds. One man later said he was almost moved to tears.

Artsy atmosphere at the wine bar.

The small group in the wine bar included people who had already heard Sofi and the Baladis – either at the welcome reception at the Sheldon Theatre on Monday or the pre-Halloween gathering at the Downtown Plaza Senior Home on Tuesday. They not only came to hear the group again at Oliver’s, but said they’d be back for the final concert at the Sheldon Theatre on Friday.

Jana Christianson and Dallas Bennett pay close attention to the Baladis.

We found another good audience at a noontime gathering at Minnesota State College Southeast. Some of the attentive listeners ate lunch while they listened, but a good number of the 70 present also took notes. While the presentation was advertised through the college’s instrument-building program, not everyone attending was a music student.

Jana Christianson, a nursing student, was among those taking notes and using smartphones to document the Middle Eastern instruments and their sounds. “They seemed so driven by the music,” she said. After explaining that she studied world religions in high school, she added “It’s refreshing to see someone putting religious feeling back into music.”

Jocelyn Hariken, who was moved to dance when she heard the music, had just happened on the presentation. She was at the college to look for a job.

Dallas Bennett gets a close look at the 11-string oud.

Dallas Bennett and Julia Phillips, both second-year students of the guitar-building program also played special attention and accompanied the musicians on a tour of the instrument workshops after the formal presentation.

“The reason that I was taking pictures and notes,” said Dallas, “is that one day I’d like to build one of those instruments,” referring to the 11-stringed oud that preceded the guitar by centuries. As a second-year student in the guitar-building program, Bennett is currently working on an arch-top guitar. He said that his main musical interest is the blues, but he’d be interested in making an oud anyway. “I like to challenge myself,” he said.

Phillips, called the music the Baladis played “calming.” She not only bought a CD so she could take it home with her, she loaned a friend some money so he could buy one too.

Ken Carlson with oud player Yaniv Taichman. Yaniv wore his safety goggles for the entire set at the 3M plant!

When Sofi and the Baladis’ Red Wing workshop schedule ended at the Red Wing 3M plant, there were two special listeners present: Colleen McLaughlin, Arts Midwest vice president for advancement, and Ken Carlson, senior director, international initiatives. Arts Midwest staff will return to Red Wing to provide a warm sendoff before the Israeli ensemble heads south for their final World Fest week in Dubuque, Iowa.