Iowa recognizes World Fest with decrees, news coverage, hugs

By Lindajoy Fenley

Sofi & the Baladis wrapped up their first Arts Midwest World Fest tour with positive recognition in many forms: Dubuque Mayor Roy D. Buol honored the musicians by declaring an Israeli Music and Culture Week; newspaper reporters, photographers and a videographer came to school workshops; and enthusiastic children showered Sofi Tsedaka with hugs.

Large group of university students
University students from many countries welcome the Israeli ensemble at Monday reception.

This week, the ensemble also traveled to small towns around our home base instead of presenting workshops in just one town. They went to Hazel Green, Wisconsin, where almost all students at the school were enrolled in band; Dyersville, Iowa, a small town put on the map by the film Field of Dreams; and Bellevue, where the Israelis got a good look at the mighty Mississippi.

Young students sitting in bleachers
Attentive Wisconsin students during a school workshop.

The mayor’s declaration—which Thomas Robbins, special assistant to the president of the University of Dubuque and director of the Heritage Center read at the Monday evening reception while Mayor Buol ran a city council meeting across town—noted that Sofi and the Baladis would reach more than 2,500 young students in the immediate area. “Whereas, a harmonious relationship between the state of Iowa and the United States and Israel is of critical importance to the citizenry of both countries,” the decree said, “now therefore, I, Roy D. Buol, mayor of the city of Dubuque, Iowa, on behalf of the city council, staff and the citizens of Dubuque, do hereby proclaim the week of November 6-11, 2017 as ‘Israeli Music and Culture Week’.”

Earlier that day, many of the children at Dubuque’s Audubon Elementary School had rushed to the visiting Israeli musicians the end of a 45-minute musical presentation. A dozen or more wanted to hug Sofi Tsedaka. Others approached Yonnie Dror, Yaniv Taichman, Yossi Bronfman and Yshai for a closer look Middle Eastern instruments they had never seen before.

Students give Sofi a hug
Audubon Elementary Students students rush to hug Sofi Tsedaka.

Witnessing the student enthusiasm was a Dubuque Telegraph Herald reporter-photographer team. Their story featured a quote from Percussionist Yshai Afterman. “This is the first, first drum ever made by mankind,” Yshai had said as he held up a large frame drum.

The ensemble “entranced a gym full of Audubon Elementary School students,” Reporter Allie Hinga wrote.

Sudents with Yshai, the percussionist

Young girl looks at a musical instrument

Students with Yonnie

On Tuesday, a young girl in Cris Kellog’s second grade class assigned to be “photographer of the day” recorded much of the Workshop at Bellevue Elementary School. Kellog said she rotates this popular assignment among her students and then posts their work on a website for parents to see.

Student in the bleachers aiming a cell phone at the stage
Second-grader Leah, 2nd grader uses a smartphone to record Israeli music.

A reporter from the Bellevue Herald Leader also covered the event that young Leah videoed.

Cris Anderson, a Minnesota producer of what he calls “compelling stories” also documented Sofi’s Iowa workshops. Anderson, who had filmed the ensemble in Red Wing, MN, decided he wanted more footage of the World Fest experience and caught up with the ensemble at the final workshop of the four-week tour.

He also interviewed each member of the group about the project that features the prayers of the Samaritan people. Sofi pointed out the culture of her ancestors is thousands of years old. The culture, rooted in the land of Israel for 125 generations, is now the smallest ethno-religious community in the world. “Seven hundred people all together,” she told her Midwest audiences.

Man with a video camera in a crowd of young people
Cris Anderson captures the essence of the ensemble’s Midwest experience for an Arts Midwest video.

“It was inspiring and thrilling to meet and hear Sofi and the Baladis. Their musicianship is nuanced and stunning,” Anderson said. “It was a treat to hear the ancient instruments and experience the beauty of the music from cultures of the Middle East. Their intention of cross cultural enjoyment and respect is needed in this world.”

Sofi & Terri pose in a high school gym
Terri Connell congratulates Sofi Tsedaka at the penultimate workshop of 2017. Connell will accompany the group for a week next fall in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

The final day of workshops attracted other special visitors. Terri Connell, who will host the ensemble next year, drove in from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for the morning workshop, and Kathy Droessler, representing a local donor—the Dubuque Racing Association—came to see the impact of her new employer’s philanthropy dollars. The racing association, which funnels money from casinos to local organizations, is one of the World Fest sponsors in the Dubuque area, she explained.

Students meeting with the band
Foreign students on Rotary scholarships meet with the musicians just before the concert at the Heritage Center.

Arts Midwest tour managers Shigeyo Henriquez and Eric Smith drove the three hours from Chicago to attend the final concert at the University of Dubuque’s Heritage Center and see old friends. Eric had traveled with two members of Sofi’s ensemble who had done previous Arts Midwest tours as members of the Baladino ensemble. Shigeyo, who like Eric has hosted the touring Israelis in her home in the past, had an additional reason to come to Dubuque.

Shigeyo will return to Dubuque as tour manager for the World Fest tours of Manhu from China’s Yunnan Province and Ondekoza from Japan.

Baldis on stage
The Baladis felt the warmth of Midwestern audiences at their final concert

The morning after the final concert, the musicians drove 165 miles to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport for a long flight back to Israel. Over their four weeks on the road traveling through North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa, Sofi and the Baladis had reached many thousands of Midwesterners through 31 workshop presentations, four receptions, and four public concerts.

They plan to return next fall to again share their music, stories, and ancient prayers in the other five states Arts Midwest serves. For now, shalom (a multi-meaning word in Hebrew meaning hello, goodbye and peace) and todah (thank you).