NPR “Weekend Edition”
July 12, 2015
Sandy Tolan and Ramzi Aburedwan in conversation with “Weekend Edition” NPR host Lynn Neary on Children of the Stone.
This might have been some long-forgotten incident from the Jim Crow American South, but it happened this spring, near the West Bank municipality of Yatta, when Israeli soldiers came to the village pool and ordered the Palestinian bathers out of the water. The April 2015 incident, documented by the respected Israeli human rights group, B’tselem, was all the more striking in that it occurred in “Area A,” the 18 percent of the West Bank that is supposedly sovereign Palestinian land. (Area C, under full Israeli military control, takes up 60 percent; Area B, joint Israel-Palestinian control, the remaining 22 percent.)
Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan, a child from a Palestinian refugee camp, got an education abroad, mastered an instrument and dreamt of something much bigger than himself. The dream was to build a music school to transform the lives of thousands of children, as Ramzi’s life was transformed, through music. During this journey Daniel Barenboim, the eminent Israeli conductor, invited Ramzi to join his West Eastern Divan Orchestra, which he then left due to the tensions sweeping the region, to continue following his dream.
Petroc Trelawny talks to the Middle East journalist Sandy Tolan who has documented this remarkable story in his new book “Children of the Stone – The Power of Music in a Hard Land.”
|Ramzi Aburedwan & Dal’ouna Ensemble with Lena Seikaly and Sandy Tolan
“Sandy Tolan knows Palestinian life. His first book, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew and the Heart of the Middle East (2006) was followed up by his popular blog, Ramallah Café: Facts on the Ground in the Middle East. Now he gives us Children of the Stone where we hear more about some of the people we’ve met at his café,” writes Huffington Post Books’ Nancy Graham Holm.
Sandy Tolan is just one week into the book tour for Children of the Stone, and the response has been extraordinary. Not only did Children of the Stone appear in both The Daily Beast and Salon, but ‘Friday Was The Bomb‘ author Nathan Deuel referred to Tolan’s latest book as “a moving look at music’s power in Palestine.” And the praise doesn’t end there:
To promote the release of Sandy Tolan’s latest book, Children of the Stone, Ramallah Café presents Grace Notes, short excerpts curated by the author himself. The book, about one Palestinian’s dream to build a music school in the middle of a military occupation, is out today. Children of the Stone is already receiving wide praise from historians, early reviewers, and the famed musician Yo-Yo Ma. (more…)
Beginning today, Ramallah Café presents Grace Notes, short excerpts from Sandy Tolan’s forthcoming book, Children of the Stone. The book, about one Palestinian’s dream to build a music school in the middle of a military occupation, comes out this month. Children of the Stone is already receiving wide praise from historians, early reviewers, and the famed musician Yo-Yo Ma. (more…)
It was the kind of threat you’d expect to hear from the Islamic State – so extreme it made you want to rub your eyes in disbelief. But there was Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on the campaign trail, calling for the beheading of disloyal Arab citizens of Israel. “Those who are against us, there’s nothing to be done – we need to pick up an ax and cut off his head,” said Israel’s foreign minister on March 8. “Otherwise we won’t survive here.”
My new book, Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land, will launch in April, officially on April 21 with a talk at the downtown LA Public Library’s ALOUD series, hosted by NPR’s Kelly McEvers. A two-week national tour follows. We’ve received wonderful initial feedback so far, including “blurbs” from Yo-Yo Ma and Reza Aslan, and glowing reviews from Booklist and others. We’ve set up a page to keep track of tour details as well as other news about the book itself and the conversations it hopefully inspires. We do want to help change the conversation in this country about Palestine/Israel. I would love you to take a look, like the Facebook author page, and stay in touch. https://www.facebook.com/SandyTolanAuthor
For the last five years, I’ve been reporting and writing Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land (Bloomsbury, April 2015), which chronicles the journey of musician Ramzi Aburedwan, a child of the first Palestinian Intifada, and his dream to build a broad musical presence in occupied Palestine. Today Al Kamandjati (Arabic for The Violinist) has served thousands of Palestinian children through classes, workshops, annual music festivals, a instrument-building and repair center, and a summer music camp.
Alongside the toll of death and broken lives, perhaps the saddest reality of the latest Gaza war, like the Gaza wars before it, is how easy it would have been to avoid. For the last eight years, Israel and the U.S. had repeated opportunities to opt for a diplomatic solution in Gaza. Each time, they have chosen war, with devastating consequences for the families of Gaza. Read more, at TomDispatch.com…
An excerpt, published in Granta, from Children of the Stones (working title), my forthcoming book (Bloomsbury, 2014) about making music under occupation in Palestine. Much of the book focuses on Ramzi Aburedwan, a child of the first Palestinian intifada, whose Al Kamandjati music center serves hundreds of Palestinian children in the West Bank and refugee camps in Lebanon. From the Granta piece:
Fadi’s Italian arias represented another form of freedom. Anyone who heard him sing for the first time was astonished by the power and tone of the boy’s clear soprano. His pitch, and his resonance, seemed to reach inside listeners. In the practice room with Julia, Fadi’s voice would soar above the piano, cutting through the ambient din of Jenin: clear and resonant. In recitals, he had a natural dramatic presence, his eyes widening at emotional turns in the piece, as if he understood the original Italian. He memorized his first song, ‘Sebben, Crudele’ written by the Italian baroque composer Antonio Caldara for his 1710 opera, La costanza in amor vince l’inganno (Faithfulness in love conquers treachery), in a single lesson. The next evening he performed it at a recital for other students, accompanied by Jason on the piano. Julia was stunned. Teachers found themselves on the verge of tears. ‘A star! A new star at the Kamandjâti!’ Fadi declared that evening, giddy with his own gifts and laughing in celebration. Read more, in Granta…
Edward Said died ten years ago – September 25, 2003, after a twelve-year battle with leukemia. One of the 20th Century’s great intellectuals, Said, author of the masterworks Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism, was also a beloved professor to generations of students at Columbia University, a gifted amateur pianist and an opera critic for The Nation magazine. He was perhaps best known for his fierce defense of the rights of his people, the Palestinians, in numerous books and hundreds of essays and articles published worldwide.
September also marks another fateful anniversary – the 20th, of the now-infamous Arafat-Rabin handshake on the White House lawn, which sealed the Oslo accords. The legacies of Oslo and its greatest critic, Edward Said, stand as polar opposites. Indeed, it was Said who was among the first to sharply criticize the accords, in part because, unlike many satisfied pundits of the day, he had actually read them. For this reason, his widow Mariam told me, he had declined a White House invitation to attend the ceremony in September 1993. Today his words on Oslo are the soundings of a prophet.
Beethoven’s 4th Symphony has inspired countless thousands of musicians since it was first performed more than two centuries ago. Yet few, I’m sure, have risked arrest and prison time just to play this magnificent piece of music.
Enter the Ramallah Orchestra, made up largely of Palestinian musicians in their teens and twenties, accompanied by 15 or so visiting teachers and performers from Europe and the U.S. The orchestra is a project of Al Kamandjati, the Ramallah-based music school at the center of my next book. For the Palestinians in the orchestra, Beethoven’s music, inspiring at it is, makes up only part of the story.
I arrived in Ramallah a week ago, limping heavily, and right into another story of Palestinian hospitality. I had torn a calf muscle doing exercise in my Jerusalem hotel room, and, after managing to get on the #18 minibus to Ramallah, then hop a cab to the flat I’m renting here for two weeks, I met my landlords – three generations of an old Ramallah family who live in the flats above and below the one they were renting me. This is my sixth trip to Palestine since 2009, all for reporting and research for my new book, about making music under occupation in Palestine. Every time I come, I encounter small, profound kindnesses: surprise in the quotidian life.
When he saw me limp up the stairs, Ziad, a young doctor, provided a quick assessment of my ailment; then with a look of concern, he asked me if I needed any groceries, since I wouldn’t be able to walk to get any. Well, yes, thanks, I said. Make a list, he said. Then he told me he knew an orthopedist at the end of the block; would I like him to try to get an appointment? Well, yes, thanks, I said again.
By Sandy Tolan and Anan Abu-Shanab
Oday Khatib, the acclaimed Palestinian singer from the Ramallah-based Al Kamandjati music school, walked out of an Israeli prison a free man this week. Oday was arrested on March 19 at Al Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron, and sentenced to three months in prison for allegedly throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.
As Oday Khatib’s defense in his stone-throwing trial begins, family members, friends, and fellow musicians from around the world continue to protest his innocence. The trial of the acclaimed Palestinian singer, which began last week, is taking place in Ofer military prison in the Israel-occupied West Bank. If convicted, Oday could receive ten years in prison under Israeli Military Order 1651. A verdict could come within days.
Nearly lost amidst the relief, celebration and flag-waving following the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was the seemingly complete acquiescence to a martial law-like state in Boston. Yes, the lockdown was for but one day; yes, horrible things had just gone down. But shutting down an entire city to search for one man? Yes, he is suspected of having just committed heinous crimes. But as New Yorker writer John Cassidy asks, “does that justify locking down an entire city?” How outrageous would this have seemed on September 10, 2001? Among the initial under-examined questions, then, from the imposition of a quasi-military state in Boston: