Posted by on June 21, 2012 in Blog

By Sara Jawhari

2012 Summer Intern

This June, the Polyphony Youth Orchestra, comprised of Israel’s most talented young Arab and Jewish musicians, will come to the United States to share not just their artistic gifts, but their vision for a just and equal future in their divided home country.

Nabeel Abboud-Ashkar was born in Nazareth and witnessed firsthand the lack of opportunities that Arab children face there every day.  A classically trained violinist, Abboud-Ashkar recognized the power music had to bring people together and resolved to bring greater access to children in his hometown and throughout his country.  Cogut helped established the foundation in hopes of creating equal opportunities for Arab youth in Israel, as well as serving as a model of cooperation based on cultural exchange, dialogue, and partnerships.

Having spent years teaching music to young students in Israel and Palestine, in 2011 Abboud-Ashkar formerly founded the non-profit Polyphony Education in Nazareth, “the Arab capital of Israel,” where Arabs —both Christian and Muslim— comprise the majority of the population.

“We have Arab children and Jewish children …who think they are part of two different worlds. Polyphony brings them together to create a new place,” Abboud-Ashkar explained. “They work together, they play together, and they create an environment that is literally defined by harmony. It’s a space, not a territory. It’s a space they can carry with them forever.”  

Polyphony Education’s programs include music appreciation classes and curricula offered to more than 2,000 students, starting with elementary school outreach and leading up to integrated orchestras that allow teenage musicians to learn, experience, and perform together. Polyphony has partnered with several organizations throughout Israel, as well as internationally with Brown University.

Through partnering with these organizations, students in Israel are given the opportunity to learn from some of classical music’s most well-known figures, perform live concerts worldwide, and find a unity of purpose that goes beyond borders.

At its core, these programs are based on the belief that music holds the key to tackling some of most pressing issues that divide the diverse communities within Israel.  By bringing together Arab and Jewish children at an early age through classical music education, they provide a safe outlet for kids from all backgrounds and religions– to interact with one another on a daily basis.  In a region where community identity remains strong and opportunities for interaction are often not readily available, Polyphony Education provides a safe haven while also teaching a lifelong skill that provides endless opportunities in the students’ futures. 

This month, 24 members of the Polyphony Youth Orchestra’s members are touring the U.S., sharing their talents and their stories with the American community. They will host concerts in Greenwich, CT; Detroit, Michigan; Aspen, CO and throughout New York at private homes, synagogues, and churches.

“I am so proud of these students, of what they’ve accomplished, and the commitment they make to each other. Our future lies in this next generation,” says Abboud-Ashkar. “And you can see, when they travel together, when they perform together — the future is bright.”

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