Posted by on May 09, 2013 in Blog

By Jade Zoghbi

Spring 2013 Intern

Dr. Edward Said, a music connoisseur in his own right, once described the art of music thus: “Instead of looking at a melody on top and just a lot of silly accompaniment down here, or silence, it’s really like a polyphonic work. In order to understand it, you have to have this concept of overlapping territories—interdependent histories, I call them.” In 1999, Dr. Said and Maestro Daniel Barenboim founded a program to open a space for “an ongoing dialogue where the universal, metaphysical language of music links with the continuous dialogue that we have with young people, and the young people have with each other.”

In 2006, Palestinian violinist Nabeel Abboud Ashkar returned to his hometown of Nazareth to found a small music school with a grant from the Barenboim-Said Foundation. In 2011, Nabeel co-founded The Polyphony Foundation, and the Nazareth school was renamed the Polyphony Conservatory. Since then, Polyphony's programs have expanded to reach over over 5,000 youth in the region, and it's Conservatory program has reached international-standards for music training. The foundation established programs for Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab nationals to create music, build friendships, and learn how to harmonize their voices. Music became the language for dialogue and its message has been powerful since touching the lives of many youths.

The AAI office had the chance to invite Polyphony, traveling for their nationwide tour, to perform live for an audience at the office on Monday, May 6th to celebrate the progress of the foundation and musical performances. Among those in attendance were staff members from Al Jazeera's The Stream team. In addition, we were honored to be joined by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) who joined some members of Polyphony for a photograph (see image on the right).

Ultimately, the work of the foundation has been an outstanding opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian youth to learn the meaning of collaboration. Abboud-Ashkar said, “We have Arab children and Jewish children living in Nazareth, in Rahat, who think they are part of two different worlds. Polyphony brings them together to create a new place. 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.”

The ensemble included four young musicians from the Galilee region who performed several classic pieces. Among the talented youngsters are Yamen Saadi (17), a violinist who is Arab and Muslim; Hagit Bar Sella (17), a cellist who is Israeli and Jewish. In an interview at the office, Hagit tells us that she strongly believes in the program “the program worked for me, it has changed the world for me and I have made many friends with whom I get to make music.” Yamen has encountered some doubts from people and tells us that he has been asked him “What’s it’s like to play with enemies, what would your grandfathers say?” to which he responds “we’re all human, we play together, it doesn’t matter.” Nabil, aged 11, says that playing music is a chance to make friends. Their favorite part of the tours is meeting new people.

Polyphony is a hopeful organization and offers a foundation for youth to share identities and voices responsibly. No voice dominates the other, but peace is created by harmonizing voices to one another and working in unison.

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