A couple weeks ago I was walking back to my room from the Moadon (the dormitory central location) when I was stopped by a peculiar sound. Guitar plucking and strumming reverberated across the stone ground, the soothing vibrato of a violin danced through the air, and a young woman’s voice echoed under the vast night sky.
I froze, and an inner dialogue began:
“Will I disturb them? Well, I was already going to bed anyways….it is about that time…”
A step forward to descend the stairs to my room.
“But…it’s so beautiful. Who are these people?”
After a few seconds, I decided to follow the beautiful voice. When in Israel, right?
Those of you who know me (and maybe even read my last blog) can affirm that I love music. I find much joy in the simplicity and complexity of song: be it in the howling voice of Kurt Cobain, the lyrical mastery of the Avett Brothers, the spiritual honesty and exploration of Josh Garrels, the drums of Dave Grohl, or the harp of Sarah Pagé.
Hans Zimmer’s masterful soundtrack carries us through the emptiness of space and its harrowing realities in the film Interstellar. Music brings laughter and joy as one sees Drake Michaelson dancing up and down the streets of Istanbul to “Uptown Funk” (and may even inspire you to join). It signifies place and occasion: there are songs to be sung at joyous occasions such as weddings, and sorrowful moments of deep heartbreak, loss, and grief. It channels our inner emotions and fuels desire, buries us in pain and lifts us to the heavens.
Song also possesses another powerful quality, which brings us back to the story:
It turned out that the voice and violin belonged to my friend Arielle, who is from New York, and is studying at Davidson College. The strumming fingers belonged to Aehab, who is studying for a Masters in Geography, and Amicam, a PhD candidate in the field of marine biology. They graciously allowed for me to stay and listen, and revel in the notes they were creating.
I sat for about 15 minutes listening to them jam, and through conversation, learned that we shared similar musical taste. I believe it was then that Aehab began strumming the chords for the song, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” which was one of the last songs performed by Nirvana a few short months before Kurt Cobain took his own life. I began to sing along. And, lo and behold, I am now the male singer in a newly formed band.
We practice often, and are planning a performance sometime late November or early December. Let’s just say that I laugh to myself a bit when I reflect on this new opportunity. There is no way that I could have ever thought this would happen, let alone in Haifa, Israel, of all places!
This is a completely new experience for me. However, I can liken it to a football team: something with which I am well acquainted. Each member is dependent on each other—the drummer must hold the rhythm, the guitarist and bassist form the musical structure, and the singers work together to make mere words melodious.
If one falters, the music ceases. If one seeks to steal the spotlight, the others are harmed.
And, if there is any intra-band conflict, the chemistry is hindered, relationships flounder, and friendships can sour. Any potential of making music would be killed by failed fellowship. This is the case even if the members are world-class musicians.
Relationship, therefore, is the key to beauty.
Oh, and I forgot to mention one thing: we are a pretty mixed bunch. Amicam, the lead guitarist/bassist, is an Israeli Jew. Doron, our drummer, is the same. Aehab, the rhythm guitarist, is Druze from a nearby village called Dalia. Arielle is from America, but is of Jewish and Filipino descent.
The only thing missing is just a touch of Minnesotan…don’t cha’ know?
I have found that music transcends all of these “differences.” Although we may have diverse tastes and preferences, we can come together under the banner of song and, in a sense, become one. One’s background truly doesn’t matter—what matters is if Aehab can nail the transition from guitar solo to rhythm on “Californication,” if Amicam can shred on “Comfortably Numb,” and if Arielle and I can perfect the harmony on “Creep.” A common goal inspires us. The task at hand unites us.
Music, therefore, possesses the power to unify.
Furthermore, the most beautiful songs possess harmony. That is, different notes that come together to compliment each other. Difference doesn’t have to mean dissonance. In fact, it can create something more attractive than anything “sameness” could produce alone.
I may be beginning to sound like a broken record, but I must reiterate that one of the themes of my time abroad has been a heightened understanding of the depth of the brokenness that exists in this world. It is not just in the Middle Eastern problem. It is a people problem. Wherever there are humans, there is suffering and sadness, with it being spread and maintained through inequality, prejudice, greed, racism, classism, selfishness, fear…I think you get the picture.
However, in the midst of these realities, there exists music. Lyrics dance off the dirt and stones, communicating joy and grief, love and hate, peace and fear.
I also must mention that among the backgrounds and stories that are present in our unique group, there is one glaring omission: that of the Palestinian narrative.
Therefore, I am not claiming that this particular group of identities is serving to solve a part of the ongoing conflict here, the reason being precisely that there is no representation of this unbelievably important minority community. In my short time here, I have had the distinct privilege of making many Palestinian friends, and will dedicate my next blog to reflect on their situation, their stories, and the immense personal joy it has been to forge these relationships. There is much music to be heard there, and I look forward to the sharing it with you.
I am suggesting this, however: maybe we would do well by learning to sing together. Or, just quiet down enough to hear the songs that reverberate off the forgiveness shown to Dylann Roof by the families of the dead faithful, the sacrificial service of Dr. Tom Catena in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, the continuous impact of my friend Jeremiah Tate’s life well lived on the Wofford community and world at large, and even the band one can hear practicing on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel.