Amid the despair that pervades Gaza these days, Gaza Music School coordinator Ibrahim Al Najaar sounds an optimistic note: “Music restores hope and joy for a nation not accustomed to happiness.”
As the student orchestra starts rehearsals, Ibrahim adds, “The music school supports students who want to play music and make their voices heard in the world.”
Some 200 young musicians meet at the school in Gaza City most evenings from 5 to 8 pm to rehearse and take lessons from 14 teachers there. Ibrahim Al Najaar describes the school as a refuge for many students who are designing their future through their talent and need an outlet for their creativity. “No matter the size of the hands or fingers, music is about sensation, and they do a great job expressing their emotions,” he adds.
The music school supports students who want to play music and make their voices heard in the world.
New Violins & Scholarships for Gaza Music Students
Ibrahim says the school is even more important in the aftermath of the traumatic 2014 war in Gaza. Sixth-grader Firas El-Shirafy is studying the qanoun, an ancient Arab instrument similar to a zither. While playing his favorite pieces from the world-famous singers Om-Kolthoom and Fayrouz, Firas pauses to talk about his classmate Naim. Naim had borrowed the school’s violin just a few days before the Gaza war broke out last summer, to practice at home.
“The first day I saw him coming to school, he was sobbing. He couldn’t talk to us,” says Firas. Naim’s apartment was in one of Gaza’s tall buildings that was bombed in the war. “He lost all his belongings and his violin,” explains Firas. “When we got back after the war, we didn’t talk, we just played in our team orchestra and it felt good to be doing something positive rather than opening old wounds.”
A few months later, Anera provided the Gaza Music School a $15,000 grant to purchase six new violins and provide tuition for 80 students to study the musical instrument of their choice. The violins replaced what was lost and will give more students an opportunity to play the string instrument. In 2010, Anera delivered two pianos to Gaza’s only music school.
Seventh grader Evet El-Turk, is delighted with the new violins and is determined to master her technique. She says music is a way to show a different side of Gaza. “We do have destruction everywhere, that’s true, but it is important to play our cultural songs to reflect our Palestinian traditions,” she said.
Pointing to the new violin, Evet proudly states her dream is to travel worldwide and perform before an audience of thousands. “With a lot of practice, I know I could perform confidently on stage.”
Young Firas prefers the qanoun. He says he chose the qanoun because it is sophisticated. Thanks to Anera’s scholarships, he has been able to continue studying and playing traditional Arabic melodies.
Firas says the secret of his success is the support of his parents and grandparents. “My passion began when I saw the qanoun played once on TV and I thought this is exactly what I want to do,” he smiles. Firas is considered one of the best students in his music class. His teacher says his musical abilities are well beyond his years. “He definitely has a musical ear,” explains Ibrahim Al Najaar.
Firas has no doubts about what he wants to be when he finishes school, “I want to be a musician. I am sure about that.”
His teachers also see how Firas expresses his fear, anger and sorrow through music. “You know I lived through three wars already,” explains young Firas. “So for me, music is a message for peace and serenity.”
You know I lived through three wars already. So for me, music is a message for peace and serenity.
What is the Gaza Music School?
The Gaza Music School was founded in 2008 as a project funded by A. M. Qattan Foundation. It started with five teachers and 25 students but quickly expanded. Today there are 14 teachers. It is the only music school in Gaza. In 2012, the school joined the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music to become the conservatory’s fifth branch (other branches are in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus and Ramallah). The school offers eight years of study with a basic certificate and intermediate certificate, which qualify students to pursue music at international universities.