Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Special Music Day

I enter the living room of the Kaziyeh group: girls and women with special needs. Some of them are blind, some can not walk, while others can move perfectly but are severely autistic. But they have one thing in common: they all love music!
Today the room seems smaller than ever and I notice some new faces: some women that live above Kaziyeh join the workshop today. Maram, one of the new women, starts dancing and jumping in the middle of the room when she sees the guitar.
While the girls are finding a place to sit on the couches, I put a chair for myself. Khoula immediately sits on the chair. Khoula, the girl that looked angry during the last two workshops and didn't say a word. I thought she did not like the music, or me, or the guitar, or my clothes, or anything in the world.
I take another chair and put it next to her. I take out the guitar, and Khoula gets even closer. She tries to touch the guitar. Her supervisor tells her to leave it, because she is afraid Khoula would break the guitar. But I tell her it is fine, the guitar is strong and Khoula can touch the strings. While she puts her left arm around my shoulder, she starts striking the guitar strings with her right hand. Slowly she makes sounds, smiling and looking comfortable.
One hour of singing, listening, playing and dancing follows. Khoula's involvement and smile is bigger than ever!

Before this workshop I visited Eber, a group of 6 young boys and girls with special needs. We are working together since two months, and the children are really amazing. Miri and Sabah, their teachers, are always singing and dancing enthusiastically with the children. Today we started to write our own song. On a given melody, the children came up with words. This is a long process, because some of the children don't even talk and I don't understand all the Arabic...But with the help of Sabah and Miri, we finished the first lines. Inspired by the song-writing, Sabah suggested a rap. The children did not know what rap means, so Sabah started to rap...the children couldn't stop laughing and we had lots of fun. I promised them to bring a real rapper from Bethlehem for the next workshop!

Thank you Maarten for making the beautiful pictures.

Haneen, receiving a drop of water on her hand before the water drop dance!

Haneen was partly raised by two Dutch volunteers. This is why she still understands Dutch. The supervisors asked for a Dutch song. When we sang "Deze Vuist Op Deze Vuist", a traditional Dutch children song, Haneen started laughing!

Anwar playing the tambourine

Since two years, I was looking for a word to replace the word "fakon" in the Arabic song "Macaroon". Fakon is not a real Arabic word. It means something like a train wagon, but no child (or adult...) understood this word. Intisar came up with a new word: KARTON! It also rhymes with Macaroon, and now we all sing: "60 carton boxes of Macaroni!" Thank you Intisar!

Ra'fat understands three languages: Arabic, English and Dutch. I will never forget the day he was sick and had to stay in bed. Because of this he missed the music workshop. After the workshop, we went to his bed and as soon as he heard the sound of the guitar, he started smiling. He was still smiling when we left the room and made us smile as well!

We were all excited that we found a castanet in the color of Salem's jacket! Salem speaks perfect Arabic and English and sings all the songs in tune. He is a great musical talent!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Music for Blind Children

On Sunday the 6th of February, we were invited to visit a new music project in the Yamaha Music School in Ramallah.
Together with MwB trainees Amira and Seereen, we took the long winding road from Bethlehem to Ramallah. Because Amira and Seereen are from al-Azzeh and Dheisheh refugee camps, they are not allowed to pass through Jerusalem, where the road is much faster and safer.
But taking the long road through Wadi Nar (Valley of Fire) has also positive sides. We had all the time to talk, enjoy the beautiful view of the desert and listen to music on the radio.

When we arrived in the Yamaha Music School, we felt immediately welcomed. The warm colors and soft carpet made us forget the cold weather outside. The director, Mirna Malouf, a woman with unending energy, hosted us for more than two hours. She is the brain and the motor behind this wonderful project.

Since October last year, 30 visually impaired and blind children from all over Palestine receive music education twice a week. Buses bring them from their homes to the music school where they learn to play the oud, percussion, accordion, (electrical) piano, or violin and sing in a choir. Two of the music teachers are blind themselves. The children receive the lessons in groups, which gives them support and improves their social skills.

But it doesn't end here....the children also receive lessons in solfege: reading and singing music notes.
They learn how to read and write the music notes in braille. Mirna showed us a braille music book and while I let my fingers go over the pages, I felt very small. How could one ever understand these dots? Some of my music students are having problems reading music, how can these blind children read music in braille?

The Yamaha Music School also offers music lessons for children that have normal vision. This makes the project even more beautiful, because the children learn to respect and support each other.

We were all very impressed and happy that such an important project exist. All the respect for Mirna and the music teachers!

The coming months, we will go back once a month to give music workshops for both the blind children and the children with normal vision. The challenge will be to find activities that will be fitting for all children, in which they can cooperate, be creative and use their many talents.

If you want to have more information about this wonderful project, please contact Mirna Malouf directly: