RAMALLAH, January 9 (JMCC) - Tens of children in Gaza study music for free, despite the inability to leave the occupied territory and lack of access to musical instruments, reports The Independent
[I]n the piano room, Sara Akel plays two études by the Austrian composer Carl Czerny and a Bach Polonaise, with such confidence that you would never guess, if you shut your eyes, that she was only 12. Sara prefers music to academic subjects at school. I really love it here, she says. The teachers are so nice and talented. I'm really looking to be a professional musician. In Gaza? Why not?
It's a fair question. This centre of artistic excellence may conflict with Gaza's popular image. But it is already nurturing a young musical generation worthy of its peers elsewhere. Each of the 52 boys and 73 girls come three times a week after school for two sessions of learning an instrument and one for theory. While many have never touched a musical instrument before, they have all passed competitive tests of ear and rhythm to get in.
Among several Gaza prizewinners who performed in the last national Palestinian music competition by video link – because students cannot leave the territory – a seven-year-old qanun player, Mahmoud Khail, came first in his age group. This April the school will become the fifth full branch of the Edward Said National Music Conservatory – the leading Palestinian music institution named after the nationalist writer and music lover who died in 2003.
But the school is also a powerful symbol of Gaza's resilience. It was founded three years ago at Palestinian Red Crescent premises in Gaza City's Tel el Hawa district with finance from the Qattan foundation and the Swedish government. The first crop of students gave their first concert on 23 December, 2008.
Four days later, Israel's military onslaught on Hamas-controlled Gaza opened with an aerial bombardment which landed a direct hit on the Preventative Security HQ and damaged nearby buildings including the school. Director Ibrahim Najar, a music graduate from Cairo University and a maestro of the qanun, was in the building at the time. He suffered only cuts and bruises and came back two days later to store the instruments in the school's innermost space, the bathroom.
But then on 14 January, Israeli troops entered Tel el Hawa. The PRCS building was hit, and the school and several of its instruments, including the precious piano, were destroyed. Thanks to the US NGO Anera, replacements were brought across the border despite the Israeli-imposed blockade, including two brand new pianos, and the school was up and running in new premises.