The work of Brass for Peace at Lutheran schools in the region of Bethlehem
Brass for Peace has been sending one or two volunteers to the Westbank every year since 2008. They teach students at the three Christian schools Talitha Kumi (Beit Jala), Dar al Kalima (Nethlehem) and the Lutheran School in Beit Sahour how to play a brass wind instrument. Every child that wants to participate may do so. Religion, age and sex don´t play a role. At the moment, approximately 60 students between 7 and 19 years of age are actively involved.
Brass for Peace works differently at each of the three schools. In Talitha Kumi, there is the concept of brass wind classes, which means that the brass wind lesson is part of the timetable of a normal schoolday. Dar al Kalima has a similar concept: students can choose brass wind lessons with Brass for Peace as an elective subject.
In contrast to those two schools, students in Beit Sahour Lutheran School can choose lessons with Brass for Peace as freetime activity in the afternoons.
The volunteers visit the three schools every day for their lessons. Depending on performance level and number of participating students, they give their lessons individually or in small groups. The lessons take between 30 and 40 minutes. Each of the schools provide Brass for Peace with a room where things such as music stands, music or even “emergency instruments” are being kept. The “emergency instruments” are needed when a student comes to his/her lesson, but has forgotten his/her instrument at home…
On Fridays, which is a free day in Palestine, ensemble lessons take place in the community hall of Dar Annadwa (Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem). At the moment, there are three “Friday-Brass”-groups:
- The beginners, who start learning what is important when you want to play music together in a group. This group consists of six to ten students. As soon as new children can play the first few notes and are in the mood for playing together with other children, they join this group.
- The advanced beginners, who are already able to play music for several voices. In this group, the students are slowly prepared for the advanced group, for example through little performances or concerts. The size of the group is between five and ten students.
- The advanced group, which functions as the brass wind choir of Bethlehem. Between fifteen and twenty children, adolescents and young adults play together regularly, in rehearsals and concerts.
Still, this isn´t enough for some students and they additionally meet in Talitha Kumi on Mondays for “Monday-Brass”-rehearsals. This group practices ambitious music in a smaller lineup.
All students who play in one of the ensembles have additional individual lessons on their instruments to improve their skills. This is the only requirement to be part of the ensembles. Only high school graduates or older students who are already studying at a university are allowed to have no more individual lessons.
But not only rehearsing together is important in the ensembles. Playing music together is having a totally new and different effect on the students.
The work of the ensembles
Brass for Peace has only just started to develop a culture of brass wind choirs in the Holy Land, so there is no such thing as a local literature for brass ensembles.
This is why “typical” literature for brass wind choirs in Germany is used. This includes almost all kinds of genres and styles. The students mainly like popular styles, but also composers such as Bach, Handel and modern classicals are in favour.
During the Lutheran services, German anthems or English hymns are played. However, there are also a few modern Arabic Christian songs which people from Brass for Peace write brass wind compositions for. Sometimes, those compositions might even include church band instruments.
For the training of the younger students, there is a new learning book for beginners, which was especially made for Brass for Peace (©Monika Hofmann). It´s in English and Arabic and includes many drawings to explain the important things.Thus, language problems can be overcome quite fast.
The students of Brass for Peace play regularly in the services of the Lutheran congregations of Beit Jala, Beit Sahour and Bethlehem, just like brass wind choirs in Germany do. Sometimes, they also play in the German Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem – given that they get the permission to travel through the checkpoints into Israel.
The three Lutheran schools in which the lessons take place are also happy to reap the fruit of Brass for Peace´s labour and ask the students to play at events such as Christmas celebrations or graduation balls.
In addition to that, Brass for Peace is sometimes invited to play at special external events. They have already played several times at the celebrations of the Day of German Unity in the German Representative Office in Ramallah. Furthermore, there have been concerts on public places or in the home for disabled children “Lifegate” in Bethlehem.
Every student gets – for a small fee – a rental instrument from Brass for Peace. Those instruments belong to the association and are donations of all ages or even newly purchased. Except for French horns – because they are hard to be taught in a mixed group of beginners – there are all kinds of brass wind instruments: trumpets and flugelhorns in both German and American style, tenor horns, baritones, euphoniums, a lot of trombones and even two tubas.
For the children and their parents, it is hard to grasp the full value of all those instruments and they sometimes can´t understand why one should handle them with care. The biggest problem is the language. Many students and their parents hardly understand the matter in English, the volunteers don´t speak any Arabic at the beginning of their year. This is why there have been made little videos in Arabic language about how to deal with the instruments.
Nevertheless, it happens that instruments or parts of them bite the dust. Battered bells stay as they are. Broken water keys, springs or the like can easily be repaired by the volunteers with available tools. But coming to open solder joints, twisted trombone slides, stuck tuning slides or even holes in the instrument, it gets harder and harder.
Also heat and dusty air cause problems: unplayed instruments get stuck quite easily, never mind how often they get oiling before.
For those cases that can´t be repaired by the volunteers, an instrument maker comes to Bethlehem every now and then. He works there for several days to get all the instruments running with special tools that have been purchased over the years.
The volunteers´ work includes various duties. You can compare them to a one-(wo)man-music school: they do all the administration work and teach all the students themselves.
On weekdays, they go to the three schools every afternoon to teach the students. In the mornings, they organize and prepare their lessons and rehearsals, plan performances, do administration stuff like phone calls with school directors and clergymen, write letters to parents etc. Apart from that, they have to conduct the correspondence with their supervisors and financiers from Germany and of course learn Arabic.
On Fridays and Mondays, the ensemble rehearsals take place, which have to be well-prepared. Weekends are usually off, unless there´s a concert or other event.
Then, of course, there´s a most fascinating country to be explored, interesting people to be met, friendships to be made and individual hobbies to be pursued.
The nice thing about the work at Brass for Peace is that, despite regular appointments, every week is different and an exciting mixture of routine and spontaneity might evolve. The volunteers learn to deal with all kinds of situations and work exceedingly self-responsible and autonomous. If there are questions or if they need support, the volunteers are yet not let alone. Brass for Peace-coordinator Carolin Modersohn, a mentor from Berlin Mission and the association team from Germany are on their sides.
Since mainly the younger students speak hardly any English and the volunteers can´t speak any Arabic at the beginning of their year, the working language is a mixture of English, Arabic, a little bit of German and a lot of hand-and-feet. In order to overcome language problems, Brass for Peace has made an own learning book for the beginners with a lot of drawings and only little English and Arabic text.
The word “practice at home” doesn´t have a real Arabic equivalent, which makes it not a big surprise that only a few of the students really practice at home. And in those cases in which they do practice, the neighbours often find it too loud and annoying. Surprisingly, most of the students nevertheless develop quite good skills on their instrument.
The significance of music and making music is comparably low in the country of Palestine. Only a few Arabic families, most of all occidentally influenced ones, know about the advantages of making music. Seeing this, it´s our aim to show that making music is not only learning skills on an instrument, but that it significantly develops other important skills such as teamwork, fairplay or tolerance as well.
The word “Peace” often provokes a negative connotation in the Arabic region of Bethlehem. It is assumed that Brass for Peace works together with Israel, which is a reason for many parents to be very reluctant and not to send their children to lessons with Brass for Peace. The social pressure would be too high in the current situation. We try to communicate that we only work in the region of Bethlehem and in Germany. There´s not yet time for joint projects between Israelis and Palestinians.