Meet Me at the Keyboard
I was honored and privileged to meet Yuval in April at the keyboard of a Kawai baby grand piano in the Eshkol Arts Center. This piano was a treasured gift from Jewish National Fund, USA. It traveled to Eshkol, Israel, over many miles of dusty roads laden with remnants of rockets and debris from missiles.
Eshkol is a community bounded on the west by the Gaza strip. You might think this is a crazy place to meet, but it is life as it unfolds daily for the residents of this area. They refer to life as being 95% heaven and 5% hell. On that day, it was certainly a feeling of heaven.
Yuval is a 15-year-old young man who happens to live in Nahal Oz, a kibbutz community close to the border of the Gaza strip. It is part of the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, a community of resilient people who have been in the lens of incoming rockets as long as one can remember. Despite the sounds of the red alert sirens and the whistling sounds of missiles, Yuval has become quite an accomplished pianist.
As a student of piano studies and only studying for four years, Yuval has dedicated himself to excellence and perfection. As a member of the Gaza Envelope Task Force of JNF- USA, the task force members and I were thrilled with opening three music schools in that area. Since the JNF “Israel at 75” mission was planning a visit to that area, I thought it would be a unique opportunity to showcase the hidden talent that resided in the envelope. I entertained the idea of performing a piano duet with Yuval. However, with thousands of miles separating us, how could this become a reality. Where would we rehearse? How would we coordinate our parts? Who would play primo, who secondo? So many obstacles, but … modern technology and ingenuity made the impossible possible.
Yuval and I had to decide which duet would be appropriate for our skill levels as well as appeal to the audience. Ironically, we both chose our favorite, Faure’s Dolly, Berceuse. I played primo and he secondo. Again, no issues, except for coordinating the parts. No problem, earphones and AirPods to the rescue. We exchanged our parts over the sound waves crossing the 6,744 miles between us. The marvels of modern technology certainly eased any confusion and uncertainty.
With music and piano eyeglasses in hand, I, along with members of the task force and mission, arrived in the area. It was at that moment that Yuval and I realized we should have at least one quick in person rehearsal prior to the performance. To my astonishment, we were able to arrange for a meet-up. After the formalities of greeting each other, we sat down, four hands in place and started to play our designated parts. We followed each other in timing and technique. It was a magical moment, we felt like coordinated duet partners, playing as if we had practiced together for months. We were ready.
Yuval and I waited in the wings as the audience settled in their seats. I peeked out and saw the familiar faces of people who were anxiously awaiting this event. It was at that moment that I understood this was much more than a performance for them. This was a long-awaited moment. This was the culmination of many years of dreaming and planning for a triregional music consortium. The three areas of Sderot, Eshkol and Sha’ar HaNegev needed revitalization. The echoes of the red alert sirens needed to be muted by the melodious sounds of music.
This was the reminder of many years of coordination with the leadership and professional staff, both here and in Israel. Our presence in the envelope on that day and in that place marked a day of acknowledgment and appreciation. You can dream it, you can imagine it, you can hope for it, but without dedication, compassion and understanding, you cannot make it happen. We did make it happen!
The time came; the much-anticipated event was imminent. Our names were announced as we walked on stage. We took our places with a sense of newly imagined confidence as we began our duet piece. Piano glasses on, foot on pedal, music set and hands in place as we set upon our journey, exploring the sounds of joining as one for a very appreciative and emotional audience.
There is a life-affirming message of the four hands; one strong set belonged to a teenager, the other experienced and tested set to an octogenarian. He Israeli, she American, two different languages, two different cultures, but the universal language of music was their instrument for the powerful communication they conveyed to the audience. It was a day of triumph, pride and glory.
PHYLLIS SOLOMON is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine