Palmusic: London-Based Friends Transforming the Lives of Children in Gaza, Palestine

We don’t readily imagine the children of war-torn Gaza in Palestine to be singing or playing a whole host of musical instruments, let alone taking part in the ‘Arabs Got Talent’ regional competition or having fun with an old mysterious grand piano. However, this has been the reality for some children thanks to the efforts of the Gaza branch of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music (ESNCM), an institution that has been developing a musical culture for the children of Palestine for over the past twenty years.

Despite all the political upheavals and the wars that have blighted the country, the ESNCM has stood strong since its genesis in 1993 in Ramallah – and later branches in Nablus, Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Gaza – and has fulfilled its mission to educate the local children in Arabic and classical Western instruments. By keeping to the highest of international standards, it has single-handedly established all of the orchestras and ensembles to be found in Palestine and turned many of its original young students into adult masters in their field.

The ESNCM however relies on the support of its many friends to further its goals and ambitions, as they can help it by raising and providing the necessary funds to cover the costs of providing such an education, buying or repairing instruments and collaborating with many of its other musical projects on the ground. One of these friends is the London-based Palmusic UK, aka ‘The Friends of the ESNCM’, who will soon be holding a fundraising concert at St James Church, Piccadilly with all the proceeds earmarked for the Gaza branch.

I spoke with Zina Papageorgiou of Palmusic UK, who is heavily involved working behind the scenes in organising the event. She said: “This concert will kick start our campaign for the whole year to raise funds to enable as many children as possible to get scholarships to study at the Gaza branch. At the moment, we are hoping to enable 100 students from the age of kindergarten to 18 years old to join the school.

“Having witnessed the vital role that the music school plays in the lives of our students in Gaza, I feel an urgent need to invest in a better future for those children who have been experiencing war and destruction throughout their young lives. Music can offer healing, hope and inspiration to them and we want to show the world the real face and talent of Palestinians. We have to make their lives more beautiful and fulfilling and with initiatives like Palmusic UK and people’s support we can achieve it.”

Palmusic UK Concert

The concert itself will bring a line up of three emerging Palestinian musicians who are all former ESNCM students and proud graduates from the Bethlehem branch. They will perform alongside the acclaimed Levon Chilingirian Quartet and also with Wissam Boustany, who is a renowned Palestinian solo flautist, musical composer, professor at the Royal Northern College of Music and trustee of Palmusic UK.

Inside the beautiful St James Church, they will present a mix of classical Western pieces and Arabic arrangements, compositions and improvisations. With Ramzi Shomali on piano, Mohamed Najem on clarinet, Lourdina Baboun on violin, Levon Chilingirian on violin, Suzie Meszaros on viola, Ariana Kashefi on cello and Boustany on flute; the pieces to be performed on the night: De Bethlehem A Angers and Al-Asmar (by Mohamed Najem), W A Mozart Violin Sonata K454, Broken Child (by Wissam Bousany) and Robert Schumann Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op 44.

Looking forward to the evening also is Levon Chilingirian, the internationally acclaimed violinist and founder of the Chilingirian Quartet, who visited the ESNCM as part of Palmusic’s Masterclass programme in January 2015. He said: “It was with great pleasure that I visited the ESNCM earlier this year and had the opportunity to teach many talented and dedicated young students. Music gives great hope to so many who live under a great amount of daily stress. By participating in the fundraising concert in London, I hope that we can encourage the work of many many dedicated teachers as well as all who are involved with the ESNCM.”

Whilst Boustany had this inspiring message to give: ”The Middle East is a region in flames, a part of our planet where Love no longer has a relevance – and the epicentre of this turmoil and tragedy is Palestine/Israel. Yet in spite of this perpetual suffering there are pockets of hope and creativity, where talent and love CAN and DO blossom. The ESNCM nurtures this culture of creativity, love and hope for our children while giving a real identity to the people of Palestine, serving to remind the world that we exist, we create…and we can still LOVE. This is why the work of ESNCM is vital for the present and future of Palestine.”

For more information on Palmusic UK: