Playing for Peace
Letter from Lara
At the 1998 Summer Chamber Music Workshop, a pianist from Ramallah, West Bank named Lara Harb was part of a Schumann Piano Quintet group at Apple Hill. Her fellow group members were Assaf, an Israeli violinist and soldier; Amr, a Syrian violinist; Lotem, an Israeli violist; and Mahmoud, an Egyptian cellist. Lara wrote this essay about her experience.
I nervously set up my music on the piano and looked at the Egyptian cellist, but he was busy setting up his music. I glanced at the Syrian violinist who was the closest to me and smiled as I saw the usual calm expression on his face. I then looked over, with hesitation, at the Israeli violist. As our eyes met, my smile faded away for I saw an expression on her face that was new to me. I wondered if she was feeling the same way I was. Did I have that same expression on my face? We were suddenly interrupted by the gesture of the first violinist, who was also from Israel, indicating that we were about to start playing. I had immediately turned my face towards him and was sunk in fear and anticipation again. He noticed that and smiled at me comfortingly.
That smile; I had seen that same smile before. I could see clearly the image of a person, a young man, smiling at me that same way. An avalanche of relating images suddenly flooded into my mind. I heard people screaming. There were a few gun shots. I remembered faces of strangers being dragged into an Israeli military jeep. There was a loud explosive sound and the crowds, all of a sudden, were dispersing in all directions. A strange smell was stinging my nose. My eyes were burning and my lungs were bursting - it was tear gas. I was running aimlessly; I just wanted to escape that acrid stench. I suddenly bumped into someone. My heart sunk deep into my stomach as I looked up and saw that the man was an Israeli soldier. He smiled, trying to reassure me that he wasn't going to harm me. I couldn't trust him. I was only 10, but I knew that those soldiers were hurting Palestinians. Seven years later, that smile came to haunt me again. We started playing the Schumann Piano Quintet.
Suddenly all the frightening memories vanished as if they had never been real, as if they were just a dream. I felt like the small worlds of each one of us were uniting into one limitless universe. We were all in absolute understanding of each other. There were no boundaries and no differences. Arab, Israeli, Jew, Christian, Moslem: none of that existed in the universe we were creating - we were all simply humans. Fear and insecurity were unknown to us. Life, for the first time, seemed to make sense to me. I was free! I woke up from a terrible dream into a beautiful world. I was experiencing something I felt was unfathomable before; I was experiencing peace - true peace. I felt so lucky because such true peace will probably not exist in the Middle East, at least for a long time. It was as if I had been given a glimpse of something others would only experience in the future. I was stunned by the beauty of the music we were playing.
When the piece ended, I wondered if Schumann ever even faintly imagined that he would change the life of a girl from the Middle East at the end of the twentieth century. His music opened up my mind, gave me hope, and gave me the opportunity to experience something heavenly. I thanked him. I then looked at the Israeli violinist. He smiled and I smiled back.
Ramallah, West Bank
Continuing the Mission in Cyprus
George Georgiou, a long-time Summer Chamber Music Workshop participant and Greek-Cypriot clarinetist, wrote this essay about founding the Bi-Communal Weekend—an annual event based on the Playing for Peace™ philosophy of bringing communities together through chamber music.
Nine years ago, I would have never imagined the big change that was about to happen to me. In 1998, I had my first contact with the Apple Hill Chamber Players during their Playing for Peace™ tour in the Middle East. I was only 14 at the time, and it was at their concert that I realized that music can be fun and interesting. From that point on, I always looked forward to their visits. You can imagine my excitement when I received a scholarship, as one of four Cypriots, to attend the Apple Hill Summer Festival in Nelson, New Hampshire.
Before arriving, I felt worried. It was the first time I—as a Greek-Cypriot—would work and live with Turkish-Cypriots. Unfortunately, the political situation in Cyprus makes it very hard for Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots to meet. As a result, people from each community rarely get to know each other. Although it sounds strange, it feels like the two communities are culturally very different and distant from one another.
But perceptions have a way of changing during the Summer Festival. Gradually you realize that the people you once considered strange are not so different after all. You share so much with them—become so connected that saying goodbye feels painful and unfair. The Festival ends, but you know that your friendship cannot be stopped by political situations or religious beliefs, because friends remain inside your heart. You know that no matter what happens, they will always give you their hand when you need them.
With memories of Apple Hill and our international friendships fresh in our minds, Maria Kasinou, Mustafa Ozak, and I were excited to organize the second Bi-Communal Weekend in Cyprus. It was a great opportunity to give something back to the people who helped us understand what friendship is all about. We structured the workshop like a typical day at Apple Hill. It was open to both Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot musicians.
The response was incredible. A lot of the previous Playing for Peace™ scholars were there, and many new people showed a huge amount of interest too. Participants and the Apple Hill Chamber Players gathered in our dining hall and we had our first dinner. It was somewhat uncomfortable at first. But once everyone settled in, the fun began. During the next two days, the connections made were unbelievable. The atmosphere was supportive and the two communities were united once more. It is so beautiful when this happens. I believe this workshop achieved even more than we expected. It not only brought people together, but also created strong bonds of friendship and understanding.
When such experiences come to an end, saying goodbye to your friends is never easy, especially if your goodbye is not only physical but mental too. You might never see them again because some other people put borders and checkpoints between you. But hope never dies. They might physically block us, but they cannot stop us from thinking and hoping. Our bonds stretch beyond any kind of borders or checkpoints. Everybody speaks of liberty and freedom, and they spend hours and days analyzing it. But we make it reality and we will continue to do so as long as there are people who believe in it.