by Sonad Pianist and Director Eric Stumacher

FEB 22 : Off to Jerusalem; Happy 200th Birthday, Frederic Chopin!

Leaving in the nick of time, Kathy Stu and I beat the week of  the horrendous week-long New England “wintry mix” by one day. Beautiful, sunny weather for the two-hour transfer down to Boston’s Logan Airport, and a relatively smooth departure. In Terminal 5 in London’s Heathrow, however, we have the dubious distinction of passing through security three times. Customer service there is still a work in progress.

Sonad administrator Kathy Stumacher in Jerusalem

FEB 23: Arrival in Jerusalem

On the plane from London to Tel Aviv, by coincidence we sit next to, and have the pleasure of meeting, Joyce Ajlouny, the Director of the Friends School in Ramallah, West Bank. We have wonderful conversation about Friends Education, Lara Harb, and the Sonad Project. I graduated George School in Newtown, PA, and grew up in a cooperative Quaker community in Bucks County called  “Bryn Gweled”, Welsh for “Hill of Vision”. Joyce is familiar with George School and Bryn Gweled. We make arrangements to connect this Sunday when Kathy and I visit Ramallah.

We also see Nabeel Abboud, a fine violinist and teacher from Nazareth, on the same flight. We knew Nabeel almost ten years ago at Apple Hill, as a violin student, but had not seen him since. He is now the director of the Edward Said Conservatory in Nazareth, is a top-notch violinist,  and performs and teaches frequently in Europe. He and a few of his students are on their way back to Nazareth from a series of concerts in the UK. We make arrangements to connect with him in Nazareth on Friday, when we will be at the Mutran School.

Fadi, our regular driver who lives in Palestinian East Jerusalem, is unable to meet our plane at Ben Gurion. His wife Inas is about to have their second child, a girl. She is due literally anytime. We take an airport taxi to the YMCA Three Arches Hotel in Jerusalem without incident.

The traffic in Jerusalem is horrific at the rush-hour time we arrive. What should have been less than a one-hour drive takes close to two hours. In the words of our taxi driver, ” There are more cars than people in Israel.”

We settle into our comfortable accommodations at the Y, and begin the process of adjusting for the seven hour time change.

FEB 24: R and R: Evening, Dinner with Morrisons

Jerusalem YMCA: “For the development of the mind, body, and spirit” in Hebrew, Arabic, and English

The trick to recovering from jet lag — there is no trick. Rest as much as you can, whenever you can. Drink lots of water, and take it easy on the hummus (those of you out there who have been here know what can happen.)

Our schedule:

Feb 25: Master Class at Jerusalem Conservatory Hassadna; Rehearsal for Steinmetz’ “Together”, the last piece of our concert at the Jerusalem Music Centre Tuesday, March 2, 7 PM, with Hassadna Conservatory Young Strings Orchestra.

Feb 26: Morning and afternoon: performances for classes at the Mutran School in Nazareth; evening recital at 7 PM

Feb 27: Return to Jerusalem

Feb 28: Ramallah

Mar 1: Meetings, concert prep

Mar 2: Concert at Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Shanaanim, 7 PM: Eric Stumacher, pianist, with Hassadna Young Strings Orchestra


Scarlatti”: Three Sonatas, Beethoven: Sonata Op. 90, Chopin: Ballade in F Major and Nocturne in D-Flat, Steinmetz: “Together” (2009) version for piano and beginning strings

March 4 early AM: Wheels up!

Our dinner that evening with David and Ariel Ben Moshe is delightful. They are both involved in excellent projects which put strong positive energy into the world. They are fascinated and encouraged by the goals and activities of Sonad, and proud to share their own teaching and studying.

David and Ariel getting into the spirit of Purim

FEB 25: Master class at Hassadna, Rehearsal with Hassadna Young Strings Orchestra, Dinner with Michael Klinghoffer

After Bach D minor Concerto at Hassadna master class (l to r): teacher/accompanist, coach, and student

The four pianists I work with are all fine players. They are beautifully prepared, and they feel the music with great intensity. Their issues are performance anxiety and the tension which surrounds the process of trying hard to be perfect. These are the universal issues of course, and the students respond  beautifully to our calls for positive reinforcement as the basis for proceeding. Each of them is present with her or his teacher, and the teachers are very complimentary of the class, and receptive and grateful for the praises we rain on them for their fine work.

Since Purim is coming up on Sunday, the  Hassadna facility is being decorated with free-flowing, colorful, interconnected and amazing costumes from one end to the other. It is great to see a building in costume. Everyone is filled with positive, joyful energy, even though the weather outside has been  raining hard non-stop, and will continue to do so through Monday. But this is a good thing — rain is a vital necessity for the water supply in this arid part of the world.

Decorating the Hassadna for Purim

Shrek is a reurring motif


It is great to see Lena back to her beautiful, determined, professional, warm, and proficient self. She is due to have her new baby in May. A few months back she was badly stricken with the swine flu and had to spend one month in hospital, but she has made a full recovery and is doing great.

With Lena, the Director of Hassadna, after the master class

Immediately following the master class, we rehearse  John Steinmetz’ “Together” with the Hassadna Young Strings Orchestra. Lena and her coaches are extremely worried, but we manage to move quickly from “No way!” to “Maybe…” to “Yes!” The kids are very good players, but being mostly 7 years old, they have a hard time focusing for long. John and I suggested earlier in the week that some older, more advanced violinists be added, and this is making the difference. The kids do a great job. They ask, “Who is John Steinmetz, and what is this piece all about?” They are intrigued to hear that the same piece, with orchestra instead of piano, was played in Amman, Jordan in March 09 with the Amman Symphony Orchestra, with the student string parts being played by young musicians from a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Amman, from the Amman National Conservatory, and from Kings Academy. The chain continues.

That evening, we meet with Michael Klinghoffer, Dean of Students of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance (formerly the Rubin Academy.) Michael is a good friend, and a great bass player and conductor. We put in place a plan for doing a Sonad Chamber Orchestra concert benefit for ALYN at the YMCA in Jerusalem in late September, after the High Holidays. ALYN, based in a hospital in Jerusalem, is a program of advanced, cutting edge physical therapy for children of all backgrounds.

The program will include  Mozart Piano Concertos which I will perform and conduct, and John Steinmetz’ “Together” in its original version for orchestra and beginning strings.

With Michael Klinghoffer

Michael is genuinely excited about Sonad and this event, and even volunteers his services as bass player in the orchestra. He and his wife are supporters of ALYN.

FEB 26: Israeli Arab Mutran School in Nazareth: Classes in the Morning and Afternoon; Recital, Including  Young Mutran Musicians, in the Evening

Fadi, our driver, is delayed by the checkpoints picking us up at the YMCA. The soldiers searched his car from pillar to post with extra care and time. We also have a rigorous checkpoint experience about 40 km from Nazareth. So we make it to our first class in the nick of time.

Chopin for young students at Mutran

The theme of the classroom presentations is stories: the children are invited to make up their own stories to Chopin’s Ballade in F and Nocturne in D-Flat, as well as to Scarlatti Sonatas, and to share them after the music. Their attention is riveted and their imaginations are remarkable.

Sharing stories

“At the end of the Ballade, all the tears from everyone and all the creatures combined into one large tear, which transformed into a handsome prince, who healed all the anger.”

After class at Mutran

The Mutran School has been voted the top school in Israel several years running, an amazing accomplishment made all the more remarkable because its students are drawn exclusively from the Palestinian community within Israel. However, as of the beginning of the current school year, the long-time founder/head of the school, Father Emile Shufani, is no longer Head of Mutran. There is thus a kind of cloud over the school, and a sadness.

With Father Emile Shufani at Mutran, March 09

Father Emile is a special person who not only built a beautiful and amazing school; he has done remarkable work in bridging the Palestinian and Israeli communities. We wish him the best.

Flowers after the evening concert, with our host Ekhlas and the Mutran violin teacher

The concert that evening includes offerings from three young Mutran musicians added to my recital program. They are great and perform beautifully. The audience is very warm and appreciative.

With young violinist who performed so beautifully in the recital, with his proud mother and sister

After bidding goodbye to Mutran, we visit Nabeel’s conservatory in Nazareth, and catch the end of the student concert which has been going on simultaneously with our concert. The Israeli Arab violinists and pianist whom we hear are of very skilled and advanced — beautiful, talented players. It is a pleasure to hear them. Nabeel and I agree to stay in touch about future projects; he has to prepare to leave for Berlin in the morning.

FEB 27 — Transfer back to Jerusalem from Nazareth

We arrive back at the Jerusalem Y early AM without incident. Apparently, checkpoints are deemed unnecessary in the middle of the night, particularly when it is raining.

Inas has still not had her baby, so we wish Fadi the best, and send our love to Inas through him.

Kindergarten at Y for Israelis and Palestinians within Israel closed for Shabbat and Purim

During the day, I keep hearing in my mind the Black-Eyed Peas Song “One Tribe”. Check it out. The words are good; maybe they constitute more of a path out than we realize.

“Let’s Catch Amnesia!”

“Forget about all that Evil, Forget about all that Evil, that Evil that they feed you.”

“Remember, We Are One People, One People.. One Tribe, Y’All!”

Play it twice.

And in the words of Probyn, “Love the Dove!”

FEB 28: Ramallah

The monsoon rain washes Fadi’s car down the Jerusalem Ramallah Road. There is no one at the main checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, so we pass on through unimpeded. Again the question presents itself: What is the Wall of Separation between Israel and West Bank all about if Palestinian traffic moves freely through it?

Hospitality at Nadia Abboushi’s in Ramallah (l to r): Nadia, Eric, Ziad, Joyce, and Kathy

Hospitality at Nadia’s is amazing and beautiful. She is a remarkable cook, and her Palestinian delectables are beyond compare.

Nadia and her husband Sameh are longtime friends of Kathy and me. Sameh sends his regrets that he cannot join us today — he is visiting one of their sons in New York City.

Nadia is head of the piano department at the Edward Said National Music Conservatory in West Bank, for whom I have done several master classes and concerts. We are in the planning stages of another round of concerts and workshops this December. I have also had the pleasure of  serving as Nadia’s piano teacher.

We are joined by our new friend Joyce Ajlouny, Director of the Ramallah Friends School, whom we met on our flight from London to Tel Aviv, and her husband Ziad Khalaf, Executive Director of the A.M. Qattan Foundation.

The conversation over lunch is warm and spirited. Kathy and I learn more details about the burgeoning boycott movement in West Bank, patterned after the boycott movement in South Africa which became a major factor in the removal of apartheid in South Africa.

We also discuss the moral imperative which accompanies Palestinian/Israeli cross cultural activities — unless they are followed up rigorously such that the wishes and needs of each party continue to be worked on after the exchange, the actual cross-cultural contact can be negative rather than positive. Point noted for Sonad.

We have a renewed sense that the Occupation must be resolved and ended, just as the South Africa Apartheid had to be resolved and ended.

Ziad tells us about the work his foundation is doing to create, develop, and sustain a music school in Gaza, and we pledge to help him with this fantastic work.

Nadia’s wonderful and talented fourteen year old student Sascha comes by for a lesson. She is playing Chopin’s “Revolutionary” Etude at  a high level of accomplishment, and we have an excellent session.

Teaching Sascha, Nadia’s student, at Nadia’s in Ramallah

In the evening, we meet with Ramzi, the head of Al Kamandjati, at his and our favorite restaurant in Ramallah. We present him with awatercolor by my father, Nathan Stumacher, which we brought over in our luggage, and he is pleased and appreciative. He will hang it near the crib of his 7 month old baby son Hussein.

With Ramzi at our favorite restaurant in Ramallah

We discuss a tentative time schedule for activities which will be made possible when the Sonad Steinway Concert Grand Piano Campiagn for Al Kamandjati is complete, and we outline Sonad/Al Kamandjati combined projects for the next three years.

Fadi picks us up and takes us back to the YMCA in West Jerusalem. Again, no checkpoints.

MAR 1: Prep for Tomorrow’s Concert at  Jerusalem Music Centre, Purim

Purim was actually Feb 28, yesterday, but the holiday continues today. The rain ends, and blue sky abounds. The Y is virtually closed, though I am able to practice in the library. I am glad to report that, although we have an incredibly beautiful piano at home, I am still able to enjoy working on funky uprights half-way around the world.

Purim near the Western Wall

Our day includes an excellent meeting with Anna Shipira and Michael Klinghoffer to put into place details for the Sonad Chamber Orchestra concert this coming September in Jerusalem. The program as planned will contain Mozart Piano Concertos and John Steinmetz’ “Together”, and will be a benefit for ALYN.

MAR 2: Hassadna Concert at Jerusalem Music Centre

Prior to the day’s concert activities, we meet with Cynthia Harvey, Cultural Affairs Officer of the US Consulate in Jerusalem, in charge of West Bank activities. It is good to meet the person behind the e-mails and telephone messages. We agree to pursue Sonad/US Consulate Jerusalem collaborations in the future, perhaps as early as September.

The Jerusalem Music Centre is a beautiful hall right next to the Yemin Moshe windmill which is just down the street from the Y. The JMC was built under the leadership and vision of Isaac Stern, for intimate concerts and for recordings, and has not one, but two, beautiful nine-foot Steinway Concert Grands.

Rehearsing the Steinmetz

The concert is at 7 PM. The program contains three Scarlatti Sonatas, Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 90, Chopin’s F Major Ballade and D-Flat Nocturne, and John Steinmetz’ “Together” (2009) in the composer’s version for piano and beginning strings, in this case the  Hassadna Young String Orchestra.

Steinmetz “Together”

There is a rehearsal with the Young Strings at 5:30, and the piece rounds into shape and sounds vibrant and strong. At 6:30, after a quick slice of pizza, a pianist and a saxophonist ask if they can run through a piece in the hall, so I finally get to practice a bit on the piano at 6:40. The piano has not been available all day prior.

Eric introducing Steinmetz performance, with Lena translating

A great moment of humor: at 6:55, Ron, who runs the hall, comes up to me as I am practicing and says,” Since the concert is scheduled to begin in 5 minutes, we would like to invite you to take a 5 minute break.”

A Steinway almost as beautiful as our own back home

Capacity audience in place and ready

An intrigued Young Hassadna Musician helps with my fifteen minute warm-up

The concert is a great pleasure. The piano encourages extremely enjoyable versions of the Scarlatti, Beethoven, and Chopin, and the audience, including the young strings, are mesmerized.

The Steinmetz goes beautifully. The kids make the concert energy work to their advantage; they are focused, and listen very well. The piece sounds fantastic, and the audience, including several video-wheeling fathers, mothers, and grandfathers hanging down from the first row of the balcony, loves it. I do a bit of improv in the designated section, a first for me, and I must say, it was a pleasure. The audience singing at the end was appropriately vigorous.

We are all very happy at the end, and Lena is particularly complimentary and grateful.

After the concert

Later that evening, Sharchar Ziv, who is in town playing horn in a Jerusalem Camerata Orchestra concert, comes over to the Y, and we have a nice reunion and visit across the street at the King David Hotel. It is a pleasure to see him.

Visit with Shachar

MAR 3 and 4

The day is greeted with news that the Sonad cello being delivered to Erbil Iraq for Sdiq Aziz has actually landed in Erbil, after a one month journey. This is great, great news! Watch for photos on the Sonad web site as they become available. Thanks again to all who have worked so hard and so generously on this.

What, no sunglasses?!

Inas herself calls us in the afternoon to tell us that she has had her baby, a beautiful, healthy girl. Mother and child are fine. She also confirms that Fadi will pick us up tomorrow night at 3:30 AM for our trip to Ben Gurion airport.

The Sonad Project pledges to work for a world in which:

1) No group or people is perceived as greater or more worthy than any other.

2) Religion is not part of goverment.

3) No group has the power to oppress another.

4) Positive energy is unleashed continuously across human divides via artistic performance.

5) After connecting across divides, those who do so will stay in touch and work with the other to solve issues, wishes, and needs.

6) No whining, no complaining, no excuses.

4:30 AM good-bye and thank you to Fadi at Ben Gurion Airport

Thank you to all who make this possible!

With all our love,

Eric and Kathy Stumacher


March 11 – E-mail from Lena from Hassadna:

Thank you so much for doing all your wonderful work with our students! It was really great!!! We are so grateful!! Love, Lena”