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Daily News-Tribune (October 24, 2005)

An 'Oud' to peace

by Carrie Simmons

WALTHAM -- Waltham eighth-graders studying world history experienced the musical fusion of Middle Eastern cultures and religions at Brandeis University last week.

The Yuval Ron Ensemble, a group of Israeli, Arab, Armenian and American artists, performed for the Kennedy and McDevitt middle school students on Thursday and Friday as part of the MusicUnitesUS program at Brandeis that works to enhance Waltham's social studies curriculum with musical performances.

At a time when global tensions and violence in the Middle East persist, the Los Angeles-based ensemble unites the musical traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Yuval Ron, an Israeli-born composer and producer, gave Waltham students a hopeful message of peace by demonstrating the cooperative and harmonious relationships of instruments and musicians within the diverse ensemble.

The oud, a pear-shaped stringed instrument invented in Persia 1,300 years ago, traveled through the Middle East to Spain and is the forerunner of the guitar. The oud loves to play with its "best friend," the kanoun, the harp of the Middle East, according to Ron.

"Each instrument is different but working together, they bring beauty and harmony," he said.

Ron explained that people in the Middle East -- whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian -- bring out a large drum and a zurna, a wooden trumpet, in the middle of a party. Like snakes, people jump to their feet to dance, he said.

The ensemble, led by Norik Manoukian on the shvi, or shepherd's flute, also played a song inspired by the birds from mountains of Armenia.

MusicUnitesUS has been bringing Waltham students to Brandeis for musical education performances for the last three years. The program provides lesson plans for teachers to connect the music with their social studies curriculum.

"She snares tremendous musicians who are coming to this area with a teaching component," said Stephen Goodwin, the district's director of history and social science. "The important part is the connections that are made."

MusicUnitesUS will bring about 1,000 Waltham students to Brandeis this year. Fourth-graders will be invited to a performance related to their immigration studies and freshmen at Waltham High School will come for a performance related to Latin American studies.

"The programs are of course musical but they also look at social justice issues," said Judy Eissenberg, artist-in-residence at Brandeis and director of MusicUnitesUS. "With everything going on in the world, maybe there is some way that the arts can step forward at the peace table. I like the idea that we have both the mind and the heart together."

The Yuval Ron Ensemble performance connected the students' social studies lessons with instruments, cultures and spiritual traditions to bring to life what they had learned in the classroom, said Eissenberg.

The program with Waltham students was part of the ensemble's 4-day intercultural residency at Brandeis. The group performed a series of public concerts and participated in workshops and discussions for the Brandeis community and the community at large.

"It was a superb opportunity for our kids to get exposure to different cultures through music," said Assistant Superintendent Alexander Wyeth.

Photo by Bear Cieri / Daily News Tribune

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