WASHINGTON — Eleven young musicians from Jerusalem and the West Bank had the opportunity to show U.S. audiences that music can be a bridge across cultural divides during a brief tour of the Washington-Baltimore area.
Performing July 12-14 in such distinguished venues as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore and the main church of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, the group represented the Franciscan-run Magnificat Institute Jerusalem.
Violinist Majd Nasrawi, 16, welcomed the opportunity to be part of the group when her teacher invited her to make the U.S. trip.
“It’s like almost a language,” Nasrawi said of the music she performs. “You can communicate with others without having to speak. You can express your feeling, happiness, sadness, anything. Music is special.”
Nasrawi is among more than 220 students at the institute, which opened in 1995 to offer young people of any background serious music education and study. Students range in age from 4 to 29. Some graduates have continued into professional careers as teachers and performers.
The institute, with 28 teachers, is operated by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land and is the only music school in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Franciscan Father Alberto Pari, 40, a native of Italy and the institute’s director since 2015, said July 16 that the institute brings young Muslims, Christians and Jews together to foster understanding.
“For (the students) it is normal. They grow up together,” he said.
The school opened initially for Christians students, but soon Jewish and then Muslim parents approached school officials and the Franciscans welcomed everyone.
Students attend music classes in the afternoon for four to five hours a day following morning classes in traditional academic subjects at their regular school.
Nasrawi, an Arab Christian, enjoys rehearsing and performing with her fellow students, whose religious backgrounds, she admitted, she doesn’t know.
“It’s doesn’t matter,” she said. “I realize in music you see people as humans and not anything else.”
The students were joined on the weeklong trip by two of their teachers, who guided the young musicians through rehearsals of 60 to 90 minutes daily before their U.S. performances.
The trip served to inform U.S. audiences of the institute’s program as well as to raise funds for the 23-year-old endeavor. Father Pari said the school continues to expand and that officials hope to construct a new building with up-to-date facilities.
Among the performers and teachers was Jamil Freij, 28, who is working toward a bachelor of arts in music through the institute’s academy for older students. He also works as the institute’s projects and marketing coordinator and is one of 28 teachers at the institute.
Freij, who is Arab and Catholic, has been involved with the school since he was 10, when he began lessons in voice and piano..
“Music has been a refuge for me. It helps to heal and create this harmony in yourself first. And it helps create harmony with others. I reached a point where I decided in music you see people has humans, not anything else,” he said.
Such hopes are on what the school was founded, Father Pari said.
“The Franciscans,” he said, “are called to be a bridge of dialogue.”