Band students get personal with Israeli ensemble

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Sofi Tsedaka and two of her bandmates, Yonnie “Jonathan” Dror (left) and Yshai Afterman, shared a laugh as she tried to navigate the English language and find the right words in explaining the ensemble’s collaborative work. (Photos by Correne Martin)

Director Matt Lenz leads his band students through practicing “Reverberations,” in front of Sofi and the Baladis.

By Correne Martin

Prairie du Chien High School band students were fortunate to have a few moments of international interaction right in their own music room Nov. 29, during a weeklong Arts Midwest World Fest school district residency with Sofi and the Baladis, a musical ensemble from Israel. 

It was a chance for the youth to ask questions and learn from the multi-lingual professionals, who, in turn, had plenty of queries about the American music culture as well as the students’ personal experiences. 

Baladis producer and 11-string oud player, Yaniv Taichman, explained that their group formed as a result of knowing one another from other projects they did amid the music scene of Tel Aviv, Israel’s most cosmopolitan city. He said he met vocalist Sofi, who left the ancient Samaritan community 20 years ago and was the perfect complement to the four-member band. 

“A lot of us are influenced by Middle Eastern music. That’s why we can communicate so well,” flutist, ram’s horn and reed player Yannie “Jonathan” Dror told the high schoolers. 

The bandmates got to listen to Matt Lenz’s students play a tune called “Reverberations,” which they are practicing for their upcoming winter concert.

Afterward, Dror remarked about his observation that, in America, almost every high school has a band, where the youth have their choice of instrument. “It develops your mind and character,” he said. 

The visitors were also pleased to learn about Prairie du Chien High School’s jazz band, pep band and its new guitar class this year. They advised their younger counterparts to respect and protect their bodies, as well as their instruments, if they wish to pursue professional careers in music.

Student Ellie Mara explained that she and a few of her classmates have attended musical conferences, which are important steps in solidifying their interests in teaching or performing music for a living someday. 

Such opportunities are vital, pointed out percussionist Yshai Afterman. He mentioned how challenging being a full-time performer can be in adulthood, and recommended those who seek such a career to find a strong social community and start sending messages to musicians who can help dreams become more achievable.

Overall, the hour-long workshop provided the students a more intimate connection with Sofi and the Baladis that few others got. 

This residency is the third in a series of four over the course of two years that the Prairie du Chien School District has afforded for the student body and community, thanks to a partnership with Minneapolis-based Arts Midwest. The residencies include a week of various grade level workshops, curriculum, hands-on learning, all-school and community performances. To extend the cultural experience into the classroom, this program is sponsored by dozens of Midwestern business, cultural and arts organizations.

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