Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Power Of Music in a Hard Land: Children of the Stone by Sandy Tolan

When I was eight years old my grandmother bought me a piano and mom enrolled me in piano lessons. I used to think that if anyone where to break into the house with hostile intent, some monster from the movies, all I needed to do was sit and play music and it would calm and subdue the monster. Perhaps this is not true literally, but today research is showing that music education has therapeutic value, relieving stress, releasing emotions, improving mood and resolving conflicts. I knew that as a teen when playing classical music gave order and discipline and romantic music allowed expression and release. Instrumental music further, like the choral singing I participated in since Third Grade, has an added benefit of being part of a team, achieving something beautiful together. Add the benefits of discipline and the neuron growth of the brain, music education today is known to be as important as other knowledge skills.

Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land by Sandy Tolan is a novelized account of Ramzi Aburedwan, a Palestinian boy of the Ramallah refugee camp. At eight years old Ramzi was photographed with stones in his hands, participating in the first Intifada when Palestinian boys began throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers occupying their country. 

Ramzi discovered music and the viola. Music gave him a voice and a new way of protesting his political reality. He won a scholarship to study in France for three years. He started a traveling musical group. He returned to Ramallah to found a music school for children among his own people. 

Ramzi joined the East West Divan orchestra organized by Argentinian-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and Palestinian American academic Edward Said. It is composed of 40 Israelis, 40 Palestinians and 20 Spaniards as an example of peaceful coexistence. The Divan orchestra elected to be apolitical and eventually Ramzi left the orchestra believing their ideals were false to reality.

Music is wielded by Ramzi as a sword--first to slay the oppression and depression felt by the refugee camp children. Tolan relates the stories of the kids whose lives are transformed by their instruments. Prodigies are discovered in the rubble. Music offers them a respite, a slice of beauty, a feeling of control and self esteem. 

Ramzi's story is told against the shifting political landscape of his time. It is a hard story to read. The centuries of persecution faced by Jews across the world is not to be discounted, but the apartheid and persecution the Palestinians have suffered under Israel is atrocious. 

Tolan does not idealize Ramzi. He has a remarkable and relentless drive to achieve. He is also a wounded man, a private man, an idealist whose high expectations can be hard for his students. 

The book was five years in the writing, drawing on interviews and accounts. Tolan's journalistic approach does not mean the reader avoids feeling drawn to side with the Palestinians. Merely offering facts and numbers of those killed, hurt, or imprisoned bring an awareness that those who have suffered most are the women and children of Palestine, and the refugees of sixty years. The story is open ended. Ramzi carries on his mission and Israeli-Palestinian relations have reached no peaceful accord. Sometimes all we can do is change the world one person at a time. And that is whay Ramzi has been doing.

I received a free ebook through NetGalley for a fair and unbiased review.

Children of the Stone
by Sandy Tolan
Bloomsbury USA
Publication April 21, 2015
$28.00 hardcover

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