This article appeared on on 7 August 2008.

Like all Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, young Palestinian musicians wrestle with the daily obstacles of military occupation: roadblocks which often prevent travel to lessons and concerts; a catastrophic economic situation that leaves little scope for spending on instruments and teaching; and the constant fear of violence which profoundly unsettles the routine of school life.


Despite these hurdles, music education has begun to flourish in the Palestinian Territories, with several organisations teaching Arab and Western classical instruments to growing numbers of students. But with access to the outside world severely limited, there are few chances for children to enjoy the kinds of inspiring international music courses which young musicians in other countries take for granted.


In an effort to highlight this problem and to take steps towards a solution, a British professional choir has this year launched a bursary scheme specially designed to enable talented young Palestinian musicians to visit the UK for a fortnight of intensive music-making.


Working with the support of the British Council in East Jerusalem, the Choir of London has awarded bursaries to four instrumentalists between the ages of 12 and 16: two cellists; a violinist and a viola player. The group includes male and female students from Ramallah, Bethlehem, and al-Amari refugee camp, of both Muslim and Christian backgrounds.


The students arrived in the UK on August 2nd, and they’re following a tailor-made musical programme featuring a residential instrumental course, individual teaching at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and opportunities to experience top-quality professional music in London (including a behind-the-scenes day at the Royal Albert Hall with Daniel Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and a session with Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique).


With the help of a specialist education team, they will also have a chance to explore musical composition, working over several days to create their own brand-new work. The students will perform this piece at the end of their stay as part of a recital at the Wigmore Hall on Friday, August 15th.


The scheme is operated by the Choir of London, a unique network of London-based professional musicians who share a commitment to music education and social justice, and who have over the past four years developed a particular connection with the musical community in the Palestinian Territories.


Launched under the patronage of composer Sir John Tavener and Naxos founder Klaus Heymann, the bursary scheme enjoys the support of several other well-known figures who have been associated with the Choir since its launch In 2003. These include its patron, Dame Emma Kirkby, the journalist, actress and violinist Clemency Burton-Hill, and celebrated young British opera singers Allan Clayton, Madeleine Shaw, and Andrew Staples, all of whom have performed with the Choir in the West Bank. Another key supporter is actor and director Samuel West, who in 2007 directed members of the choir in a production of The Magic Flute – the first opera ever to tour the West Bank.


The Choir funds its charitable activities through a calendar of professional engagements, with musicians donating their fees to support education and outreach activities. Recent engagements have included a recording with Naxos that reached the top of the UK's classical chart; performances at the Royal Albert Hall, Cadogan Hall, St John's, Smith Square, Queen Elizabeth Hall, the British Library and the Imperial War Museum; and a series of collaborations with other musicians ranging from John Rutter and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to the London Central Synagogue Choir.


The bursary holders will be performing alongside Choir of London musicians for an informal recital at the Wigmore Hall on Friday, August 15th, at 3pm. Entrance is free, and all are welcome.

A Unique Bursary Scheme Brings Talented Palestinian Students From The West Bank To The UK


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