By India Stoughton - The Daily Star- August 3, 2013
ZOUK MIKHAIL, Lebanon: Over 250 youngsters from Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine gathered this week at Notre Dame University in Zouk Mikhail for the International Summer Band Camp, for an intensive dose of instruction in music – and conflict resolution.
The camp is organized by the Lebanese Band Association for the Promotion of Music (LeBam), a nonprofit NGO that provides free music lessons and instruments to young people.
The nine-day camp, which started July 26, is directed by Grammy-nominated conductor and jazz musician Dr. Gene Aitken, who teaches jazz and music education in organizations across the Middle East and Asia. Aitken is assisted by a number of internationally renowned conductors and music teachers.
“Worldwide they’re considered master teachers,” Aitken says, “so they come here and share their expertise.
“They work with the conductors that we have and they work with potentially new conductors. Our students are going to be our leaders someday, so that’s very important. Students tend to teach like they’re taught, so if we can give them a good experience while they’re young then they’ll remember that and they’ll pass that on to future students.”
The camp participants, who range in age from 6 to 18, are divided into groups according to their levels, from the beginners – who are taught how to read music and play basic melodies on recorders – to the most advanced group, who are studying complex classical compositions, as well as jazz and traditional Lebanese tunes.
Students from every level will be performing at the NDU campus in a free concert Saturday, while the most advanced performers will be playing as part of the Beiteddine Festival Sunday.
All the students play wind, brass or percussion instruments, and are offered a comprehensive and varied choice of classes as part of the camp.
“Mornings we have open teacher-initiated courses,” Aitken explains. “We have jazz band during the day, we have chamber ensemble, we have big band. We have guest artists come in too, to do master classes ... Monday we had a Latin percussion session, so we're trying to make all kinds of things available to students.”
Afternoon games teach the students conflict resolution techniques.
“We have an extremely diverse membership this year,” explains Metn MP Ghassan Moukheiber, founder and director of LeBam, so “we thought it would be a welcome addition. Music itself is a tool for good communication and generically for conflict resolution.
“The students come from extremely diverse communities,” he continues, “not only because of religion or nationality, but also economic [background]. All this is leveled out in the camp. You don’t know who is the son of whom, and who comes [from] where ... They get back to the basic respect of individuals as they are and they need a few tools to help them in this journey ... So these are games about communication and perception.”
Yassar, who plays the trombone in the Palestinian Youth Symphony Orchestra at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, traveled to Lebanon from Ramallah to attend the camp. The experience has been amazing, he says, because in Ramallah they don’t have access to teachers and conductors on par with those currently working at the ISBC.
These include trumpet player and director of bands at Cherry Creek High School, Colorado, Tim Libby; founder of the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory Mariano Abello; and Principal Trombone of the National Symphony Orchestra of Malaysia, Eric Lee.
LeBam, which was founded in 2008 by Moukheiber; the late Ghassan Tueni, former publisher of An-Nahar and ambassador to the U.N.; and the late Walid Gholmieh, director of the Lebanese National Higher Conservatory of Music, currently has centers in four Mount Lebanon locations: Beit Mery, Baskinta, Jdeideh and Baaqline. In the course of the next year, reveals Moukheiber, the organization hopes to open new centers in Tripoli, Sidon and southern Beirut.
“We get many requests,” he says, “but it’s difficult because we don’t find enough teachers and enough conductors, so part of the aim of LeBam is to train teachers and conductors.
“This is why there’s so many foreigners, because there aren’t enough Lebanese that are able to do the teaching and the conducting.”
This is third year that LeBam has organized the band camp, and Moukheiber says that he hopes it will continue to grow and attract students from all across the Arab world, despite their lack of access to LeBam’s year-round program.
“There experience here is much more intense,” he says, “and they benefit here in nine days almost as much as they benefit from the full year.”
LeBam is committed to promoting secular, nonpolitical values, and as such students are not allowed to play at weddings, funerals or political events.
Moukheiber says he believes that studying music teaches the students valuable life skills.
“It teaches them qualities that I call citizen qualities,” he explains, “which are collaboration – in bands and orchestras we learn how to collaborate, and Lebanese don’t collaborate – and you teach them precision ... and you teach them respect for difference ... it’s truly a school in tolerance. I think – I hope – that the Lebanese public and the Lebanese politicians could learn from that. To understand that nice music grows out of the different sounds and different musical lines that should play in harmony in spite of their differences.”