It happened in Woodstock and in John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bed. When used for democratic purposes, music is a universal language that can negotiate peace.
So hopes Aaron Shneyer a Georgetown University graduate from America. Armed with a BA in Anthropology, the 24 year-old musician and songwriter has traveled to Jerusalem on a year long MTV and Fulbright scholarship to help make music in the Middle East.
His ambitious plan is to unite Israeli and Palestinian high school youth and turn them into a recording and performing band through his project Heartbeat:Jerusalem.
Today there are 12 Muslim, Christian and Jewish high school students in the band. Despite the ongoing conflicts in Jerusalem, they meet once a week in a professional studio in the city where they jam, write songs together and share each other’s unique musical heritage.
After the auditioning process, which is ongoing, Shneyer selected rappers, musicians, singers and instrumentalists familiar with both old school and modern music. Incorporating Eastern rhythm and scales, the style of the music ranges from Israeli folk and funk, to Arab rap.
“The kids are coming together and are focusing on writing music and getting into what the music they are writing means,” Shneyer tells ISRAEL21c. “They are becoming comfortable with each other and are now just crossing into the territory of getting into the conflict.”
Most of the songs that the group is writing, he says, come from an idea they’ve brought from home. Despite the recent terror attacks and riots in Jerusalem, the meetings have run smoothly, Shneyer reports on his regular blog updates. American-Israeli filmmaker Joshua Faudem has been filming the musical journey, to be made into a documentary film.
Shneyer is no stranger to talking the language of peace. He has been actively involved in the peace dialogue, through directing a music program at the Seeds of Peace camps in Maine and the Middle East, since 2005.
On mtvU, MTV’s social action website and music channel aired on college campuses, Shneyer is providing a powerful outlet for the talented Israeli and Palestinian musicians who likely would not otherwise meet.
“Music can build trust and break down walls of fear,” he says. “It’s a slow process.”
Two other long-established Israelis have been working to bridge the divide between Israel and its neighbors through music.
One is world music composer and musician Yisrael Borochov of the East West Ensemble. Borochov is Israel’s version of Peter Gabriel; The second is conductor Daniel Baremboim, who created the West-Eastern Divan Workshop and Orchestra for more contemporary music.
Over on a blog he updates regularly, Shneyer adds videos of the jam sessions and discusses the process. He writes, “Music, unlike any other medium, has a marked ability to bring people together, strengthen voices and inspire hope in the darkest of places.”
By the end of the year together, Shneyer hopes the band will play on – and that the group will perform, develop workshops and record a CD which they will take back to their schools and communities.