May 2, 2007, Updated September 12, 2012

Paul Winter performing in 2003 in Israel – he was very moved and called it a ‘life experience’.The lowest spot on Earth will turn into one of the most musical spots on Earth this month, when an Israeli initiative brings together Grammy Award-winning world music artist Paul Winter and musicians from 22 different countries in an attempt to integrate environmental awareness and musical multi-culturalism.

Winter will debut a new composition ‘Flyways’ at Nahal Zohar at the Dead Sea along the Great Rift Valley (GRV) – a work inspired by the 500 million birds that use the Valley route to migrate twice a year from Europe to Asia. The celebration is part of an event entitled ‘A Musical Celebration of Birds and People,’ part of a campaign by the Israeli organizers to declare the Great Rift Valley a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the aim of protecting the cultures and the nature along its path.

The Great Rift Valley is a series of geological rifts stretching 4,000 miles, from southern Turkey, running through Syria and Lebanon, along the Jordan River, Dead Sea, Gulf of Eilat and the Red Sea until Kenya at which point it splits into two branches, finally ending in Zimbabwe.

According to Yossi Leshem of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun near Tel Aviv, some 500 million birds representing 300 species, including storks, pelicans, lesser-spotted eagles, lesser kestrels, honey buzzards and many others, migrate across Israel’s skies twice a year in the autumn and spring. Some even stick around Israel for the winter in search of good food (fish ponds) and weather (Eilat).

“This is one of the most important migration highways in the world,” he told ISRAEL21c. “And we have to insure that it remains a natural habitat for this phenomenon.”

Spanning 22 countries, the Valley is considered a cross-cultural, geographic, geological, botanical and zoological bridge, explained Leshem.

“We’re urging that the entire Great Rift Valley from Turkey to Mozambique should be listed as a World Heritage Site,” he said.

And he has attracted some avid supporters, like five-time Grammy winner Winter, whose unique form of ‘earth music’ has introduced a global audience to diverse cultures and the voices of the endangered creatures in what he calls ‘the greater symphony of the Earth.’

Winter met Leshem in 1991 after he performed in Israel for the first time. “Yossi came up to me after the show and told me about his work with birds. I was fascinated… and we have been working together on bird-related projects all these years,” Winter told The Jerusalem Post.

During another visit in 1994, under the framework of the Society for the Protection of Nature’s (SPNI) 40th anniversary celebrations, Winter was inspired by flocks of thousands of storks who accompanied him as he flew in a motorized glider through the skies of Israel.

“He was very moved and called it a life experience,” said Leshem. “He came to my home and we started to talk about things and he came up with the idea of writing a new piece of music about the bird migration on the Great Rift Valley.

“Anybody who would have that amazing experience would feel their life was changed,” Winter told ISRAEL21c during his last trip to Israel in 2003.

That experience resulted in ‘Flyways’, Winter’s ambitious composition which is being premiered.

“The vision for this album is to celebrate the great bird migration,” he said about the Flyways project. “Through an international ensemble of musicians, we hope to chronicle the long journey that the birds make along the Great Rift Valley each year, using the vocalization of the migratory bird species together with music from twelve cultures in which the birds fly over.”

‘Flyways’ is integrally related to the Israeli-led international campaign to have the GRV declared a World Heritage Site, and according to Leshem, the goal is getting closer all the time.

“Over the last four years, we’ve been part of an effort to get the World Valley Rift to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site,” said Leshem. “The organizations in Israel have been leading the effort, but now Kenya is taking over, as most of the migration is along the African countries.

Currently, there are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Israel: the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem; Masada; the Old City of Acre – and Tel Aviv’s ‘White City’. According to Leshem, of the nearly 800 World Heritage Sites, there are only about 12 that are transboundary in nature, with two countries sharing the same listed site.

“If accepted, this would be the first time that there will be 23 countries listed under one site,” Leshem added

Winter’s performance of ‘Flyways’ will feature the Great Rift Valley Orchestra comprised of 30 musicians from 12 of the countries along the GRV, and will be the showcase for other environmentally-oriented activities taking place at the Nahal Zohar site over three days from May 17-19. The concert will also feature the Efroni choir, the leading children’s choir in Israel, and the Sawa choir featuring Christian children from Shfaram.

The concert was initiated by the Israel Ornithological Center and the International center for the Study of Bird Migration in Israel, Tel Aviv University and the SPNI.

“The great thing about the show is that it combines the ethnic music of the countries on the rift,” said Leshem. “And because Paul wanted to connect the piece to Israel, we chose the lowest place on Earth for the premiere – the Dead Sea.”

“What we’re trying to do is raise world awareness of the environment through music. Music has the same power as seeing these million of birds migrating. And with Paul being a five time Grammy winner, we’re hoping it will soon be six Grammies, which will result in more people learning about this amazing migration.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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