Ramzi's Story: Laying Down Stones, Picking Up Instruments

Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan i i

hide captionRamzi Hussein Aburedwan is a respected violist and founder of music schools.

George Bartoli
Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan

Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan is a respected violist and founder of music schools.

George Bartoli

In 1988, a photographer in the West Bank snapped a photo of a scrawny 8-year-old with tears in his eyes, hurling a rock at an Israeli tank. The photo symbolized the rage and frustration of the intifada. More than 20 years later, that boy, Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan, has grown up to become a visionary musician.

Aburedwan is now a respected violist and the founder of music schools in Palestinian towns and refugee camps. He was discovered by a Palestinian musician who recognized his natural talent at the viola, and he later received a scholarship to study at a conservatory in France. He could have stayed there and lived a comfortable life in Paris, but instead, he chose to return home and give back the gift of music.

Nowadays, Aburedwan is busy opening up music schools called al-Kamandjati, Arabic for "the violinist," which teach both European and Arabic classical music. He's already opened 10, including one in Lebanon, with headquarters located in a renovated stone building in the heart of Old Ramallah. The schools have 500 students.

"Through music, you can make from negative energy, positive energy," Aburedwan says, "and that's what I do."

Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan, then and now

hide captionA poster shows Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan in 1997 at age 18, alongside the iconic photo of him throwing a stone in 1988.

Courtesy of the artist

Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim directs the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an international collaboration in which Aburedwan took part. Barenboim says he was taken with the young violist.

"[Aburedwan] has transformed not only his life, his destiny, but that of many, many, many other people," Barenboim says. "This is an extraordinary collection of children all over Palestine that have all been inspired and opened to the beauty of life."

Five years ago, after countless calls, stacks of paperwork and arrangements with Palestinian officials, Aburedwan returned to France and collected a shipping container full of musical instruments — violins, a harpsichord, pianos, two double basses, all kinds of percussion instruments, cellos and wind instruments — to bring back to his schools. After two days and about $3,000 in import fees, Israeli authorities released the shipment. Aburedwan says he was elated to see the instruments finally reach their destination.

"I cannot tell you the feeling of playing music," Aburedwan says. "But that's what I was dreaming about: to give this as much as I can to other children. As much as I can. The music and the feeling."

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