Yuval Music Center, Haifa’s municipal conservatory, reaches out to Europe and beyond.
On entering Yuval Music Center, I was greeted by the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth, arranged for a saxophone quartet, tuba and drums. Enough to make one regret that Beethoven passed away when Adolph Sax was merely thirteen; Ludwig van will have approved of the bright sound of this newcomer to the woodwind section. It later transpired that a breakdancer will join the sextet for live performances of the piece.
YMC is Haifa’s municipal music conservatory, teaching some 300 children and youths from first to twelfth grade. Roughly half of them arrive at the center itself, while the rest are taught in their own schools, after school hours, by YMC teachers.
Ran Polsky—a professional jazz drummer, formerly the manager of Gush Segev Musical Center, and YMC’s manager for the last four years—a jovial and energetic man, explains:
“We send our teachers to fifteen schools around the city, by demand: if there are kids in a certain school who want to play trumpet or saxophone, or if there’s a demand for drums and percussion elsewhere, for instance, we send the appropriate teachers. Apart from that we supply eurhythmics services for five-thousand kindergartners in the city.
“We have six active orchestras with fifteen to fifty players in each: two string orchestras, one for small children, mainly 8-10 years old, the other for children aged 10-13; and four wind ensembles of larger dimensions, with 25-50 players, one of which is our representative orchestra, whose members are mainly high school students.
“The rehearsals are held here on a weekly basis, in the small auditorium next to my office. The orchestras perform in various municipal and national events and in national competitions. In addition we travel abroad almost every year, to festivals or to European Jewish communities; Europe is a much more affordable and accessible destination, what with the parents bearing the brunt of the expenditure. We are, after all, a nonprofit organization, the budgets are tight, and the costs of travelling to China or the States are considerable.
“External relations are very important to us, and more so to our students. Children start here at an early age, and part of our vision is to make them stay here and graduate in Music, and for that to happen there have to be some incentives, some gimmicks, not an easy task in our day and age, when attractions abound.
“One such incentive is performing abroad. Once we can promise a trip to Germany, Austria, or Prague at the end of the year, the kids make an effort, train more, since they know that we will be representing Israel, and the performance will have to be professional. This way we create six months of highly intensive rehearsals.
“Beyond that there’s the educational aspect. We travel as a group, without the parents, and attend museums and all sorts of musical events. Three years ago, in Prague, we went to the opera. The kids mingle with kids their age from different cultures, which is very significant and beneficial. It works both ways: European youth orchestras visit here, perform with us, stay at the kids’ houses, and get to know our culture and country. We are very happy that we can manage doing this every once in a while. We constantly strive to make new contacts. YMC and the Haifa Symphony Orchestra don’t cooperate on the professional level, but our students do get discounts on the Symphony’s concert series. Mind you, at least seven or eight of our teachers are HSO members. Excellent, all of them.
“Approximately 92% of our budget comes from the parents, and the rest from municipal support. Up to this point we had no donations from abroad, and the ones from Israel were most welcome, but relatively modest; the most generous one was 18,000 Shekels. I’m afraid we’re not ‘sexy’ enough, so to speak: this is Haifa, after all, most of our students come from good neighborhoods, and we operate in a place that is very far from being a slum.
“And yet, we also have new immigrants whose parents have financial problems, yet are well aware of the significance of musical education, and we try to support them. Haifa Cultural Foundation assists us with ten annual scholarships. I think we are the only music center in Israel that has no grand piano. We simply cannot afford one. Still, we do have four upright pianos. Besides that we have instruments from the 50s, 60s and 70s, very old but excellent and well taken care of. We rent them out to children for a nominal fee.”
There are no plans, says Polsky, to travel overseas in the near future: “Last year we sent our saxophone ensemble over to Germany and Austria, on two different occasions, but there’s a limit to the financial burden we can heap on the parents. Like I said before, we would be very happy to form relationships with foreign conservatories, bands and orchestras that are interested in exchange programs.”