Two images side by side on a poster. One shows a raging eight-year-old Palestinian boy throwing a stone with his right hand at an unseen Israeli soldier, while another stone is clutched in his left. The other picture has the same young man a decade later, pulling a bow across the strings of a viola. That pair of photographs was the beginning of a path that's brought viola player Ramzi Aburedwan and the Dal'Ouna Ensemble to tour the U.S. from September 15-October 3 (see tour schedule below) with award-winning journalist Sandy Tolan, who's written Aburedwan's inspiring story in his remarkable book, Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land.
"I was researching the book that became The Lemon Tree when I saw those posters all over Ramallah," Tolan recalls. "I had to find him. He lived in a refugee camp, he'd been raised by his grandparents. During the first Intifada, in the 1980s, his father was murdered. A generation earlier his grandparents were expelled from Palestine by Israel during the 1948 war. He'd grown up with the dream of Palestine. The story became a piece for National Public Radio's Weekend Edition."
By the time they met, Aburedwan had just returned from New Hampshire, where he'd been learning Western classical music. He wanted to study in France.
"His goal was to start music schools across Palestine and play for the National Palestinian Orchestra. After a couple of years, we lost touch."
But it wasn't the end. A decade later, on entering an Italian restaurant in Ramallah, Tolan heard someone calling his name. It was Aburedwan.
"We talked and I learned that he'd done what he said - he was opening music schools, called Al Kamandjati (Arabic for The Violinist) for kids in Palestine."
The Al-Kamandjati schools sit in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon. Most of the students have only known life in refugee camps. The schools offer a safe haven for trauma therapy and creative resistance.
By the time they met again, Aburedwan's passion had convinced others to come and help him - a violist from the London Symphony Orchestra, a British opera singer. The schools were flourishing. Famed Israel conductor Daniel Barenboim had invited Aburedwan to join his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.
"It was a story that needed to be told, Tolan says. "I can count on one hand the number of stories where I as the writer just needed to get out of the way and let it tell itself."
That story became Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land, an LA Times Book Prize Finalist, a book that's drawn unanimous praise. Virtuoso cellist Yo-Yo Ma said: "In a world where so much popular fiction depicts life in a dystopian world, it is refreshing to have this non-fiction account that reflects one individual's belief in the power of music and culture to transform lives."
Combining Tolan's book with music seemed a natural way to present things, so Aburedwan decided to bring his Dal'Ouna Ensemble on tour. It's a multicultural group, with Aburedwan himself on bouzouk along with a Palestinian percussionist, a Tunisian oud player, a Croatian accordionist, and featuring acclaimed Lebanese singer Abeer Nehme.
"We did a couple of dates last year, in New York and Washington, DC.," Tolan explains. "It gave us the idea to try something bigger on this tour. We aim to do more in 2017, the centenary of the Balfour Doctrine that transformed Palestine, as well as the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation."
The vast majority of the performance is music, Tolan notes. He simply introduces the evening to provide the framework and reads an extract from the book.
"It seems like an original way to expose audiences to music and tell Ramzi's story of being a child under military occupation," Tolan says. "It gives people a chance to understand what daily life is like in Palestine; so little is known about that. But the music is what people want to hear. It's Palestinian protest music, mostly folk songs from that tradition but also some of Ramzi's compositions."
There are stories within stories, not only in Children of the Stone, but also within the music.
"There's a girl who was the first student at the school," Tolan relates. "She was seven when she began in 2005; she's 19 now. There's a story I tell in the book about how she, her sister and another woman were stopped at a flying checkpoint one night in 2008 as they were returning to Ramallah. The solider looked at her violin case, then he made her play a song. When I read that story in Ramallah she came on stage and began playing the piece the soldiers had her perform. It was a transformative moment."
Transformation. A dream about the power of music that became reality. A story of perseverance and, above all, hope. For one evening, at least, it's a chance to step into another life as the Dal'Ouna Ensemble plays and Sandy Tolan speaks.
Sept 15 - New York, NY
Sept 16 - Clifton, NJ
Sept 17 - East Hampton, CT
Sept 18 - Worcester, MA
Sept 19 - Lexington, MA
Sept 21 - Burlington, VT
Sept 23 - Jacksonville, FL
Sept 24 - Old Lyme, CT
Sept 25 - Cape Cod, MA