The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music
Teaching and promoting music to all Palestinians wherever they are within the framework of strengthening the cultural and national identity.
In 1990, a small group of Palestinian musicians came together to look at the situation of music and music education in Palestine. There were many pockets of talent and activity in several genres, including folklore music, Arabic art music and Western classical music, but there was no central body channeling musical talent and strategizing for the future. Recognizing this, they decided to establish a music school. Over the next three years, the ground was prepared, and in 1993, the National Conservatory of Music was launched. Initially under the wing of Birzeit University’s board of trustees, the Conservatory set up its first branch in Ramallah. Forty students were enrolled alongside three part-time teachers, a secretary and a volunteer director. Gradually new branches were established: Jerusalem in 1996, Bethlehem in 1997, Nablus in 2010, and in 2012 the Gaza Music School was incorporated. In 2017 the Tchaikovsky Music School in Bethlehem became the sixth branch of the ESNCM. Today, more than a thousand students are enrolled within the different branches and another 580 are in children’s choirs. In September 2004, as a tribute to the invaluable intellectual and cultural contributions to humanity of the late Dr. Edward Said, an honorary member of the Board, the name of the Conservatory was officially changed to The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music. The Conservatory launched its first concert series in the spring of 1998, and graduated its first students in 1999. The second Palestinian Intifada broke out in October 2000, but despite the hardships of that time, several exciting projects came to fruition. Its first CD was released in 2000; in 2001 the Marcel Khalife Music Competition was held for the first time, initially as an internal project, but soon becoming the Palestine National Music Competition; and 2003 witnessed the launch of the Conservatory’s annual music summer camps. Creating student and professional ensembles has been integral to the work of the ESNCM since its inception. After the achievement of ensembles such as the Oriental Music Ensemble and the ESNCM Orchestra, in 2004 the ESNCM began to develop its flagship orchestras and ensembles, after eleven years of investment in fostering musical ability. The Palestine Youth Orchestra was formed in that year, followed by Palestine Strings in 2009, Maqamat al-Quds and the Palestine National Orchestra in 2010, and Banat al-Quds in 2013.
What makes The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music innovative?
First and foremost, ESNCM works in Education. Over a thousand students currently study music on the Academic Programs in the ESNCM’s six branches in Jerusalem, Nablus, Gaza, Ramallah, Bethlehem and the Tchaikovsky Music School. Both Arabic and Western music are taught, and the students receive individual instrumental lessons, theoretical classes and ensemble tuition as well as choir, Arabic percussion and music history. The students follow a structured program, completing courses and examinations, in an eight level program. The ESNCM aspires to open branches in all the Palestinian governorates. The Outreach Program is another vital part of the ESNCM’s educational work. Here, the ESNCM goes to the heart of communities that currently have no music provision, and teams up with partner organizations in those communities to provide instrumental music lessons and activities on site. Some of these outreach activities will grow and be transformed into formal branches of the ESNCM. Currently 430 children benefit from the ESNCM’s outreach program in Gaza, with a further 350 in the Jerusalem projects and 20 children in the town of Beit Fourik near Nablus. The Outreach Program focuses on two main activities: choirs, which are run in schools and community centers throughout Gaza and Jerusalem; and group instrumental lessons. Current group instrumental lessons include strings, Arabic percussion, oud and guitar. All outreach activities are free to students. Supplementary musical activities are an essential part of the educational mission of the ESNCM. The Conservatory runs several internal ensembles, including Arabic Music “takht” groups, classical chamber groups, orchestras and jazz bands, as well as two flagship orchestras whose members come from the Palestinian community worldwide, the Palestine Youth Orchestra and the Palestine National Orchestra. Music camps are held several times a year at the ESNCM’s Activity Center in the town of Birzeit, and revolve around intensive ensemble training in a fun environment. ESNCM is also responsible for running the biennial Palestine National Music Competition, which aims to motivate and reward young Palestinian talent. Finally, part of the Conservatory’s educational assignment is to publish educational material for music students. Theory textbooks, song collections, and collections of Arabic instrumental pieces are examples of its publications to date. The second essential element in realizing the ESNCM’s vision is building audiences. The Conservatory runs five major music festivals: Layali al-Tarab fi Quds al-Arab, which is a festival of Arabic and Oriental Music based in Jerusalem; the Ramallah-based Jasmine Festival, which focuses on classical and world music; the Christmas Festival in Bethlehem; the Sea and Freedom Festival, which is held in Gaza, and the Nablus-run Oud Festival. ESNCM also runs weekly student concerts in the branches, which are open to the public. Special events are held which attract a wide audience: ESNCM’s 2004 production of al-Fawanees musical, for example, was a spectacular production, for which the ESNCM arranged transportation to bring audiences from all over Palestine to attend the 7 performances. The other component of audience building is through the ESNCM’s CD productions. So far the Conservatory has produced eight albums, which include children’s songs sung by its young students, classical Arabic music performed by its teachers, and a CD and DVD of the celebrated al-Fawanees musical. Thirdly, the ESNCM is proud to be part of investing in cultural infrastructure in Palestine. From its beginnings in modest rented accommodation, the Conservatory now boasts two purpose-built branches in Bethlehem and Ramallah, and two finely renovated historic buildings which house the Nablus and Jerusalem branches. These buildings are wonderful resources, not only for the ESNCM students but also for the wider community, with their well-equipped concert halls and rehearsal spaces for community choirs or ensembles. The new Ramallah branch includes a state-of-the-art recording studio, and the Bethlehem branch contains a string instrument repair workshop and factory, run by its professional luthier. At the heart of the ESNCM philosophy is the belief that musical education, underpinned by the permeation of quality music throughout Palestinian society, and supported by appropriate cultural infrastructure, bolsters and invigorates Palestinian identity and culture.
How does The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music measure impact?
In cooperation with NDC, the conservatory developed its Monitoring and Evaluation System in line with the ESNCM strategic plan (2017-2022) to start its implementation for the new academic year 2018/2019 starting September 2018. ESNCM adopts a participatory approach in designing, implementing and evaluating its programs insuring active participation of the different stakeholders especially when taking into account the diversity of the conservatory operations which requires direct and continuous involvement of students (children and youth), their parents and social circles, local and national institutions, creative professionals, relevant Palestinian public institutions and civil society organizations as well as private sector and services’ providers. The conservatory persists on developing proper mechanisms and tools for evaluation purposes based on systematic reporting on, and follow up of implemented programs and activities. Evaluation process included measures and procedures to explore beneficiaries’ level of satisfaction in relation to the implemented activities at multi levels. Emphasis is always put on the music regular educational program, through the developed and regularly updated database of the conservatory which serves as a credible resource of statistics. Such feedback in addition to the material collected and observations recorded through the applied monitoring and evaluation tools serve as basis for regular internal evaluation during ESNCM periodic meetings. Specific activities such as the PYO are evaluated in a separate manner to address all aspects of the project in alignment to ESNCM strategic objectives, approved work plans and projects and donors requirements.
How can supporters get involved?
There are various ways that you can support the ESNCM and its work. By doing so, you will be supporting the development of Palestinian culture, civil society and the pillars of the future Palestine. - Make a general donation which the ESNCM will use according to its needs. - Sponsor a student partially or fully. Information about the recipient will be sent to you regularly. - Support a project partially or fully. You will be updated specifically about that project. - Buy the ESNCM CDs and publications.