"Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional," writes Oliver Sacks in his 2007 book, "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain."
"It has no power to represent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation."
Sacks' book, which in part explores the relationship between healing and music, has been an inspiration for Gunn High School junior Lina Karamali. This Sunday, May 3, at 3 p.m., Karamali will present a benefit concert at Gunn's Spangenberg Theatre. Yet she's not aiming to fund her own school's music program. Instead, Karamali hopes to make possible the creation of a children's music center in al-Aqaba, a village of approximately 300 people located in the Jordan Valley of the occupied West Bank in Palestine. Al-Aqaba, which once had a population of closer to 2,000, is surrounded by Israeli military bases and is being targeted for demolition.
A long-time musician, Karamali has been playing violin since she was 6 years old, composing since she was 7 and playing flute since the age of 10. She is interested in the intersection between psychology, healing and music, and was in eighth grade when she read Sacks' book.
"It was a really inspiring book for me," she explained. "It gave a lot of stories about people and one of the really memorable ones for me was these stroke patients who weren't able to speak but they could sing. And it was so interesting to me that music can often penetrate through stuff like that." Soon after reading Sack's book, Karamali began volunteering to play flute for the residents at Lytton Gardens Senior Communities.
The following summer, she interned with the San Mateo-based organization, Rebuilding Alliance. The organization works to rebuild infrastructure in war-torn communities. Karamali has now worked with the group for three years, and through their work became involved with the rebuilding in al-Aqaba. The Alliance's work there includes helping the community build a kindergarten and creating a kindergarten scholarship program as well as a birthing center and prenatal clinic.
At the same time, Karamali has remained fascinated by the healing powers of music, and curious how it might make a difference in such a community. "I thought about how music is so prominent in my life, but they have no or little access to music, especially the children there," she said of al-Aqaba. And so the idea of raising funds for a music center began to take shape.
Next, Karamali spoke to the executive director of Rebuilding Alliance as well as to the mayor of al-Aqaba, receiving support and interest from both of them. The music center, which will be called A Collective Song, will be located in a room in al-Aqaba's local library. The estimated cost, including instruments, furniture and salary for a music teacher, is around $25,000. Karamali has raised $8,000 so far through donations and a grant from Microsoft YouthSpark, an initiative to support youth development programs and young entrepreneurs. Karamali's hope is that the instruments for the music center will be made in Palestine, and that the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, based in Ramallah, might provide the music teacher. Karamali imagines the music center as both an educational and community space, and says she envisions people of all ages gathering there to play music together.
This weekend's benefit concert embodies Karamali's vision, in that it will bring members of her own community into one space to hear music performed by musicians of various ages. The bill includes Gunn students -- among them Karamali herself -- alongside professional musicians such as award-winning qanun player Ali Paris (the qanun is a Middle Eastern stringed instrument).
Karamali has found support for the project at Gunn High School, particularly from Band Director Todd Summers. Over email, Summers wrote, "Lina has worked hard to assemble a great line-up of musicians for this benefit concert ... for a great cause. We hope the community will come out and support it!"
What: A Collective Song: a Benefit concert for a music center in al-Aqaba, Palestine
Where: Gunn High School's Spangenberg Theatre, 780 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto
When: Sunday, May 3, 3 p.m.
Cost: $10 students, $20 general admission. All profits and donations will go the music center fund.
Maev Lowe is an editorial intern with Palo Alto Weekly.