The restoration of the piano evoked strong sentiments among the locals about the naturalness of music to human lives, especially in times of war and conflict. It was a historic rejoinder to the censorious ideology of music being haraam (forbidden by Allah).
In the March of 2015, a grand piano was discovered in the bombarded Nawras theater—whose ruins stood as a rare footnote to Gaza’s cultural life. While the theater was all but a series of entangled cables, shattered ceilings, cracked lanterns, punctured scarlet seats, crumbling plasterboards, the piano stood there defiantly, if only somewhat rusted, but not beyond repairs.
As Gaza remained in the grip of a volatile political climate, with Israeli offensive on the one side and the self-censorship imposed by Hamas occupation on the other, there was little political or spiritual use that a dead grand piano could be put to. However, workers from the Brussels-based, Music Fund restored the Yamaha concert piano, aided in their efforts by conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, an Argentine-Palestinian pianist. Barenboim, who is the general music director of the Berlin State Opera, and the Staatskapelle Berlin funded the restoration.
Assisted by the French music technician, Claire Bertrand, and her workforce, within ten days the piano was able to breathe music in a disemboweled Gaza. Its renaissance was marked by a concert in the wedding hall by students at the branch of Palestine’s Edward Said National Conservatory, which is Gaza’s only existing music school. Sara Aqel (image above), a fifteen-year-old student from the school performed on Beethoven’s 19th sonata.
The Yamaha piano is believed to have come from Japan. It could either have been presented to the Palestinian authorities by the Japanese Government, or left behind by some Japanese diplomat, who might have bought for his daughter. With the Hamas-led Islamist occupation of the Gaza strip in 2007, live musical performances became a rarity and the piano was lost in oblivion, until about 2013 when it was rediscovered by Khamis Abu Shaaban, the local music school’s administrator, and Lukas Pairon, the founder of Music Fund (an organization which transports musical instruments to Gaza and other centers, and hires locals for their repairs.
Meanwhile, for Bertrand, it was her first foreign assignment. She “meticulously replaced every one of the 230 strings, and 88 hammers and felts. They worked in the unusual surroundings of an ornate wedding hall alongside the ruined theatre—often plunged into darkness by Gaza’s frequent power cuts,” wrote Tim Whewell from Gaza, for the BBC News.
The restoration of the piano evoked strong sentiments among the locals about the naturalness of music to human lives, especially in times of war and conflict. It was a historic rejoinder to the censorious ideology of music being haraam (forbidden by Allah). Confident that the piano would continue to embalm the bomb-deafened ears of Gaza’s folks, Abu Shaaban went on to say: “It hasn’t been used because there were no musicians to play on it. But now we are going to teach a new whole generation.” As the mongers of terror and war were sowing the seeds of contempt and fear in Syria, France, Germany, South Asia, and elsewhere, Gaza prepared to take a small step towards redemption.