This post is written by Terri Connell, a local volunteer host for Sofi & the Baladis’ residency in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Her full story has been submitted to the local newspaper for publication.
During a week that included a dozen workshops for over 1,500 students in 5 local schools, as well as appearances at their hotel, the radio station, 3M, The Tavern and the new high school performing arts center, Sofi & the Baladis really connected with audiences here. In Prairie du Chien the group truly accomplished the Arts Midwest World Fest goal of creating meaningful cultural exchanges for under-served communities. As their volunteer local host from the school district’s Arts Advisory Board, I smiled all week seeing Sofi & the “Locals” encountering our locals.
Sofi & the Baladis with students from River Ridge School. All photos by Eric Young Smith.
Students heard demonstrations and the history of all the unusual instruments. When introduced to the big-bellied oud, the ancient Middle Eastern guitar, a five-year-old said, “I’ve never seen one before in my whole entire life!” With a chance to ask questions, students learned from woodwind specialist Yonnie Dror and percussionist Yshai Afterman the importance of dedication and practice in becoming an accomplished musician. They clapped along with the lively music, and heard the complicated meter rhythms and microtone intonations of Middle Eastern music. They also learned a few words in Hebrew, including “shalom,” meaning “peace” and also used for “hello” and “goodbye.”
Choir students join Sofi at Prairie du Chien High School.
Band students host Sofi & the ensemble for music and conversation.
Steve Kleist and Shelly Gruber of 3M with Sofi and the Baladis. Terri Connell is on the left.
Sofi’s plea is for tolerance, “We all have eyes to see, ears to hear, mouths to speak, and want the same things, to love and be loved.”
The climax of the week was the public concert attended by 240 adults and children. When introducing the ensemble, District Superintendent Bob Smudde thanked the major tour sponsors, Arts Midwest program director Ken Carlson of Viroqua, and all the local sponsors who made the residency possible. The group thanked the Smuddes for the special kosher meal that Chelsea prepared for them. They mentioned they would not forget seeing a bald eagle flying over the Mississippi or their hike at Effigy Mounds National Monument Friday.
Sofi in concert in Prairie du Chien.
Sofi Tsedaka shared much more of her personal journey in the narrative between their songs. Four years ago, Sofi started developing the idea with music producer and oud player Yaniv Taichman of setting ancient Hebrew chants, passed down through 125 generations of Samaritan cantors, with vocal harmonies and instrumentals to share the culture of her youth. They connected with other musicians in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, and the result is a tribute to her father, who loved the Arabic music heard on the radio each evening the best, so some of those songs were included, too. Sofi’s plea is for tolerance, “We all have eyes to see, ears to hear, mouths to speak, and want the same things, to love and be loved.”
The concert was the first professional performance in the well-planned performing arts center. The high quality of the music led to a standing ovation and an encore with young Addison Smudde dancing in the aisle – I wished I was dancing with her! The public will have four nights of school holiday concerts to enjoy the new facility this month and to see what a boon for our community it is!
Yossi demonstrates the qanun at River Ridge School.