Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Jerusalem’s quiet corners (a multi-sensory journey)

Corten steel sculpture by Israel Hadany, Liberty Bell Garden (photo by the author)

In these challenging times it is important to have healthy refuge in the many quiet places accessible by simple walks. Such locations are often hidden and less trodden. After being sequestered for many many weeks I finally journey out, feeling “redrawn” into life through Jerusalem’s “hidden treasures,” all within walking distance of my home. I crave quietude and calm, but also desperately need shapes, colors and fresh air. In a time when cultural activities are on pause, I also renew my thirst for new experiences, even at places that I think I know.  Have these places changed or have I?

I begin my journey with a morning stroll through the Mesila Park (Train Track Park), an awesome project imagined and funded by the Gottesman Foundation with the blessing of former Mayor Nir Barkat’s Jerusalem Municipality.  It is uncanny just how this seemingly endless park creates opportunities for intimacy and quiet. Morning is best, and less crowded.

Seemingly-endless bike path (photo by the author)

The photo from 1928 reminds us that we are at a junction between time past and present.

1928 past meets present (photo by the author)

I smile and imagine the sound of a traditional steam engine train, circa 1928: coal shoveled, steam rising, whistle, chugging, fading into silence….

and here’s the evidence!…

The morning is filled with quiet and many shadows. The benches are inviting but I refrain;  today I am a moving spectator!

Cozy benches (photo by the author)

The path (and tracks) seem endless!

Shaded tracks (photo by the author)

Here in the park there are endless possibilities of seeing and sensing  “others,” while celebrating solitude. There’s even a place to book browse….

And even lie down together!…

And bask in the cool shade…

Shade and calm (photo by the author)

I continue on foot toward another special place, the Liberty Bell Garden, with it’s many nooks and crannies; my favorite spot is a corten steel sculpture by Israel Hadany (also pictured at the beginning of this article). 

As with most of Hadany’s work, I experience a meditative peace combined with endless shapes and reflections.  As in most good environmental works, Hadany’s utilizes the shifting patterns of shade and light, which create a playful kinetic quality. And yet, with all of the sculpture’s lightness (it is uncanny how Hadany succeeds to take the very heavy material and “float it” in mid air!), there is an epic quality where time seems to stand still.  This stateliness helps transport me from the mundane to higher thoughts and sensations .  Throughout Hadany’s career, this quality of emotional transport has been a landmark, making his work truly unique.

What makes sitting by the sculpture so amazing is not only its infinite “dimensionality”, it’s play between light, form and substance, but also it’s noble other-worldliness. The piece is constantly being re-invented by the viewers stance, the time of day and even the quality of air. The possibilities are endless!  Here are two views from different angles:

Sculpture (View 1), Israel Hadany, photo by the author
Sculpture (View 2), Israel Hadany, photo by the author

As I walk on in the garden, I see also many inviting “nooks and crannies” for stopping, each one as luscious as the next….

Toward Amphi (photo by the author)
Sculpture Alcove by Dalia Mieri (photo by the author)
“Hidden Path” (photo by the author)

Looking far ahead, I see a canopy of green trees, and as I move closer the bright green foliage embraces me….

Green canopy, Liberty Bell Garden (photo by the author)

Suddenly the sensation brings back a memory at age three.  I recall my mother’s warm winter “bugie” coat worn through the winter months.  When I was hugged, I felt protected.  Likewise, here in this garden walkway I strangely feel similar.  Suddenly a rush of calm flows through my body, with faint goosebumps lingering like tiny dancing ping-pong balls .  The green canopy path seems endlessly luscious, as do the goosebumps! I am ecstatic because I don’t want the experience to end.  Meanwhile, cute stray cats romp about as well as hundreds of tiny birds whose cries form an additional summer blanket.  I bless the landscape artist who imagined this passageway! How it heals through it’s immense grace and beauty!  The following music expresses what I am feeling:

Music: Pizz–The Incredible Lightness of Being (composed by the author) for 2 cellos, kalimba, and percussion

I think to myself: What do we miss most during these difficult times?  A simple hug-filled hello to a friend, kisses, smiles, touchings.  My daughter Sara adds:  “What must little babies feel when confronted by adults whose smiles are hidden with grotesque masks?” I cringe. “We must now learn to re-open our senses: to FEEL”, I say to myself.   I recall reading that when a baby is born he/she is capable of producing every impossible vocal sound imaginable, but as time moves on, he/she filters various sounds OUT because they are not used in the “parent language” he/she constantly hears.  Slowly the baby uses the physical ability of making those sounds.  For instance, an African baby is able to articulate an array of gutturals and clicking sounds which we in the West find impossible to produce (e.g. Xhosa language).

In a similar manner, during this time of sensory deprivation we run the risk of losing the ability to see, smell, taste and feel.   For us, eight months seclusion is ripe with danger.  Because of lack of use, we begin to ache from sensory “under-load”  Will we lose the ability to feel?  Will our encapsulation in plastic, layers of cloth and latex have a lasting effect on us, until, heaven forbid, we become mutations?  One of the heroes in Eugene O’Neil’s epic play Long Day’s Journey into Night, the family matriarch Mary prophesies what life can easily do to us: how we all run the risk of putting on “masks”, false personas, projecting who we think we are (or must be), but who we are truly NOT…so much so, that we lose our “true selves” forever:

“None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realize it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self forever.”
Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey into Night

I suddenly “awake” from my philosophizing and realize that the early fall sun beats down on my head.  I am now heading out of the magical green canopy.  I realize I want more.  I look back into the distance and sense that someone is staring at me!  I look closer and seeing a blue dinosaur in the distance, I feel a childlike giddiness begin to fill my soul.

Blue Dinosaur (photo by the author)

I start laughing and feel lighter and buoyant as a small dingy on a free-fall journey of rediscovering what has always been before my eyes.  I approach the funny blue “beast” and stare at into his brightly-wheeled pupils!  He seems to smile.  For me this is today’s second epiphany, a “double whammy” of delight, from the soothing green to the deep blue, from the sublime to the sublime!  Childlike, I see everything with fresh eyes and hear anew. I don’t want to leave!  I feel joy, like this…Music: Tabula Rasa (an excerpt), for  Lab Orchestra (below)

I am reminded of my early adolescence:   Once as a pre-teen I walked to a rocky beach near my parents house on the Massachusetts shore; I challenged the waves; I walked on the rocks; I saw the details around me…as the pre-teen I once sat on the rocks; I suddenly had the urge to rush home to TV, but  said to myself, “NO, I must to stay here for many hours.  If I can do that, without being bored, then I will surely get through life.” 

Preston Beach, Marblehead MA, source of the author’s childhood memories

And so I did…for  seven hours I remained still.  Those memories now linger and even with no ocean in front of me, I have the endless constantly-shifting power of Hadany’s sculpture, the huge green canopy, the funny blue creature, all within the shifting tides of light, constantly creating new realities.  Amidst all the uncertainty of my life, I feel “alive” again, filled with new purpose, with the “artist” inside of me still bursting with life, adventure and desire for new discovery.

Music: “The Surf Sings” (music inspired by the endless tides and memories of the author’s childhood)

I now travel backwards and exit toward King George Street. I remember once playing at the International YMCA Auditorium, Jerusalem and decide to visit the public grounds.  With the recent past reverberating in me, I turn left and enter the courtyards.  It was here in 1985 that I presented my first Israel Festival performance (Agadot, based on sounds/music described in the Biblical texts).  One of the location’s details stood out in my mind, one that I craved to revisit.

Infinity hallway, International YMCA Auditorium (photo by the author)

Infinity Hallway, as I call it, creates for me the illusion that time is both moving and standing still.  The more I absorb this view, the more I enter the paradox of time.  We live in one moment at a time.  Eckhart Tolle elaborates even further, “We can only know one moment”. …And yet we travel through what we perceive as a time   “trajectory”. I then recall the words of Lao T’zu in the Tao Te Ching (Chapter 14), here translated by Stephen Mitchell:

“Approach it and there is no beginning,

follow it and there is no end.

You can’t know it, but you can be it,

at ease in your own life.

Just realize where you come from:

this is the essence of wisdom”

I then recall another fascinating example of this double entendre of time. It was not exactly walking distance from my home, but not far either.

James Turrell’s environmental sculpture “Space that Sees” is located far from the Israel Museum’s entrance, down a steep incline , away from the museum’s hustle and bustle.  As one walks over the path’s dirt and gravel, a kind of breathing sound fills the air, as though the ground was a magic carpet.  Suddenly a structure appears, strange in its ordinary shape and quality, something between a concrete bunker and large concrete shed. This, as one soon finds out, is all part of the “surprise” inside, when the ordinary becomes transformed into the miraculous.  The inside space is sparse, with ample simple concrete benches for visitors.  The natural echo is enormous and almost deafening, creating acoustic surprises for visitors whose individual voices are intolerably loud.  This exaggerated echo has it purpose, as the visitors suddenly realize the obvious need for silence.  All is off-white except for the “main show”, the focused sky from above, breathing and alive, seen through an enormous frame with strange geometric properties, accentuating the constantly-shifting blues and whites, especially in the autumn months.  The clouds are endless sources of fascination, as they now are being seen for the “first time” with fresh eyes.  (The author’s fascination with clouds can also be explored at “Night Visions”)

(Hint: If one can tolerate the hardness of the benches, a few hours here can be medicinal; for others I suggest bringing a pillow, small chair or folded padded round seat).

James Turrell, American, born 1943. Space That Sees, 1992, photo by Nahum Slapak (Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

Music: Toward Infinity, performed by the Butterfly Effect Ensemble, JICM recordings (Jeffery Kowalsky, bowed vibraphone/percussion; Lior Navok, piano; Stephen Horenstein, multi-winds).  Inspired by “Space That Sees”.

I now turn around a proceed home.  A state of euphoria lightens my pace.  I remember other treasures along the way, including the nearby Templar neighborhood in the Moshava (German Colony). There one can find a deep silence forming an eye of a hurricane surrounded by blares of two adjacent thoroughfares.  “This is for another time”, I say to myself.  I pass by and move on home.

It is still morning.  I look out my kitchen window, suddenly noticing another hidden treasure with fresh eyes:  an epic blazing green tree.  I ask myself:  “What IS it? Eucalyptus? Willow? Oak? Willow Oak? something else? Luckily a friend Ruth Sager knows: “It’s an Australian Eucalyptus”.  That fires my imagination with visions of frolicking kangaroos and a choir of didgeridoos (here’s what one didgeridoo sounds like!) Sound: Didgeridoo street player (below)

Window, tree (photo by the author)

I look out again and suddenly hear multiple voices and horns, with each leaf singing. “Is this my imagination, or is it NOT?” I ask myself.

Music: Free-formed Canonic Motions for voices and orchestra, by Stephen Horenstein

I wax poetic:

Find a eucalyptus tree! A willow will do too! Sit under its green glow, become relaxed, like the leaves, free, loose.  Breathe deeply, as though your life depended on it (it does!). Admire the leaves’ slow graceful movements. Take out a camera.  It will help to draw you into the experience even more. Stay there. Close your eyes. Try to imagine the full translucent green in your inner eye; imagine.  Green soothes, green heals. Find such a tree in your backyard. Watch it every morning.  Let it touch your, effect you, calm you.

Coda: A similar theme was used in the author’s role as well-known writer Daphne Merkin’s informal artistic “guide” for her wonderful piece about Jerusalem in Travel and Leisure magazine , November 12, 2010.  Daphne managed to see Jerusalem with fresh eyes and ears!

To the Reader: What are your favorite Quiet Corners? Anywhere!…Please feel free to share them in the comments below.  Thank you.  The Author.

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About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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