Libi Michelson

Mesmerized by Bolero: A Wartime Interpretation

Credit: SilviaMollova - Wikipedia
Source: SilviaMollova - Wikipedia

A few weeks ago, after getting Friday brunch with friends visiting from the US, we all decided to walk over to the Dizengoff Square fountain. My husband had reminded me the night before that the fountain plays music at certain times, and we wanted to catch the “show.” We were sitting around the square, entertaining our kids, when suddenly the very faint sound of a flute started playing, and we heard water wooshing nearby. The square was soon filled with the music of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero.

For the next 15 minutes, we were mesmerized. Well, we adults, maybe not the children. There was something so enchanting about water bursts timed to a repetitive rhythm that was growing in intensity with every minute. It changed something inside me, and I haven’t been able to shake it since. As I tend to do, I added Bolero to my Spotify playlist and obsessively listened to it played by different orchestras worldwide on YouTube. Why was this piece causing me to obsess?

What is Bolero?

Ravel was commissioned to create a musical work for dancer Ida Rubinstein and based the piece on the bolero, a Spanish dance musical form. In the piece, the same melody is played repeatedly, each time by a different orchestral instrument, getting louder each time. The percussion is also an important part of Bolero. A steady drummer’s beat is played throughout the piece, while other percussion instruments, such as the cymbals and snare drum, add accents and color. The beauty of having each instrument play the same notes is that they can each play with their own personality and interpretation.

A list of instruments played in Ravel’s Bolero:

  • Strings: Violins, violas, cellos, and basses
  • Woodwinds: Flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and saxophones
  • Brass: Trumpets, trombones, tubas, and French horns
  • Percussion: Timpani, cymbals, snare drum, and other percussion instruments

A beat that stirs the soul

Before our country was ambushed and our people tragically murdered, I wondered how it was interesting that this piece was chosen for the Dizengoff fountain. In its glory days, before the square was remodeled, the fountain was a spinning piece of art, a sculpture put together by the famous artist Yaakov Agam, dedicated in 1986 and aptly named the Fire and Water fountain. Unfortunately, when the fountain was dismantled and placed back in the square, the artwork was not returned due to years of complaints from Tel Aviv residents about its high maintenance costs. But the music is back.

For the last two weeks, my mind has been racing with thoughts about orphaned children, running to a safe room, and praying for soldiers going to war. And then, last night, Bolero started playing on my computer. Instantly, it clicked for me why I was so connected to this song.

I realized I was moved by the slow change of the piece from quiet and calm instruments like the flute and the clarinet to the saxophones and the trombones, slowly building up through the strings section and ending with loud drums and a cacophony of an entire orchestra playing together and in unison. This is the Jewish people and the Israeli nation. A cacophony of different people, each with their own history, personalities, and traditions, standing together in unison, getting louder and louder as we head into war to protect ourselves. Each life matters, whether they are of Polish, Syrian, Persian, Iraqi, French, Moroccan, Ethiopian, German, South African, or American descent – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. This country matters to them.

And while the piece was not composed as a march into war, it sure feels like it should be played in the streets of Tel Aviv, but also in the hearts and minds of our soldiers protecting us from all corners of Israel’s borders. I only hope that if they find themselves in battle, they know they are loved and we are right behind them.

About the Author
Libi Michelson is a creative marketer and content writer. Raised by Israeli parents in the US, she made aliyah with her husband and two kids in 2021. Libi likes to write about being a working parent, parenting a child with special needs, and the struggles of being jewish, being a jewish mom and everything in between.
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