Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Soundscape of Jerusalem — No. 1

My Tree House
My Tree House

Prelude: Election Day. I hear an occasional horn and garbled words hooting for one or the other. I sit in my hermit’s hideout, up in the trees. I do my civic duty, voting early morning. The guy in cal-pi-voting command center tells my wife, “no need to seal the envelope” (have I just witnessed a fraud?).

I walk away, and begin my daily listening: the caws of the South American birds have subsided, while the locals remain; the whir of traffic is a particular constant today, a sort of hubbub. Building sounds have also quieted. As late fall unfolds, the cool air carries sounds farther. The sounds from Pittsburgh are also in our air, a rude awaking of what unfolds far away. An uneasiness, a storm? How much on the Richter scale? I am tempted to retreat into “screendom”. A faint voice: “Don’t glue your mind to the super-glued screen, plagued algae is worse than amyloid plaque…”

I spring to attention to write these words. I imagine the sounds of a circus. I hear the sounds of the high-pitched “violining” of my nervous system. The cool weather has sent the birds elsewhere today, certainly those with 5-note songs which are timeless, even when they are repeated over and over. Some of the high caws, little South American birds apparently left behind, sound like baby cries. I sigh for Jerusalem, for Israel (and hear my own sigh). Dilemma: do I retreat into the imaginary sounds I always hear, those glorious cellos/bassoons/and voices? Or do I stretch my ears to hear the faint play-sounds of children, or nearby church bells, or the dusk-time moazins, each in his own key, parallax, and register.

Summer had its rock concerts in the wadi, but slowly all has subsided. We wait patiently for the imminent rains, their incessant patters. The deluge has not begun. Three-thirty, with greater voting horn blasts blaring, and I chuckling, “as if they will swing throngs of votes”. I breath deeply. The change of clock’s early darkness is sobering to the senses. Nighttime in Tel Aviv brings adventure. Here in Jerusalem it brings a curious twisted calm. People retreat. The night sounds are a sparse landscape for a city now folding in on itself.

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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