Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Soundscape of Jerusalem — No. 4

Street sign. Lion's Gate.
Street sign. Lion's Gate.

The following are some of the author’s impressions after a recent visit to the Old City, the area around Lion’s Gate and vicinity.

ONE: “I loaf and invite my soul.” Silent wash. Benevolent calm, inside the Lion’s Gate. Wandered through eternity, white wash, asymmetric marble echoes, my voice, your voice, another side of Jerusalem seldom heard.  Outside the enclave some murmur. Inside peace of mind.  I don’t care what you call it — mosque, church, synagogue, all are meant for prayer, and to empower the law of attraction, when it is possible to imagine, to dream, to hope, to idolize, to love, and to care — all this hushed and echoed like a gigantic cave inside a wave inside another wave.  A slow-paced rhythm, chant, primordial, deep voices, under water, mesmerizing, a step outside, above a French flag designating ownership of the place, perhaps the spirit, a hidden corner by the Lion’s Gate.

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Outside the gate, the Lion roars.  No turning back.  On my Derech Hebron, many lions roar, no turning back.  You, with that silly grin, don’t you know you are on primordial soil?  A step back — the crevice in the Wall, THE WALL, touched, infinitely, for the first time in 70 years I twinge a message, fold the paper, and like all those souls around, plant my two hands on cold stone to pray.

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The voices are outside of me, for inside me is complete and utter SILENCE.

Once, twice, why are there men walking backwards as they leave the WALL–maybe they don’t want to miss something.

Going back I cringe from the leathery stares and stomping boots, of blood-red cries and sanctified benedictus, however the denomination.  I want to run; too intense, this place of a gazillion centuries…

A far cry from the murmuring birds at early morning whose counterpoint is eternal and every change infinite.  Their delicate weave is/are mandolins, harpsichords, acoustic guitars and ouds, all playing en ensemble, quietly, somber tones but with lightness, air and modesty.  This, our palette song, plucked strings from centuries never fade, because the birds one generation after another remember those sounds and keep them as sacred keepsakes, no less precious than the letters on sacred parchment, they are a gigantic palimpsest of faint cries, and the silences in between.  No this is not an imagined early morning nor a two o’clock epiphany.

Act on intuition.  Don’t blink too long as the moment will fade.  Do not fear what you intuit, feel or love.  Do not allow 1000 Eeyores to say NO!  But say to them YES, a resounding YES, for in every human being lies a fragment of the Holy One, who laughs at his sparkling creations, millions of stars, millions of sprinkled confetti showered on the largest, grandest concert worldwide.  1000 trumpets. 1000 shofars. Deep drums, voices, mandolins, harpsichords, ouds, guitars…so incredibly full and rick–drowning out whatever crap we might have left behind — again, daybreak –quiet — the birds still sleeping.

My blood flows, artery, pulse, take a deep breath and express gratitude for feet on the ground sounds in the air, good people, another day, just one after another, until….

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TWOSleep. Caught in the crossfire, I hear booming everywhere.  The night flashes like day.  Helicopters moan.  Across the wadi I hear shot after shot, piercing cries wrack the night.  I used to cringe in fear, but these sounds are now common.  City center has been cordoned off, open only to official vehicles.  In neighborhoods televisions are blaring with the latest news, for missile after missile is raining on our cities simultaneously.  We are one news broadcast.  It was predicted, as was the major earthquake.  This came first.  We can only wait.  It is too noisy to hear our heartbeats.  The whir of the planes is excruciating, especially those who break the sound barrier.  There is no telling just how long this new war will continue.  Though we have been here before, it has never been so real.  The volume of the booms is increasing as are their frequency.  In communities on the coast it is more intense.  People are fleeing to the south, where there are less barrages (except for Dimona). Meanwhile, all moazin cries have stopped, as have the usually vociferous neighborhood dogs.  The drizzle pats the roof, and no sunshine is possible through the fog of smoke; no moonlight is possible through the fabricated darkness.  We stay as still as possible, with as few lights lit.  I imagine this all over, but it has just begun.  Suddenly awoken….

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THREE:  The Lion’s Gate.  A portal with dense dark gongs, low chimes, bowed branches, mahogany, buried catacombs, endless tunnels, lost.

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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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