Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Thoughts and bubbles in these trying times

Yesterday was a pleasantly pleasant day for me, wandering around Jerusalem, mostly via cabs, exploring the city’s nooks and crannies.  I had meetings at two special places: The Mazkeka (music center, cafe) and The Mifal (cultural center, cafe).  What struck me was their “out of context” quality, including the people who populated them.  In both places there was awesome music and I noticed how much people enjoyed each other, something often rare in this day and age.  These two encounters were followed by an absurd meeting in the bomb shelter/studio which our music institute uses, and arguments about of the size of the elastic “gummy” needed to seal the doors and the need to resuscitate an old electric system complete with antiquated 24 watt bulbs.  After such a absurd “coda” to my otherwise fabulous day, I’d rather dwell on the magic of my morning, inspired by the rare Jerusalem havens (The Mazkeka and The Mifal, translated “The Distillery” and “The Factory”): two healing spaces, i.e. “bubbles of another kind”.

Yes, there are all kinds of bubbles in the world.  Soapy bubbles.  Fish bubbles. Boiling water bubbles.  But there are others so much more important to our psyches and especially to our survival as a human race.

For instance, there are bubbles of empathy all around us, like rare flowers or in-season pods, ripe for embracing, they exist because some of us want them to, especially while others less inspired walk carefully to avoid the sidewalk cracks.  The bubbles are also Motown songs from the 60’s/70’s when bubbles of empathy appeared perhaps more frequently, so much so that they embraced each other, keeping each other warm on cold nights.  Times have changed.  Where generally “rarity” is an unusual virtue (like finally carved diamonds), the rarity of empathy is not something we can admire.  The bubbles of empathy have broken from their chain, having been prodded and poked, until their fragments have become tears,  tears that those of us with memories of better days need to shed.  Yes, the world seems to be changing toward a bitter and uncertain future.  Perhaps only the young now have the strength for bubble making, while we from well-seasoned eras only have the strength to send well wishes while continuing to bask in our dreams of future “bubble-ized” existences.

Yesterday I experienced sweet memories sitting in the Mifhal, listening to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” and Stevie Wonder’s “You are the Sunshine of my Life”. The music transported me, it embraced me.  Now some of you who know me might be surprised that such ditties did the trick (rather than Beethoven’s 7th or Mozart’s Requiem).  But sometimes the simplest and rarest things are the most profound.

Yesterday I sat in two of Jerusalem’s fabulous bubbles and they truly transported me to another time, another place.  My experience was not only “nostalgic”, but also  something so much deeper than what that sticky sweet word implies.  The music I heard came from my early teens, an age when my brain had finished growing physically and the auditory cortex in my primitive brain was at its keenest.  I also had “goosebumps” (in Hebrew “tzmamoret”, a word which definitely captures the tingling pleasure when one is elated or afraid).  Psychologists say that this sensation also indicates emotional depth.  I say it is our saving grace as humans (though animals have been rumored to also experience it!).  The tingles are also our primitive bubbles emanating from the soda which is our limbic brain!

Today the array of bubbles, physical and mental, rescued me from the mundane.  I am so happy that Jerusalem has its bubble sanctuaries for us to embrace.  I am happy that I have not grown deaf to my past pleasures, memories and loves.


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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