It is Friday, and a visitor arrives at the courtyard of Saint Savior’s Monastery in Jerusalem. He stops, listens and comments amusedly: “There is a brother who teaches the violin?” His host smiles. “Follow me.” The visitor passes under a somewhat dilapidated sign that reads “Istituto Magnificat.”
Once inside the basement, the sound of the violin becomes clearer. “Look.” Through the small window inside the door, the visitor sees a child. He wields his bow in perfect form under the watchful eye of his teacher. And the visitor discovers that this long corridor is lined with similar classes on either side. One can hear the sound of the piano, then that of a cello, and then that of the guitar. Welcome to the music school belonging to the Custody of the Holy Land.
Created by the Italian friar Armando Pierrucci, OFM, the Magnificat is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary in the month of June 2015. Since September 2014, it has had a new director: Canadian friar David Grenier. “For years, I have been at Saint Savior’s. I went to many of the Institute’s concerts but I must confess that it is only since the Custody’s Discretorium entrusted me with this mission that I discovered the extent of the work done by Br. Armando and all of the team he had brought together, such as all of the benefactors.”
With modest beginnings, housed in some makeshift premises, little by little, the Magnificat grew. Br. David resolutely fit into this tradition and carried out a number of projects that Br. Armando was wanted for his beloved school.
Br. Armando, who now has returned to his Franciscan province after 25 years of service in the Holy Land, created the Magnificat not only because he himself was a great musician, organist and composer, but because he saw a way to serve the local community. Fifty years ago, Saint Savior’s Monastery housed a blacksmith’s shop, a carpentry workshop and a iron workshop because at that time, it was still customary to serve the living stones of this land who are the local Christians, giving them the opportunity to learn a trade. All kinds of schools now provide this instruction. Br. Armando is among those who was innovative and offered another path: openness to art and beauty.
An Italian visitor, to whom Br. David was giving a tour of the school, exclaimed: “It is so beautiful to see a child playing with something other than a plastic gun.” Br. David confirmed this vocation that the school carried out in the past up until today to be a “a breath of fresh air in a political situation that remains tense. Some parents have say how learning music helps their children in their personal development.”
Not only does music carry people’s dreams and hopes, but it unites people and brings them together. For the more than 200 students enrolled at the school—who are mainly Palestinian and majoritarily Christian—have get to receive instruction from faculty (made up of 22 teachers) who are mainly Jews from the former Soviet bloc.
“We have some Jewish students and others who are Muslim.” What is crucial to us—and what is an integral part of our Franciscan vocation—is to allow music to bridge our differences,” continued Br. David. In a beautiful metaphor, he spoke of music as the harmony between the peoples of this country.
It was again Br. Armando, who worked for the recognition of the degrees awarded Magnificat at a European level through the signing of a partnership with the Conservatory of Vicenza.
It all began with private piano lessons given by the Italian master, and the school has now diversified and offers the opportunity to learn piano, organ, violin, viola, cello, guitar and bassoon, and potentially clarinet, flute and oboe “although we do not have students enrolled for these instruments this year,” said Br. David.
In recent years, an orchestra has also been put together, or rather, several orchestras by age levels. Since, like at any music school, adapting to different levels is a must. The course of study that includes, in addition to playing the instruments themselves, courses in music theory and music history, lasts ten years in total. And the school is beginning to reap the benefits with alumni who teach at the Magnificat or at the Christian schools in Jerusalem, which is a source of pride for the institute. Two former students also regularly travel abroad for piano and organ recitals.
For Brother David, one of the fruits of this work is to have opened up the local population—who in some cases comes from modest backgrounds—to classical music. “Not only students but also parents. What we see at concerts is the audience’s attentiveness and enthusiasm.”
In addition to the instruments, the school also has three choirs. A children’s choir, a youth choir and a choir made up of international students but also volunteers and expatriates who share the same passion for music and singing. This choir sings the accompaniments for certain solemnities of the Latin Church in Jerusalem, both at the Holy Sepulcher and at the parish.
All of these activities, as one would imagine, require resources. “The Magnificat is the music school with the lowest tuition rates in Jerusalem. And we make sure that money is not an obstacle in learning music.” Like Fr. Armando at his time, Br. David will become a pilgrim in order to encourage new supporters on a worldwide level. While many have come from Italy and Switzerland, he plans to further increase awareness of the school’s work in Europe and also in North America.
Moreover, the projects abound. “We need to expand. We need such a real concert hall. We already have the land. Now we have to build new the premises and a room with the acoustics worthy of this name. It may also be used for other for theatrical or other types of performances.”
The Magnificat turns 20, and this is the opportunity to think about what has already been accomplished, and to realize there are still opportunities ahead. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, visit Saint Savior’s between June 7 to 18h for the “Magic Lamp” festival.