Winning in your own piano competition

It has been almost ten years ago since my first post on the Magnificat Institute, Jerusalem: “Bridge of Dreams to Musical Utopia”. This article had been kindly referred to on an Italian blog, Gaspatcho, which for once as Italian publications go, takes serious matters seriously.* This was a wake-up opportunity for those who would want to know more about this fantastic utopia where children must be going around in a musically induced trance, saying “pace, pace”.  As might be expected, however, publications praising this institution to the skies are more numerous, showing that people would prefer to believe fairy stories of making peace through music and don’t mind paying for it either.

After all, didn’t Fr. Armando Pierucci, their founder, say himself he “exploded a bomb of peace”?  Sorry, it was only a wet firecracker, a stinking, smoking one at that.

Ten years later, nothing has changed except the rich getting richer. To keep the wealth in the family as it were, ever decreasing circles should be the motto of the Magnificat.

Instead of reaching out to the wider music community in Israel, they exhibit themselves as more cliquish than ever. It is known that in their much publicized piano competition (at least to the public they want to impress enough to shovel out money for them) that most of the posh money prizes are snatched up by the home team, their own students yet again, practically ALL of them! The question is why should any of the locals bother to compete over there since the house will win anyway? Better yet, why have a competition, or call it that, if there are hardly any competitors?

Narrowing down their student body to Palestinians and the rare Israeli who happens to go there to study (most likely the progeny of nominal Christians from the former Soviet Union from which many of their teachers are taken, their -isky names can sound Jewish enough to donors) using coexistence as a pretext to promote the school is simply ridiculous, but it is also obscenely dishonest.

One can search with a magnifying glass to find non-Palestinians over there. Just because they themselves break down the student population into Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Latin Catholic, etc. means THEY are the ones making artificial separations non-existent in the schools that the students attend daily together. They repeat the slogan: “we don’t have any discrimination at the Magnificat” (except in their piano competition) but there have been plenty of Arabs in Israel music schools for decades. Big deal!

Don’t they remember their scion, mascot, founder and resident composer, Armando Pierucci (who must have hundreds if not thousands of pictures of him splattered all over the internet and Italian press) was the editor of the Franciscan Terra Santa Magazine in which a storm erupted all the way to the newspaper Corriere della Sera, December 1997? Under a stock photo of an Arab was written (in Italian): “unhappy are the people who can point a machine gun at a woman, they will disappear” (meaning the Jews).  Several indignant letters of complaint can be accessed at the CdS archives.  Astonishingly, the same editor morphed into the peace monk. Sure, leopards can change their spots!

Why not take such a clever PR man at his word? Clergy wouldn’t lie! Promoting the school as a laboratory of peace has meant immense funding and praise. Who knows, maybe eventual beatification and canonization? After all, a French nun described the school as a “miracle of peace that repeats itself daily”, something like the Eucharist, presumably.  Pierucci even received several peace prizes for no evidence needed to be given except he said so and no one contradicted him as long as the denaro was rolling in, BIG TIME!

Please consider the following from the booklet for the Nicholas de la Flue 18th Piano Competition, March 2017. (And it is NOT the oldest competition on the Holy Land, yet another misrepresentation.):

Art. 3 – Participation in the Competition is open to the piano students of the Magnificat Institute, to all young Palestinian pianists and to all young  pianists enrolled in Palestinian music schools.

One would expect that their Nikolaus de la Flüe Piano Competition, now in its 18th year, a source of money and fame for their own students on the whole, would be open to Israeli Jews. But they were the people who were supposed to disappear! The idea of competition in music for children is bad pedagogy to begin with, as though some are better than others while all doing the best they can. Instead the emphasis is to please parents and jurors by doing exactly what the teachers say. This is not exactly self-expression or even personal enjoyment of music.  What does a First Prize mean when there are hardly any competitors?

The kind of repertoire by these teachers mainly from the former Soviet Union, much of it is in a time warp. Audiences and jurors are impressed by emoting, so the kids pull mournful faces, lift their hands in the air and make expressive gestures towards the piano. The more schmaltz the better, doesn’t matter if it is Baroque or Classical music where it is not stylistically correct, but oodles of Tschaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and generally end of the decadent 19th century where they mine their repertoire.

I don’t think Chopin Waltzes are the thing for young Palestinian teenagers, or having to evoke Imperial Vienna. But they are rewarded for every bit of melodrama they can pack into these pieces (without appreciating the historical context, of course). There are other weird compositions that no one probably outside the Soviet Union has heard of. Instead of giving the students standard repertoire that will nourish their musical instincts, they have to draw out the last bit of expression from Glinka variations on a Russian folk tune, or other works irrelevant to their experience. Actually, obscurity has an advantage in competitions since the judges do not know to make head or tail of them. There is no known template from standard repertoire to compare with. All they see or hear is the cooked up drama in front of them.

Squeezing the most juice from mediocre pieces done in an extravagant manner is the essence of the self-praise splattered on the Custody sites. Most music schools do not laud the theatrical emoting of their own students, which of course is a reflection on their own greatness. Rather, normal schools are modest and let the listeners decide for themselves. They just report what they do without effusive flowery language. However, they are just continuing the tradition of the elaborate propaganda of its founder, liberally sprinkled with quotations from Holy Writ.

Such a degree of self-promotion coming from humble monks is nothing short of astonishing. All the superlatives in the dictionary both in English and Italian have not been enough to praise the place and themselves. If it were true, that music could make such peacemaking (inside a homogeneous group no less) then any or all music schools must be islands of tranquility. This is stupid. Human nature is not different anywhere even if it breathes the rarefied air of holy monks.

One can imagine all the happy campers when some kids win prizes and others don’t, what favoritism is showed by teachers to some students and others not, who gets to play in prestigious concerts or who gets to go to Italy or Switzerland to show off?  The level is not that high anyway considering what’s coming out of the Far East or just open YouTube. So much of their propaganda is misleading. The student body is not necessarily taken from the poor kids in the Old City of Jerusalem but rather well-situated families who send their kids to private schools, drive late model cars and take vacations abroad.

Practically everything they say about the school is bosh.  I really have a problem with this dishonest degree of ecclesiastical money-grubbing. There are real needs in the world that religious are obliged to consider and take care of first. The Custody of the Holy Land owns vast swathes of property in the country. They did not have to keep their students (which for a long time were less than 100 even though they were touted as being twice as many – another fib) in a basement that was continually renovated, and upgraded,  while trolling for money mainly from Italy every time.

One would think after the last campaign yielding probably more than a million euro, some from municipalities in the Marche, someone would shout, “Basta!” But they say they need to expand into yet another venue for which, you guessed it, they say they need more money!!! This is not the only music school open to Palestinians. They can go to the various branches of the National Conservatory that at least has sensible and truthful self-promotion.

Aren’t Christians being persecuted in the world? Shouldn’t they be the focus of fund raising? 90,000 were killed in the last year.  There are so many more rendered homeless and desperate. How do they have the fricking nerve to ask more money for an already rich music school? Because they are making peace? Sorry, that premise is as real as a counterfeit hundred dollar bill. Really in this day and age where in terms of information getting, one can run but not hide, how does anyone have the nerve to pass off concocted PR ploys as truth? Your music does NOT make peace and does NOT overcome barriers. If there are barriers, they are of your own construction.

“The only one of its kind, it promotes the study of music, offering a professional preparation, but, above all, a place of dialogue and of education in peaceful coexistence, where children and young Muslim, Christian, and Jewish youths study together united by their common passion for the art of music. The Magnificat constitutes a little miracle…”

The money has been pouring in at least from 9 years ago:

With the Good Friday Collection for the Holy Land, people of good will support this initiative.

The above statement is utterly shameless considering the disproportionate amount of money this school has attracted. They need MORE ? How much does it cost to teach 200 students when they pay tuition and their premises are owned by them?  How much does it cost to renovate your own premises? News flash: There is a famine going on in the South Sudan. North Korean Christians are dying in labor camps. Get over your self-absorption already!

This is also not true:

Born from the dream of a musician friar, Brother Armando Pierucci, who decided to embark on the adventure of teaching music in Jerusalem, in the old town, where a poor education or no music education at all was given.

 The Armenian school in the Old City had a good music program and choir. Some students went to the Anglican School, not far away where they could learn music, the same with the National Conservatory.



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