Musician aims to connect, move people to heartfelt beat

The physical properties of live music have a unique power to unite, soothe and, yes, heal. Bass frequencies move our guts around, and the drums hold ancient cues for us to move our bodies to the beat. Whether your traditions are European, African, Middle Eastern or the high lonesome sound of the Appalachians, live music has been a source of light and joy since humans could smile.

“Music softens the heart,” said musician and composer Yuval Ron. “It connects people with emotions and feelings and memories. It has a vibrational effect. Music penetrates us, and not just through our ears. Music vibrates our bones, our tissues, it goes to our brain. It vibrates every cell in our body.”

Mr. Ron, who is set to perform May 22 with his group The Yuval Ron Ensemble at the Claremont Folk Festival, knows of what he speaks. The performer has traveled the world with his band, spreading a simple but still revolutionary idea that music can change the world.

“That is the service that I see in the work that I do in music,” Mr. Ron said. “I am just widening the perspective of people. And, I hope, promoting more peace and less war.”

His band includes members from Syria, Iran, Palestine and Israel. It is a sort of traveling musical United Nations. The ensemble “endeavors to alleviate national, racial, religious and cultural divides by uniting the music and dance of the people of the Middle East into a unique mystical, spiritual and inspiring musical celebration.”

The pairings of musicians and dancers from parts of the world traditionally at odds can be a tough sell. But Mr. Ron sees opportunity in the conflicts that can arise when fans bring their historic biases to bear on the music.

“Once in a while some people write me emails, ‘We love your music, but why do you include that music?’ meaning another ethnic or religious group,” Mr. Ron explained. Once an Armenian fan complained that Mr. Ron had included a Turkish tune in a show, prompting a quick lesson in the shared traditions of Turkey and Armenia.

“The song ended up being an Armenian tune,” Mr. Ron said. “Their history and culture is so intertwined, they learn that they can’t just hate the whole other culture or other nation, because their own culture is enriched by that neighboring culture.”

Mr. Ron was born in Israel, where he played guitar in jazz, rock and blues combos and learned the oud from nomadic bedouin masters. He longed to study in America, and emigrated to the US in 1985 to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where he graduated Cum-Laude in 1989. He moved to Los Angeles in 1994 to make his mark as a film composer. His career advanced, with steady work in TV and film, but he found himself itching to play again. He began slowly, performing with like-minded musicians at friends’ parties. But soon the garage band found its calling.

“In 2000, there was a lot of violence in the Middle East,” Mr. Ron recalled. “It really bothered me, and I really wanted to do something.”

A friend suggested a concert for peace and, since his band was comprised of Syrians, Iranians, Palestinians and Israelis, it was a natural. He put together a show at the Church in Ocean Park in Santa Monica, billing the band as Yuval Ron and Friends.

“We did this show, and it was packed, and people danced,” Mr. Ron said. “The response really warmed my heart, and we felt it was important work to do.”

The group then began a fairly rapid ascent. It signed deals with booking agents and record labels and began touring the world, “using the music and dance to teach people that we are all one, we are all human beings, and we’d better work together rather than fight each other.”

The ensemble was invited by the king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, to appear at the 2009 International Sacred Music Festival of Fez; it headlined the 2008 benefit concert in Seattle for the Dalai Lama’s “Seeds of Compassion” initiative; it has performed several times at the World Festival of Sacred Music in Los Angeles; the 2005 International Peace Festival in South Korea; the International Folk Music Festival in Lublin, Poland in 2005; and Chihuahua, Mexico’s 2006 International Chihuahua Festival. In 2007 it was featured at the International Oud Festival in Jerusalem.

In 2010, the Ensemble toured Spain performing a collaboration with the Gypsy flamenco artists of Andalusia in concerts in Seville, Jerez and Madrid; 2011 saw the ensemble invited to Istanbul to give a concert for peace and conduct a peace mission tour throughout Turkey. Additional Peace mission tours to Israel in 2013 and India in 2016 established the ensemble as an active ambassador for peace worldwide.

The ensemble has released three records and tours regularly. Mr. Ron continues to divide his time between the band and his work teaching, producing sacred and secular music, both for the ensemble and for solo projects. He is also writing and recording scores for television and film, including his work on the 2007 Oscar winning short film West Bank Story. 

His work under the stage lights is balanced by his quieter pursuits in the recording studio. “I’m really happy,” he said. “One is magical in one way, and one is magical in another way. I really like oscillating: going on a movie for three months, a tour for three weeks, then going and recording an album for a few weeks. Every day I feel gratitude to be living the life that I’m living.”

The Yuval Ron Ensemble plays the Claremont Folk Festival on May 22, at the Sontag Greek Theater, Pomona College. More information is available at yuvalronmusic.com.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

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