Paul Calvert spoke with Michele Cantoni from the Amwaj Children's Choir, about the difference they're making to the lives of children from Hebron and Bethlehem.

Michele Cantoni
Michele Cantoni

Paul: When was the choir started?

Michele: It started in Hebron with about 30 children in the summer of 2015. Then a couple of months later in Bethlehem as well, with another group of 30 children. The choir is called Amwaj, which means waves in Arabic.

Paul: Why was the choir started?

Michele: It was mainly the decision of my wife, who is a musician and a professor at the Paris Conservatoire. She has taught in Palestine for a year at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, where I was working at the time as well in 2013-2014.

She became a musician and a very successful one, because of her growing up in a choir school herself when she was a child. So she always thought that was the best way to approach music, from the beginning for children.

Here in Palestine both her and I, we have noticed that all the music schools, they do a very good job, but they have an obsessive approach of individual tuition of musical instruments. That makes life much more difficult, than discovering music by being in a group of 30 or 60 children, always together for many hours a week; just discovering things and music together and learning without the difficulties of an instrument.

Paul: What age range is the choir?

Amwaj on stage at the Bethlehem Convention Palace
Amwaj on stage at the Bethlehem Convention Palace

Michele: We wanted to start with children between eight and 12. Then very quickly in a few weeks, the age range expanded because of little sisters and older brothers wanting to join. Now we have these 60 children and the age range is seven to 17.

Paul: So you do a choir, one in Hebron and one in Bethlehem?

Michele: Technically it's the same choir, because we do most concerts together, but the classes are separate.

Every week the teachers go for eight hours in Hebron and eight hours in Bethlehem. Maybe once a month the two choirs are joined together.

So the Amwaj Choir is actually Bethlehem and Hebron, it's the two together.

Paul: What kind of music do you perform?

Michele: All sorts of repertoires and in all sorts of languages. There is usually a proportion that is in favour of Arabic repertoire, but the children sing in 22-25 different languages already. Let's say if we have 10 languages in a programme, one of them is Arabic and there will be more songs in Arabic than in any other language alone.