Not long ago I was privileged to attend a concert in a private home given by young musicians who are students at Jerusalem’s Hassadna Music Conservatory. Together with the rest of the audience, I was greatly impressed by their professional standard and aplomb. Some of the musicians were of Ethiopian background and displayed admirable technical skill and musicality, performing complex works – both classical and jazz – for a variety of instruments, playing  individually and in small ensembles.

The Hassadna Music Conservatory was founded in 1973 in the belief that all children are entitled to benefit from being able to enjoy music, and that the way to help children from deprived and underprivileged backgrounds to advance is through music,. The idea was to make musical education available to all children, irrespective of their physical or mental ability, socio-economic level, ethnicity or religious affiliation.

Now, forty years later, the institution is firmly established and has trained numbers of leading Israeli musicians. After many years of being housed in accommodation that was not always best suited to its task, the Conservatory is currently in the process of building its own dedicated structure. Since its inception the institution has employed first-rate musicians as its teaching staff, enabling youngsters from diverse backgrounds to benefit from an education that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

While I was preparing material for this article my cleaner, who is of Ethiopian origin, noticed the page with a picture of some of the pupils on my desk. He pointed to an Ethiopian youngster holding an oboe and said: “I know him. He’s the son of a friend of mine. He travels all over the world now.” Just one more illustration of the connection between the different groups living in Jerusalem and the Conservatory’s contribution to this.

The Conservatory now numbers 700 pupils aged from three to eighteen, representing the full range of Jerusalem’s religious, national and economic diversity. The staff comprises one hundred professionals, some of them born in Israel, others immigrants from various countries. They include concert artists, chamber musicians, established composers and members of Israel’s leading orchestras. Together they provide the careful guidance necessary to bring out the best in the gifted students, enabling them to achieve excellence and international acclaim.

In the framework of its pre-music track, the Conservatory undertakes an outreach programme for children in kindergarten and elementary school, seeking to expose very young children to the fundamentals of music – rhythmic movement, dance, singing and improvisation – as well as enabling them to experiment with a variety of instruments. The Conservatory has also introduced a programme called ‘Bridges of Light’ which offers youngsters with disabilities or special needs a course of study that is adapted to their abilities. All these children learn piano, and some also learn voice, as well as participating in activities with the rest of the students. The project has won national and international renown as one of the most successful programmes for children with special needs.

In fact, the Shalva Choir, consisting of children with special needs, was a leading contender for inclusion as Israel’s entry for the forthcoming Eurovision contest, to be held in Tel-Aviv, but eventually withdrew as some of its members are observant Jews and could not perform on Shabbat.

Many of Hassadna’s students have won prizes in Israeli and international competitions, and have been awarded scholarships to continue with their musical studies. Several have received the status of ‘Distinguished Musician’ from the IDF, enabling them to pursue their muical education while undertaking military service. The Conservatory’s orchestral ensembles have performed at music festivals in the USA and throughout Europe, winning prizes at several of them.

(This article first appeared in the March edition of the AJR Journal)