Former Tank Commander Readies to Take Charge of Music Department

Former Tank Commander Readies
to Take Charge of Music Department

At the age of four, I was reading and writing. My parents thought they had a talented kid on their hands, so they decided to introduce me to the piano. If they had known that as a result of the piano they would have to support me financially until I reached the age of 27, I wonder if they would have rethought their decision!” – Oded Zehavi, award-winning composer and Head of the Music Division of the University’s General Studies Department.

Today, the 35-year-old Zehavi’s music is performed in concert halls, theaters, and festivals, and on TV, stage, and radio. More than eighty of his pieces have been performed in the United States, Europe, Japan, in addition to Israel (with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israel Chamber Orchestra), and he has commissions through the year 1999. Last November, Zehavi was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Composition as well as the Engel Award. Now, coordinating the development efforts for the University’s future Department of Music, Zehavi has even more to look forward to.

“I recorded my first piece of music when I was fifteen. That was an easy age to begin,” he reflects. “There was no danger of failure because I was not a full-time composer who had to make a living off his compositions. I was just a kid.”
Three years later, he began his mandatory service in the Israeli Army. “The Army has an entertainment corps, which would have suited me. But at the time that I was conscripted, the Army had a rule that if you were physically fit, you had to serve with the field troops,” Zehavi recounts.

Disconnected from the world of music during his three years as a tank commander, he says that he “improved as a person, an artist, and an Israeli citizen” as a result of his service. It comes as no surprise that he is against special treatment for young musicians in the Army today.
Interestingly, army memories have influenced his music. He explains that during the 1982 Lebanon War, his troop was based in the churchyard of a Lebanese village. “The chiming of the church bells is my most meaningful sonic memory from the war,” he says, “and I have incorporated this chiming into every piece I have composed since then.”
Although he believes he produced his first significant work upon his release from the army, Zehavi’s first break did not come until ten years later with the performance of his Israeli War Requiem. “I owe my break to the conductor, Noam Sherif,” he says. “He gave the piece a thorough reading and performance. Since then, my phone has not stopped ringing.”

Zehavi describes his musical style as “emotional, expressive, appropriate for the concert hall.” He says his style developed from a variety of sources in which he came into contact in the course of his studies in Israel and the United States.
“Until a person finds his own voice, he should not stick to the same teacher,” he says. He believes that in Israel, teachers are too possessive. “When I hear Israeli students perform, I can tell who their teachers are,” he remarks.
In order to gain exposure to a range of ideas and aesthetics, he studied at the University of Pennsylvania and the State University of New York at Stonybrook (“where, as a rule, a student can study under the same teacher for no more than two semesters”).
Applying his firm belief in the importance of a varied music education, the composer-teacher has designed a curriculum for the University’s future Department of Music that gives students an opportunity to study with many different teachers. “There will be a small group of musicologists, researchers, composers, and performers who will compose the core faculty,” he announces, “but students will choose their own instructors, from anywhere in the country.”

Zehavi points out that today’s musicians must be more sophisticated in order to survive and succeed. He continues: “The University’s future Department of Music will give the students enough courses and intellectual stimulation to develop their abilities. They will need computer skills, they will need to know how to deal with multi-media. We will give them the tools to do many things, without neglecting the core of musical studies.”
Having taught at both the high school and university level as well as in summer camps for gifted musicians and in music centers around the world, Zehavi has much experience with students. “It is important to teach students to think, to come up with their own ideas, to define their own goals. Of course it’s important for them to listen to what I say,” he says, and then quickly adds, “but they have to know how to create their own style, their own works.”

This semester he is teaching Introduction to Vocal Music. His students come from a variety of backgrounds. One is a police investigator. “She asks questions that I would never think of, questions that really challenge me and make me think,” he says. “I tell her that I won’t answer without my lawyer present.”

Once the Department of Music gets underway, Zehavi plans to offer classes to the Haifa community. “Since the University is part of Haifa and the Northern Israel community, it is important that we reach out,” he says. He also hopes that the University’s Music Department will attract talented Israeli musicians now living abroad. “I think our new department will offer quite an incentive for many musicians to come home,” he says.
Zehavi and his wife, a percussionist whom he met while studying in the United States, live in Tel Aviv. “First tenure, then kids,” Zehavi jokes. “But I think it will probably be the other way around.”
Zehavi was educated at the Rubin Academy of Music (B.Mus.), the University of Pennsylvania (M.A. in Music Composition), and SUNY Stonybrook (Ph.D., 1995).
In 1986, his background music for “Night Movie” was awarded first prize at the Melbourne and Oberhausen [Germany] Film Festivals. In 1992, he founded and directed “New Music North,” a unique composition project at the Northern Galilee Rodman Regional College. Besides his teaching, he has served as a freelance producer for Israeli Radio, a music consultant for the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia, and the musical advisor to the Israeli Consul for Cultural Affairs in New York City. Currently he is a special consultant and advisor for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Chamber Orchestra and Composer-in-Residence for the Haifa Symphony Orchestra.

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