By Maddie Orton
Sound waves from 200 string instruments bounce off of a backboard. The gym at The Elisabeth Morrow School has become a concert hall and GRAMMY-winning violinist Miri Ben-Ari is its headliner.
Ben-Ari wants her music to be transformative in more ways than one. The Israeli-born New Jersey resident made a name for herself as “the hip hop violinist”, playing on albums with the likes of Kanye West and Alicia Keys. Ten years ago, she co-founded Gedenk — an organization that uses the creative arts to promote tolerance.
Today she plays her song “Symphony of Brotherhood” as a guest teacher with the students of the school’s Summer String Festival camp.
“This particular piece was a special request by our First Lady Michelle Obama because it carries a very powerful message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” said Ben-Ari.
“Performing it today, right here at a school with such a diverse group of students, really is beyond words,” she said.
You can tell Ben-Ari means it. She was the same age as many of these students when she learned that her grandparents had escaped the Holocaust.
“If you look at today’s world, the world needs tolerance more than ever. More than ever,” said Ben-Ari. “We realize that young people would like to see some tolerance in this world and are ready for some change.”
Beyond the message Ben-Ari brings, her presence and artistry have an impact all their own. Students come from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and as far as England and Korea for this five-day camp taught by top teachers. These kids already show promise.
“For her to become really one of the first electric violinists, and a composer, and for the children to be able to hear the possibilities of what string playing has, is very exciting for the kids,” said Amelia Gold, founder and director of The Elisabeth Morrow School Summer Strings Festival.
“She can move the fingers around really fast and get the bow on the right strings from the highest string to the lowest string very quickly,” said 9-year-old Joshua Hur. “She inspired me and wanted me to play on my cello more. Maybe I’ll practice a little more.”
For Ben-Ari, that’s a win.
“We believe that by being creative is probably one of the best ways to reach to impact, to influence, and to make this world a better place,” said Ben-Ari.
Ben-Ari will launch a “50 States of Tolerance” tour visiting schools across the country this fall.