By John G Taylor
Ehud Banai is a veteran Israeli singer best known for performing Hebrew rock. His songs show the influence of reggae, of Arab melodies and of classic rock, complete with long guitar solos—which end with a reply on the darbouka.
With such a range of influences, it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise that at a recent concert in Tel Aviv, his nine-piece ensemble included a violinist, a viola player, and a cellist.
But it was incongruous.
A string section still feels surprising at a rock concert, as though the band is trying to give itself the gravitas of a symphony without having to pay in the form of the complexity of classical music.
In fact, of course, this kind of cross-genre borrowing has been happening for a long time. From the Irish fiddle to Klezmer music, the violin has long been more than an instrument for playing concertos and bringing Vivaldi to life. Nigel Kennedy might have looked like a rebel, but his instrument was always more willing to break boundaries than he was.
And the piano is an even bigger traveler between types of music. Probably the most flexible instrument of all, the sounds of a piano can heard everywhere from the concert hall through ragtime and jazz to the corner of a bar where it’s used to hammer out old standards. An instrument that can create music from the thumps of Thelonious Monk as easily as from the finger-dances of Liana Forest has a lot more going for it than its set of keys and strings might suggest.
Ehud Banai had a keyboard on the stage at the concert too.
That flexibility is something we can often forget about our instruments.
Do Something New With Your Instrument
We can get used to playing the same kinds of music on it again and again. A pianist who likes jazz may well see his piano as a secret rebel, an instrument that looks classical but which throws off its façade as soon as someone sits at the keys and begins playing “Night Train.”
A violinist who only plays classical music can forget that when she puts the instrument under her chin, it’s just as capable of playing “The Humours Of Lissadell” as rolling through “The Four Seasons.”
And a cellist can consider plucking instead of bowing to be a useful extra that she rarely gets to enjoy rather than a legitimate sound that brings something unique to a whole different genre of music.
The instruments that we play are the tools that we use to create the music that we enjoy. But they can be more than that. They can also be roads that take us to a whole new different kind of music and on entirely new journeys through musical genres.
Next time you pick up your instrument or sit at your keyboard, those possibilities are worth remembering—and they’re worth exploring. It might feel incongruous at the beginning, but in the long run, it might show you a whole new side to your instrument.