Father Armando writes to the music school in Germany

Giacomo Pizzi7 February 2011

We have reproduced below the letter written by Father Armando, director of the Custody of the Holy Land’s music school in Jerusalem, the Magnificat, to supporters and friends of the Grünwald music school. The words of Father Armando were read aloud on the occasion of the concert this past 23 January.

Dear Friends, Dear Director,

My name is Fr. Armando Pierucci; I am a Franciscan friar, like those of the San Antonio church in Munich. Until 1988 I taught Organ and Organ Composition at the “G. Rossini” Conservatory in Pesaro, the city on the Adriatic Sea that citizens of Munich consider to be their beach. Father Ignazio Mancini, at that time Custos of the Holy Land, said to me: “We have many friars who play music, but what we need is a music director”. “If  they know how to play”, I replied, “I will come to the Holy Land for two years: I will put everything in order and then return to Italy”.

This took place in 1988: to the two I had to keeping add another two. In fact, in the first seven years I was unable to persuade a single friar, a young one, to dedicate himself to music in order to assure the organ service at the Holy Sepulchre, nor in the other sanctuaries and parishes of the Holy Land. All of them said: “With music here one can’t make a living”.

I had to show that one can make a living here by music, just as Agostino Lama, an Armenian and father of eight children, did until 1988: for 60 years he was the music director of the Holy Land. A school would demonstrate to young people and their families that one can make a living with music in the Middle East; or, at least, not die of hunger. I therefore proposed to the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land, meeting together in the Chapter of 1995, to open a music school. I confess that I did this in order to pacify my own conscience. I was sure of three things: the friars would vote against my proposal; they would be unable to find a place for the school; and no one would enroll.

Instead, my confreres unanimously welcomed the initiative; the architect Father Alberto Prodomo, ofm, adapted the basement of the convent of the Holy Sepulchre for the school; and, at the first invitation, 35 youngsters showed up.

From year to year the number of students has continually increased. We have never advertised:  word-of-mouth testimonials of the children has sufficed. We currently have to limit enrollment to 250 students, and we have therefore prepared a project to build a larger facility. Of the 20 teachers, 6 of us are Christians. The others are presumably Jewish or Muslims. But we don’t ask this question of anyone, neither of students nor or teachers.

The students for the most part are Christians, of various denominations. When, in 2009, His Holiness Benedict XVI came to the Holy Land, everyone had to have a ticket in order to participate in the papal mass in the Kidron Valley, including our choir members. Someone said that only Catholics could get tickets. It turned out that the choir members knew that they were Christian, but they didn’t know which denomination they belonged to. Among the students we have many Muslims and Jews. Some of them also participate in the liturgical services.

Our music school is in the Old City, the part of Jerusalem that Saladin surrounded by walls. In the Old City there is the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Flagellation, the Via Dolorosa. What the Old City doesn’t have are fields, playgrounds, places in which young people can carry on extracurricular activities. At times it seems that Saladin’s walls form the boundaries of a prison. Perhaps for this reason the Magnificat has been such a success. Studying music, in fact, carries with it no ethnic, religious or linguistic distinction. At the Magnificat one can hear at least ten languages spoken: Arab, Hebrew, Armenian, Russian, Greek, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish.

And, besides, music has its own gifts: the joy of sounds, the friendship of choral singing, the applause at concerts that serves as a reward for months of study, the freedom to express feelings without blushing, the possibility to dedicate one’s life to an artistic activity, as three of our students have done, who are now teachers at the Magnificat. We give a lot of importance to choral singing, which harmoniously unites the voices. With our choirs we were in Switzerland in September 2009, where we recorded two CDs of sacred songs in Arabic: one for the Christmas season and one for Easter. They are liturgical songs from the early Christian centuries, when the Church was still unified; others were brought back from memory by old people, or are completely new.

In this way, with the study of music and the rediscovery of the choral repertoire, we are practicing a form of music therapy: singing and playing together contribute to soothing the traumas brought about by racial animosity, by the 150 km of the wall, by the grueling waits at the military control points. Rediscovering the artistic, liturgical and musical repertoire demonstrates in a clear manner, above all to Christians, that we have the same roots on earth just as we have the same Father in Heaven.

I am extremely grateful to your music school, and for the marvelous initiative of this evening: for your concert in support of the Magnificat. Apart from my own, you have the gratitude of the Franciscans who care for the Holy Places, and of all the students and teachers of our music school in Jerusalem. Our school is called “Magnificat”, because we are inspired by the embrace that the two Mothers, Elizabeth and Mary Most Holy, one Jewish and the other Galilean, exchanged at Ain Karem, not far from Jerusalem. That time Mary Most Holy sung the Magnificat.

Your embrace, dear musicians and listeners present here, continues the embrace of the two Mothers: You, Germans, with your love surround those of us who live here in Jerusalem, but we come from many countries around the world. One day we will sing together: “My soul doth magnify the Lord”.

Thank you.

Most Affectionately Yours, Fr. Armando Pierucci


Information on the Project “Magnificat” of ATS Pro Terra Sancta