Musician Abroad! Part 1: Venturing into the Unknown

Please enjoy this post by All Classical Portland’s 2022 International Arts Correspondent Sophie Lippert! Sophie is a multi-talented Portland musician and artist who has been given the opportunity to live in Tel Aviv, Israel for the next 12 months. She’ll be sharing her journey with us online with a series of blogs. Stay tuned as we learn more about Sophie as well as the rich music, food, and culture of this region Sophie will call home for the year.

The Momument to the Negev Brigade, Israel
Taking in the view from the Monument to the Negev Brigade in Be’er Sheva, Israel.

Music has always been an anchor for me.

Whether I’m tickling the keys of the piano, bowing my cello, going to concerts, or listening to my favorite tracks on Spotify, music is a place where I find comfort, joy, happiness, pleasure, and permission to feel all of my feelings.

Music is especially important to me during times in my life when big changes are happening—and a really huge change happened when I moved from Portland to Tel Aviv in December!

Wait… WHERE?!

A quick geography lesson: Tel Aviv is the biggest city in Israel, in the heart of the Middle East. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on the west, so you can walk to the beach from everywhere in the city limits! It’s a very vibrant, busy, active city, with lots of outdoor sports and activities (like surfing, swimming, sailing, and martial arts), delicious Mediterranean food (like falafel, kebabs, and hummus), and arts and culture (like concerts, plays, and museums). It’s also very sunny and hot for most of the year, and there aren’t many trees or green forests. Pretty different from Portland!

Sophie Lippert on the shores of the Mediterranean.
All smiles from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea!

So, it wasn’t an easy decision to move halfway across the world. Before, I was happily living in Portland, working as a pianist, teacher, and business owner. I’d played as a concerto soloist with some big orchestras, shared stages with amazing local musicians, and I even recorded a CD with many of my favorite songs (listen here!). Most of my friends and family live in the Pacific Northwest, too!

A concert at the Old Church
From left: Sophie Lippert, Stephanie Schneiderman, Marina Albero, and Amenta Abioto share the stage at The Old Church during Connections Concerts’ September 2019 show.

But there have been other times in my life when I’ve taken big leaps outside of my comfort zone—and though they’ve been scary, they’ve always helped me learn new things, and have led to some pretty amazing opportunities. I suspected that moving to Tel Aviv would teach me some valuable lessons—about myself, other people, and the world—and would help me grow as a person in some exciting ways. Even though I didn’t know what those things were, I decided to put my trust in the unknown and say YES!

Setting the stage.

When I was growing up, I started taking piano lessons when I was four years old, and cello when I was 10, and I continued to study both in grade school, high school, and college. Now, as an adult, I still really love the piano and the cello. When I grew up, I played mostly classical music, but these days I love to play all different types of music—especially music written by women.

Sophie Lippert playing a grand piano
Performing Gershwin at The Old Church Concert Hall, 2019.

I also really love to collaborate with musicians who play different types of music than me. It’s so exciting to see what we come up with together! I’ve performed with violinists and cellists who use looping machines and write all their own songs, with folk guitar players, with poets, with jazz singers, and many more. All of these have been big leaps outside of my comfort zone—after all, improvising the blues onstage is very different than playing a challenging Chopin Sonata or a playful Mozart Concerto! But, everytime I take a deep breath, and dip my toes in to something new, it is incredibly rewarding, and a LOT of fun. And everything I learned when I studied classical music when I was growing up has made all this possible.

“Where words fail, music speaks.” —Hans Christian Andersen.

Since I arrived in Tel Aviv, one of the things that’s been most exciting for me is how music has helped me connect with the people here. Usually I would use words to communicate with new friends—but in Israel, most people speak Hebrew! So, when we can’t use spoken language, music is a perfect bridge. 

I love that music allow everyone to feel welcome—no matter their culture, religion, skin color, body size, abilities or disabilities, age, gender, and more. There is always a seat at the musical table: for me, for you, and for everyone. There is no one who’s “not allowed” to listen to a series of notes on a page, or a drummer playing jubilant rhythm, or a clarinet player soulfully carrying a soaring melody above an accordion. Everyone belongs.

Sophie Lippert playing the piano on the shores of the Dead Sea
A spontaneous concert on the shores of the Dead Sea, Israel!

And here in Tel Aviv, where I am a “foreigner” and don’t speak the native language, music gives me a place to feel at home! In the past few months, I’ve gone to many concerts, performed at a few private parties, and pulled out my cello and “jammed” with guitar players, singers, and even a woman playing crystal bowls! In all of these moments, even though I was in a new place with new people, doing something new, I knew that this is where I belong. Music is where I belong.

See you again soon!

In upcoming posts, I’ll be telling more stories about my experiences in Tel Aviv—and not only about music, but also about food, art, and some amazing historical sites and outdoor adventures. I can’t wait to share my adventures in Israel with you!