Musician Abroad! Part 2

Tel Aviv, Israel: A Culture Filled with Colorful Contrasts

Sophie Lippert, concert pianist and ACP’s International Arts Correspondent, is living and working in Tel Aviv for the year. Today, she takes us on a journey through some of the contrasts she’s discovered in Israeli culture.

Two mopeds in front of a cacophonous art display in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Two mopeds butting heads in front of a cacophonous art display in Tel Aviv, Israel.

There are lots of reasons I love being a musician. One of them is the way that music helps me learn about contrasts: things that are very different from each other.

Music is full of contrasts.

Contrasts in dynamics: from shouting fortissimo to whispered pianissimo.

Contrasts in tempo: from scurrying presto to sloooow largo.

Contrasts in articulation: from sharp staccato to smooth legato.

Contrasts in melody, rhythm, and harmony, which work together to create songs of all types!

Using these musical tools—dynamics, tempo, and articulation, melody, rhythm, and harmony—performers are able to convey different moods, emotions, and ideas. And, often, it’s these contrasting elements that make a piece of music exciting and special.

Chopin: will you provide us with an example?

Amazing Bösendorfer Grand Piano Model 214 CS at Classic Pianos Portland played by Sophie Lippert

Sophie Lippert performs an excerpt from Chopin’s Ballade 2, Op. 38, at Classic Pianos Portland

To show how amazing contrasts in music can be, here’s a video of me playing a section from Chopin’s 2nd Ballade. Chopin begins by using a soft dynamic, a slow tempo, and smooth and repetitive harmonies and rhythms to create a calm, warm sound. This opening section reminds me of rocking a baby in a cradle: back and forth, back and forth. 

Then, all of a sudden, Chopin changes the mood completely! A flurry of right-hand notes swirl up and down the keyboard, and the sound is angry and fierce. The dynamics move quickly from loud to soft, and the chords switch constantly—reminding me of a big storm with lightning, thunder, and rain. In this wild section, it’s hard to know what to expect!

And then, Chopin leads us back to calm again: using the ideas from the first section to create a soothing, peaceful sound. What a contrast!

From Chopin, to Tel Aviv! 

Sophie gazing over the Mediterranean Sea.
Sophie gazing over the Mediterranean Sea in Israel.

Now, I’ll take you to Tel Aviv, Israel, where I moved in December 2021. 

One of the most amazing things about living in Tel Aviv has been learning about the many contrasts that Israeli culture contains.

Today, I’m going to focus on two areas:

  1. The Weather: the bright sun and the cooling sea.
  2. The Sabbath: a calm and quiet day during the busy, noisy week. 

The Sabbath: Calm Amidst the Storm.

An empty row of market stalls in a covered alleyway.
Carmel Market on the Sabbath: what is usually a busy street filled with shoppers and vendors becomes completely empty!

Tel Aviv is a huge city, and there is noise and activity all the time. Every hour of the day, people are walking, shopping, eating, drinking coffee at cafes, or hanging out with their friends. There are even some loud sounds during the middle of the night: the cats in my neighborhood often wake me up with their yowling around 3am!

And then, every week, there is the Sabbath: a time in Jewish tradition to rest and relax. Between the time the sun goes down on Friday and Saturday, almost all stores around the city close. Even the mall locks its doors and turns off its lights!

Because most businesses are closed, things feel really different. One of the things I’ve noticed is how many more people spend time with their families. The popular streets are filled with moms and dads walking with their kids, and the beaches are full of people swimming, playing sports, and eating picnics. Some people don’t even use any technology during the 24 hours of the Sabbath, which means they turn off their phones, computers, and TVs for the whole day! It’s also common for people to cook a big Sabbath dinner, and invite their loved ones to join them for a delicious feast. 

I love taking a day every week to relax, spend time outside, and focus on my family and friends. 

The Weather: Bright Sun and Cooling Sea.

The Mediterranean Sea and Beach in Tel Aviv, Israel.
A quintessential Tel Aviv summer day: the Mediterranean Sea crowned by a cloudless sky.

When I walk around Tel Aviv, there are two parts of nature that stand out the most: the bright sun shining in clear skies, and the blue-green water of the Mediterranean Sea.

Though it gets a little cooler during the winter months, Tel Aviv stays bright and sunny all year, and the temperatures are mild and comfortable. The water in the Mediterranean Sea is warm enough to swim in even in November and December, which is a treat! There are a few winter days when it is rainy or stormy, but it is a huge contrast to living in Portland—where there are many months filled with gray skies and rainy days.

For most of the year in Tel Aviv—from about April until October—it is REALLY HOT! So hot that I usually start sweating right when I walk outside of my house, even when I’m just wearing shorts and a t-shirt. And, I have to always remember to wear sunscreen—because without it, it takes only 10-15 minutes to get sunburnt! So, I’ve learned to be very careful, especially when I’m headed to the beach to take a swim.

Speaking of: thank goodness for the Mediterranean Sea! I go to the beach almost every day for a swim, and it feels so good to float in the waves and escape from the heat. It also really helps me appreciate the contrast between the bright, fierce sun and the cool, clear sea.

In Conclusion: An Appreciation of Contrasts

A bicycle infront of two doors with hearts drawn on them.
Contrasting hearts on contrasting doors in the quiet Kerem HaTeimanim neighborhood in Tel Aviv.

I love living in Israel, and learning more about the culture and the people here. There are so many things that seem like contrasts on the surface, but to me, always go hand-in-hand. The quiet of the Sabbath balances the noisiness of the rest of the week, just like the cool water of the Mediterranean Sea balances the searing heat of the sun. These contrasts remind me, too, of Chopin’s 2nd Ballade, in which the different sections work together to make a piece of music that is exciting, interesting, and very unique.

Music has taught me to celebrate contrasts, and I’m excited to do that here as I continue to have many more adventures in Tel Aviv.

Thanks for joining me on my journey to Israel!