The exile, fear and frustration of Palestinians expelled from their homeland will be brought to life through John Bisharat’s composed autobiography “Ya Way Li.” The piece, which is debuting April 20 with the Oakland East Bay Symphony in California, is part of the program, “Notes from the Middle East,” which brings together viewpoints of Palestinians, Egyptians and Israelis through music.
According to Bisharat, a Palestinian-American composer and conductor, “The piece tells the story of the fear and heartbreak my father, uncles and aunt endured during their struggle of being expelled from their homeland.” Bisharat’s uncle Emile wrote the poem “Ya Way Li” in Arabic and Bisharat composed the music with singers, percussionists and instrumentalists. “The text specifically reveals the Palestinian perspective. One of the lines is ‘and here I am a stranger in exile with no hope of ever returning to my origin,'” explains Bisharat. “This speaks to the issues of the right to return and the military occupation.”
The zourna, a woodwind instrument that plays three notes, is featured in the piece and was used by Bisharat’s father and uncles to gather their children. “It was a calling together of the family. It’s a personal note, and I decided to start and end the piece with it. It’s kind of the bookends to the piece.”
In addition to the instruments used in this piece, foot-stomping is also incorporated. The entire orchestra stomps their feet in unison to symbolize the frustration of the Palestinians. “There’s so much frustration, resentment and fear in the piece. It’s kind of a dark piece because it’s not a happy situation by any means. But it speaks to the fear and insecurity faced by Palestinian families, including my own.”
Bisharat created this music specifically for the program. He has written other Arabic music and enjoys working with other composers and musicians. “I love the idea of someone else improvising in a framework I have worked out as a composer and leaving a slot open for improvisation. You’ll also end up with something that is bigger and greater than what you would be able to do as your own. These musicians are bringing their own life experiences in every note they play.”
Born in Los Angeles, Bisharat’s mother introduced him to music. He attended UCLA’s Professional Designation in Film Scoring program and graduated in 1986, and has been making music ever since.
Bisharat has conducted The London Symphony Orchestra and The National Symphony Orchestra, among other international engagements.
Bisharat derives from a musically savvy family. Several of his family members are different types of artists. His brother and sister are both professional musicians and one of his uncles, aside from being a psychiatrist, was a violin crafter and another uncle played the flute. Bisharat’s wife is world-renowned concert pianist Louise Thomas. “I was lucky, I guess, to be born into a family of such talented, educated and artistic people, very warm and loving people.”