Nestled in the picturesque village of Metullah in the hills of the Upper Galilee, hidden in the serpentine alleyways of the quaint cobble-stoned streets, is Zami’s Music Box, Israel’s only museum of musical instruments.
Zami Ravid, a pianist and conductor, left the international concert stage and university lecture halls to pursue an interesting dream – the search for the perfect instrument. Originally from Tel Aviv, Ravid and his wife Rina built the house where he lives and curates his museum 30 years ago, when he was invited to direct the musical activity at the community center in Metullah. He fell in love with the panoramic view, which extends 80 km.
The museum itself started, as most wonderful things do, by accident. Ravid, in the course of his work, was asked to play on the piano, pieces originally written for the clavichord, harmonium and organ. It bothered him. He felt it was wrong. Thus he started searching for the instruments, so he could play the pieces as the composer had intended them to be played.Having begun to acquire them, he brought some students from The Open University’s northern branch where he was teaching music appreciation, to see and play them. They in turn brought some friends. To interest the students, he bought more instruments. And so it went. But this initial motivation has turned into the quest for the perfect instrument.
Zami Ravid in his museum
“No instrument,” he contends, “is perfect. Each instrument has its limitations.” That, he explains, is how instruments were developed in the first place. In the evolutionary process of creating musical instruments, each new instrument was designed to surpass the limitations of the former. That’s how keyboards developed from the harpsichord and clavichord to the piano. They were perfected from simple instruments to the more complex organ and harmonium, with each new development trying to correct the imperfections of its predecessor. However, each instrument is completely different and answers a different need.
“It’s not the difference between a Citroen or a Volvo or a Volkswagen, but the difference between a horse or a car or a train,” claims Ravid. He is interested in the chronology of instruments – what came before and what came after. Each instrument was made to solve a problem, which then created another one.
Most of the instruments, now numbering 200 and originating from every country in the world and a range of periods, are housed in a hexagonal room. They include percussion, string, wind and of course the aforementioned keyboards. The collection has taken 20 years to amass.
Zami Ravid, Pianist and conductor at his piano
Ravid is very erudite. He once gave a weeklong lecture (a total of 54 hours) about music, which is obviously his love. But true love recognizes the weaknesses of the object of your affection. “Knowing the limitation of an instrument enables me to use it correctly and successfully. I recognize the frustrations of other people, who are trying to get from the piano what it cannot give. They want an instrument that does it all. Such an instrument doesn’t exist.”
Among the unusual pieces, one can see a Charango, an Argentinean string instrument made from the shell of an armadillo; a monochord, a 130-year-old French instrument which resembles a mutation of a piano and a violin; a Serpent, that looks more like a plumber’s tool than a musician’s; and a Cheng from China, which is reminiscent of a Thailandian headdress.This is by no means a hands-on exhibit, and Ravid is quick to caution, “Listen but don’t touch.” And listen you might, as the maestro plays the various instruments, illustrating both what they can and can’t do.
“When you know the imperfections of an instrument, you can deal with them,” says Ravid. “Chopin, Brahms and Tchaikovsky knew this. There is no perfect instrument, only an instrument perfect for a piece of music composed for it. The organ is the perfect instrument for Bach’s Toccata in D minor. The harpsichord is perfect for Scarlatti, and the piano for Chopin.” Ravid thinks it’s a tragedy that the piano has become the musical pass?-partout.
Ravid demonstrating a 130-year-old French instrument
The slow rural pace of Metullah fits the pace of this storyteller, whose own tempo is concurrently lento, largo and vivace – something even his instruments can’t do. He speaks with a certain worldly cynicism, with a well-accented humor, and although he has an answer for everything, it is rarely a direct one.
The private museum also serves as a concert and lecture hall. Ravid offers six fascinating programs, including one on music boxes and another on instruments of the Tanach. He claims that we can’t know what instruments are referred to in the Tanach, since the modern names don’t apply to the ancient instruments.
It is obvious that it takes numerous visits to the museum to even begin to tap Ravid’s vast knowledge. However, just one will definitely inject a positive note to your trip up north.Zami’s Music Box, located at 5 Mitzpe Hahula Street in Metullah, accommodates up to 30 people (40 in a crunch). The entrance fee is 65 NIS (approximately $17) per person. They can be reached by phone at 04-6997073 or via e-mail at Zami_ravid@surfree.net.il. Visit their website at http://zamiravid.com