A few fortunate second- and third-grade classes at Miami Springs Elementary were recently treated to a special cross-cultural music performance and hands-on workshop by musician and composer Joe Zeytoonian and dancer and percussionist Myriam Eli. Zeytoonian and Eli form the band Harmonic Motion.
The connection between Miami Springs Elementary School and Harmonic Motion came via HistoryMiami, which has been engaged with folklife art and traditions in our community for more than 25 years. HistoryMiami, formerly known as the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, is a museum located in Miami specializing in the history of southeastern Florida, including Greater Miami, the Florida Keys, and the Everglades. Their program enables schools to bring artistic traditions directly into the classrooms for live performances and workshops.
Zeytoonian and Eli brought their eclectic instruments along with their passion and enthusiasm to the classroom. Their time together began as the children were taught where the rhythms originated from, as Zeytoonian sketched a map on the board.
“Music was always present in my formative years,” said Zeytoonian. “Thanks to my parents, my connection to all music from that huge region of the Middle East and North Africa remains a constant in my life.”
Miami Springs Elementary teacher Nilda Serrano’s students were one of the two classes that were chosen to participate. “We’re covering a lot of this in social studies right now,” said Serrano.
The pair demonstrated the unique instruments and introduced the children to what the instruments are called in the Arabic world — instruments like the dumbek, the riqq, the bendir, the zills, and the oud.
Many of the students in attendance actually play instruments such as the violin as part of the music program at the school. The oud, a classroom favorite, is a pear-shaped string instrument that requires the same technique as members of the violin family.
Zeytoonian and Eli taught the children the basics of the dumbek, through clapping their hands. “We call it the skeletal version; the foundation of which all the embellishments are based on,” explained Zeytoonian. “If you can’t do it slow, you can’t do it fast.”
What the children may not have known was that the duo before them have a very rich history and long resume in the music industry. Both recorded for Estefan Enterprises and Sony Music with Latin pop stars Gloria Estefan and Shakira. Over the years, both have collected a long list of awards.
The pair regularly participate in workshops and performances of Middle Eastern, Armenian and North African music and dance, as well as collaborations with jazz, avant-garde, modern, improvisational, flamenco, Indian, Balkan, African, Afro-Cuban, Sephardic, and other forms.
Harmonic Motion have performed in concerts throughout Florida in many theaters, festivals, universities, colleges, radio and television, in addition to touring the United States, Latin America, Japan and Europe, including Turkey.
The highlight of the day came toward the end of the presentation. Zeytoonian and Eli circled the classroom and made sure that every child was able to play a few beats. “My favorite part was when I got to play the dumbek,” said Miami Springs student Luis Luna.