How Alice Herz-Sommer, the Oldest Holocaust Survivor, Survived the Horrific Ordeal with Music

What you’re watch­ing is the trail­er for the doc­u­men­tary Alice Danc­ing Under the Gal­lows by Nick Reed, to be released lat­er this year. At 110, Alice Herz-Som­mer is the old­est Holo­caust sur­vivor. Her sto­ry is both touch­ing and inspir­ing.

Alice was born in Prague — then part of the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­i­an Empire — in 1903. She start­ed play­ing the piano as a child and took lessons with Con­rad Ansorge, a stu­dent of Liszt. At 16, she attend­ed the mas­ter class at Prague’s pres­ti­gious Ger­man musi­cal acad­e­my. Lat­er, Alice became a respect­ed con­cert pianist in Prague. Through her fam­i­ly, she also knew Franz Kaf­ka. All of this changed when the Nazis occu­pied Czecho­slo­va­kia in March 1939. Along with oth­er Jews liv­ing in Prague, Alice was ini­tial­ly forced to live in Prague’s ghet­to before being deport­ed to the There­sien­stadt con­cen­tra­tion camp in 1943, along with her five-year-old son Raphael. Even­tu­al­ly her whole fam­i­ly, includ­ing her hus­band, cel­list Leopold Som­mer, and her moth­er, were sent to Auschwitz, Tre­blin­ka and Dachau, where they were killed.

Alice and her son sur­vived There­sien­stadt because the Nazis used this par­tic­u­lar con­cen­tra­tion camp to show the world how “well” the inmates were treat­ed. A pro­pa­gan­da film by the Nazis was shot and a del­e­ga­tion from the Dan­ish and Inter­na­tion­al Red Cross was shown around in 1943. To boost morale, Alice and many oth­er impris­oned musi­cians reg­u­lar­ly per­formed for the inmates. Despite the unimag­in­able liv­ing con­di­tions, Alice and her son sur­vived. They moved to Israel after the war, where she taught music. In 1986, she moved to Lon­don, where she still lives. Her son died in 2001 (obit­u­ary here).

The way Alice dealt with those hor­ri­ble times is par­tic­u­lar­ly inspir­ing. She says about the role of music: “I felt that this is the only thing which helps me to have hope … it’s a sort of reli­gion actu­al­ly. Music is … is God. In dif­fi­cult times you feel it, espe­cial­ly when you are suf­fer­ing.” When asked by Ger­man jour­nal­ists if she hat­ed Ger­mans, she replied: “I nev­er hate, and I will nev­er hate. Hatred brings only hatred.”

Extra mate­r­i­al: Art Ther­a­py Blog has a tran­script of the trail­er, mem­o­rable quotes by Alice and two BBC Radio inter­views with her. Alice’s life sto­ry is told in the book A Gar­den of Eden in Hell.

By pro­fes­sion, Matthias Rasch­er teach­es Eng­lish and His­to­ry at a High School in north­ern Bavaria, Ger­many. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twit­ter.

David Byrne: How Architecture Helped Music Evolve

Since the break-up of Talk­ing Heads in 1991, David Byrne has made a good career for him­self as a solo artist, work­ing in film and music, and also becom­ing an active sup­port­er of cycling. Overt­ly intel­lec­tu­al, Byrne has giv­en lec­tures on a great vari­ety of top­ics – from Carl Jung to the ways in which venue and con­text shape artis­tic cre­ation.

The TED talk above was giv­en in Feb­ru­ary 2010 in Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, and here David Byrne presents his ideas on the inter­re­la­tion­ship between music and archi­tec­ture. A tran­script of this talk can be found on the TED Talks page.

Byrne was not the first to explain the link between music and archi­tec­ture. In 2002, renowned archi­tect Daniel Libe­skind deliv­ered a Proms Lec­ture on that very top­ic (find the audio stream here) and, in 2007, Jonathan Cole pre­sent­ed his own lec­ture, “Music and Archi­tec­ture: Con­fronting the Bound­aries between Space and Sound,” at Gre­sham Col­lege, Lon­don. But it is Byrne’s talk that approach­es the sub­ject from the prac­ti­cal point of view of a musi­cian.

By pro­fes­sion, Matthias Rasch­er teach­es Eng­lish and His­to­ry at a High School in north­ern Bavaria, Ger­many. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twit­ter.

Everything Is Rhythm

“Foli” is the word used for rhythm by the Malinke tribe in West Africa. But Foli is not only found in Malinke music, but in all parts of their dai­ly lives. Direct­ed by Thomas Roe­bers, this short film por­trays the peo­ple of Baro, a small town in east­ern-cen­tral Guinea, and gives you a glimpse inside their cul­ture of rhythm. As the Malinke man says, “Tous les choses, c’est du rythme.” (“Every­thing is rhythm.”) What makes this film even more beau­ti­ful is the fact that it was edit­ed so as to reflect Malinke rhythms.

By pro­fes­sion, Matthias Rasch­er teach­es Eng­lish and His­to­ry at a High School in north­ern Bavaria, Ger­many. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twit­ter.

Daniel Levitin Shows How Musicians Communicate Emotion

Daniel J. Lev­itin, author of the best-sell­ing books This Is Your Brain On Music and The World In Six Songs, is James McGill Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chol­o­gy and Behav­ioral Neu­ro­science at McGill Uni­ver­si­ty in Mon­tre­al. Lev­it­in’s most recent study tries to explain how musi­cians com­mu­ni­cate emo­tion by manip­u­lat­ing the “expres­sion” of a musi­cal piece. His research shows that vari­a­tions in the tim­ing of a per­for­mance have an even greater emo­tion­al impact than do vari­a­tions in the loud­ness of play­ing. “The skilled pianist has learned to com­mu­ni­cate musi­cal emo­tion pri­mar­i­ly by mak­ing some notes longer and some short­er, some loud­er and some soft­er – just like we do in nor­mal con­ver­sa­tion.”

Don’t miss the sec­ond part of the video here.

By pro­fes­sion, Matthias Rasch­er teach­es Eng­lish and His­to­ry at a High School in north­ern Bavaria, Ger­many. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twit­ter.

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