If you go
WHAT: Ayala Asherov presents new songs (in English)
WHEN: 8 p.m. Feb. 3
WHERE: Simons Center Recital Hall, College of Charleston, 54 St. Philip St.
COST: $10 at the door; free for College of Charleston students with ID
MORE INFO: http://music.cofc.edu/concerts/index.php
WHAT: Magnetic South concert: Carolina Connection II
WHEN: 8 p.m. March 21
WHERE: Simons Center Recital Hall, College of Charleston, 54 St. Philip St.
COST: $25; $10 for students with ID
MORE INFO: http://music.cofc.edu/concerts/magnetic-south/index.php
There really was no escape.
Ayala Asherov-Kalus, born into an artistic Israeli family, endowed with certain musical gifts, tasked with forging her own path in life, has ended up in Charleston, writing songs in Hebrew and English and, increasingly, composing chamber music for classical ensembles.
She got to this point in a roundabout way, and while the particulars of her journey might not have been inevitable, it is evident she is doing what she was meant to do.
Asherov, 45, grew up by the stage. Her famous parents, Misha Asherov and Dalia Friedland, were active in the Habima National Theater in Tel Aviv. They were part of the country's cultural elite: secular, liberal intellectuals who helped forge Israeli culture. Her maternal grandparents, also actors, helped found the National Theater.
Ayala Asherov, born the year after Israel annexed the West Bank and Gaza Stip, never was much interested in the mechanics of politics. Matters of the mind and heart took precedence, she said. These she expressed through music.
From 1989-91, Asherov was a television D.J., introducing music to viewers and providing the requisite banter. It exposed her to the young generation and gained her a degree of national fame.
Not long before Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, Asherov wrote a song called "Leorech Hayam" ("Along the Sea"). It's a song about death and loss: "Tell me how to stop the tears, tell me where there's another world to live in ..."
The popular Israeli singer Ofra Haza made the song her own, and performed it at the memorial service for Rabin. "It became extremely popular," Asherov said, "almost like an anthem." And when Haza died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 2000, the song again became prominent, this time representing and memorializing the singer.
Asherov has written dozens of songs, mostly in Hebrew, and recorded many of them. She might not be as famous as her parents, but in Israel, she is certainly known.
Asherov's talents are being put to use in Charleston now. She was invited by College of Charleston composition professor Yiorgos Vassilandonakis to write a piece for chamber orchestra, to be performed at the March 21 Magnetic South program.
Magnetic South concerts feature contemporary classical music, organized by the college's music department and led by Vassilandonakis.
Asherov will premiere a new piece called "Bereshit" ("In the beginning"), a musical rendering of the first portion of Genesis in which God creates the world and mankind. For her, a secular Jew, the piece is about the creative process, not religion.
Writing it gives her a welcome break from creating pop songs, she said. "I think I get bored fast." So she bounces between genres, producing music for theater, dance, film and the concert hall.
"When you write with words, your kishkas are so out there," she said, using Yiddish slang for guts. Songwriting emanates from her soul, instrumental writing comes primarily from the mind, so alternating between the two forms provides both relief and satisfaction, she said.
Her musical journey might have taken her far from home, but it has opened horizons, she said.
"I had to come all the way to Charleston to not be the daughter of Misha Asherov," she said. "Not a lot of artists ended where they started. There's something about exile. I think I live very strongly ... because of this longing for homeland."
In Charleston, Asherov's interest in music education has found expression in the form of a pilot project organized by Communities in Schools of the Charleston Area. She will be working with students at Burns Elementary this semester on a music appreciation exercise: The kids will write stories and Asherov will set the tales (or poems, lyrics, etc.) to music, showing how a score can enhance the meaning of the words.
The initiative, funded by the Addlestone Foundation, is called "Music Tells a Story." It will include musical examples, such as Prokoviev's "Peter and the Wolf" and various film scores, and culminate with a performance.
Cathy Werner, director of development for Communities in Schools, said Asherov proposed the idea a year ago.
"She's very high energy," Werner said. "She's a dear, dear person, so committed to what she's doing."
Melding words and music comes naturally to Asherov. Her songwriting is clear evidence, but even her instrumental pieces tend to be programmatic, meaning they're based on a text.
"It was a no-brainer that music education is invaluable for students, and particularly students in underserved schools," Werner said. "We try to make sure that basic needs are met, and access to field trips. ... But music is really peripheral. (Students) really don't have much access. So it was definitely a direction we wanted to go."
If the experimental collaboration works well, and more funding can be secured, Communities in Schools could expand the program, she said.
Asherov came to the U.S. in 1994 to study songwriting and composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. "I realized I didn't know anything," she said. Music is an endless pit filled with quicksand; it pulls you in and doesn't let you go, Asherov said. The deeper you sink, the more you discover.
Her interest in program music led her to expand her studies to include film scoring at the University of North Carolina-Winston Salem, where she earned a master's degree.
In 1999, she returned to Israel, but didn't stay long. She had met Ram Kalus, a plastic surgeon then based in Columbia with ties to Israel (his father, Hy Kalus, was a respected theater director who worked with Asherov's parents at the National Theater).
In 2000, the couple married. Ayala Asherov settled in Columbia where she discovered chamber music and collaborated with University of South Carolina composer Dick Goodwin. They wrote a piece called "Porcupine Saves the Dance," set to a story by Jenny Maxwell. That led to the writing of other chamber music scores.
Each year in January, Asherov and Kalus and their twin boys Ron and Daniel, would spend some time at the beach on the Isle of Palms. They liked Charleston's natural and cultural offerings, so they decided to move. In 2009, Kalus set up a satellite office in the Lowcountry to help ease the transition. It was risky, Asherov said. His patients were in Columbia; he would have to start over.
Asherov, who had worked with fourth-graders in Columbia, brought her educational ambitions with her to Charleston. "I feel like I'm on a mission," She said.
She also worked up a set of her Hebrew-language songs, performing them during the last Piccolo Spoleto Festival. Now she's preparing a new set of songs, this time in English, to be performed Feb. 3 at the Simons Center Recital Hall at the College of Charleston.
A few years ago, those courses in film scoring came in handy. Asherov worked with Betsy Newman, producer of the "Carolina Stories" series at SCETV, on the documentary "The Baruchs of Hobcaw."
Newman and Asherov collaborated for more than six months. "It was a wonderful experience," Newman said. "I had never really worked that way with a musician, or composer, before. She'd write something, we'd try it out. She was always open to making revisions."
Baruch, who made his fortune on Wall Street, was born into a prominent Jewish family, married an Episcopalian and made Hobcaw Barony in Georgetown County a destination for the glitterati of the early 20th century. The film told the story of Baruch and his daughter, Belle, and about this extraordinary property, a former rice plantation that Baruch used as a hunting retreat and that Belle Baruch secured as a wildlife refuge.
"(Asherov) approached it from the point of view that the music should be European and have a classical foundation because of his Jewish-European roots," Newman said. "That was the jumping-off point you might say."
In September, Asherov started teaching a course in songwriting at the college. Her addition as adjunct faculty was part of a strategy to extend the reach of the music program, according to former department chairman Steve Rosenberg.
Vassilandonakis and current chairman Edward Hart are effective teachers of classical composition, Rosenberg said.
The discipline of songwriting, instead, offers a new opportunity to students majoring in music and others with only an ancillary interest in music.
Asherov, "idealistic" and "devoted," energizes students, Rosenberg said. The classroom experience clearly energizes her, too, he added. And her classical music interests make her particularly well-suited to the task.
"She can straddle both worlds very nicely," he said, contextualizing Asherov among a new generation of composers who are breaking down barriers between genres. "I think that she has something to say in that direction."
Last year, Asherov worked with violinist Yuriy Bekker, concertmaster of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, on a short film called "Pencil Point." The film, which she directed and wrote, employed animation by Out of Our Minds Studios and music composed by Asherov and played by the College of Charleston orchestra, conducted by Bekker.
"Having collaborated with Ayala on numerous occasions, I found her to be a very talented composer and expressive musician," Bekker wrote in an email. "Her music is beautiful, imaginative, very fluid and even whimsical at times."
The new piece for the Magnetic South concert, "Bereshit," isn't whimsical. It's a serious rendering of creation scored for woodwinds, strings and percussion. Its style might be classified as neo-Romantic. Asherov likes to write clear melodies, but she plays with the dramatic possibilities of dissonance and dynamics.
Hidden between the notes is a distinguishable hint of motion, of travel, of progress. The music forges ahead leaving but memories in its wake.
In this sense it is similar to her pop music, also imbued with nostalgia. And it describes Asherov's exiled condition: She is reconciled to being the outsider, even happy about it. Missing home is her muse.
"It's different to really miss something than to really need it."
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902. Follow him at www.facebook/aparkerwriter.
A detail of Ayala Asherov’s new piece, “Bereshit,” a musical rendering of the first chapters of Genesis. The piece will be performed by chamber orchestra at the Magnetic South concert March 21.×
Ayala Asherov and her mother Dalia Friedland, a prominent theater actress in Israel who now lives with her daughter in Charleston.×