Interview with Baladino's Yonnie Dror

We asked Yonnie Dror a few questions in advance of Baladino’s upcoming Arts Midwest World Fest tour. Learn about what Yonnie is looking forward to on this tour, why he loves making pasta, and how he got his start playing wind instruments.

What are you most looking forward to on this tour?

I’m looking forward to the unknown. I have done Arts Midwest World Fest tours for three consecutive years and each community that I have been to has some kind of unique story and experience. The experience usually starts with the wonderful people I meet and the privilege of sharing with them the musical culture I come from.

Whom do you typically perform for in Israel? What kind of venues do you perform in?

Personally, with all the projects and artists I collaborate with, I’m used to performing to an audience that could be anywhere from a few people in a fellow musician’s master’s degree recital to playing world music and rock in clubs, to performing with Israeli household name singers in front of crowds of hundreds and thousands.

What is your favorite meal to prepare in Israel?

I will have to say that I really love making pasta. To be more specific: pasta with olive oil, garlic, kalamata olives, special local dried tomatoes, and Mediterranean spices. I get all the ingredients from the famous (by Tel Aviv standards) Levinsky spice market, which is amazing and is in my neighborhood.

A big part of my menu is tahini. I make my own tahini paste that is made from raw tahini (sesame seed paste), adding to it some water, lemon, parsley, and a little garlic.

You play so many woodwind instruments. What was the first one and how did you get started?

I started playing the recorder when I was a kid in the third grade, and I was pretty awful. When I was about twelve years old I played for the first time a classical piece (by Handel) on flute to a small audience at my flute teacher’s house. Something in this musical experience was so powerful that it changed my life forever.

What do you want audiences to take away from your performances?

In most of my performances I play a variety of wind instruments that are very different from one another. Each one of them is a whole demanding world of its own, starting with the way you breathe into the instrument to the specific cultural style of the instrument. The goal is to switch effortlessly between the instruments and get a flow of lots of musical “colors.” But more important is the goal to have a musical and even personal chemistry and energy with the musicians you perform with. And the main goal is that all this variety of sounds and the energy between the musicians on stage reaches the audience for a great experience.

Do you have any superstitions or backstage rituals before you go on stage?

My God, no! (But if I play Duduk or Zurna I pray that the reeds will not malfunction.)

If you weren’t a musician, what would you want to be?

There are so many wonderful options, but music chose me, and I became a musician for the better or worse. It’s hard for me to imagine doing anything else. I admire (not necessarily in this order): authors, film directors, zoologists, sculptors, painters, street artists, chefs, inventors, innovators of all kinds, and great basketball players.

You have dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship. Can you sing both national anthems? Is it easy for you to move back and forth between the two countries and cultures?

Because I was born, raised, and lived most of my life in Israel, I’m more fluent with the words and associations of the Israeli anthem. I like the melody of the American one very much. It always moves me, and I especially like the open approach to performances of the anthem. I think Beyoncé singing the anthem in the Super Bowl of 2004 is an example of America’s greatness.

Ever since I was a kid I moved back and forth between the two countries. There are times when it can be a little difficult and there are times when I’m just looking forward and excited to be in one of them. I always miss my parents, friends, and food back in Israel, and each time I’m in America I realize how small and sometimes limited Israel is.

Yonnie plays the flute during a school workshop. Photo by Eric Young Smith.
Yonnie plays the flute during a school workshop. Photo by Eric Young Smith.

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