Since childhood, Ben Gown’s two greatest interests were music and soccer. A few years after graduating from NYU’s Gallatin School, where he studied Jewish and Brazilian studies, Ben decided to spend a year in Israel at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music pursuing both his passions.
"Soccer and music are both international languages," Ben says. "You can take them around the world and study different cultures with them. You can learn a lot about people from the way they perform music and play soccer."
Though Israeli soccer games did not appeal to Ben, he was pleased that the Rimon School enabled him to focus intensely on his music. At Rimon, Ben collaborated with other talented musicians from around the world, including his Ecuadorian roommate, who played the saxophone; he met Israeli artists like Idan Raichel, who recommended a good accordion teacher in Israel.
Ben first began playing the accordion during his college year abroad in Brazil. In a place that lacked much Jewish life, the accordion provided Ben with a Jewish conduit. Noting its pervasiveness in klezmer music, Ben says that "the accordion is a Jewish instrument. When I began playing the accordion, I started getting back into Judaism. It helped me build bridges."
In Israel, Ben found venues and communities where he could play his accordion to the tunes of his favored musical genres—Brazilian, klezmer and folk. In addition to performing at various celebrations in Jerusalem and a folk dance group at Hebrew University, Ben also played Brazilian forro music with Alon, a fellow Rimon student.
“One day I was sitting in Hayarkon Park and I heard a samba beat,” says Ben. "The man playing told me about Alon. A few weeks later, I was playing my accordion at Rimon and I overhead another guy say, 'I love samba music.' Turns out the guy is Alon and he has Brazilian flags all over his house." After that, Ben was introduced to an Israeli samba band that used Hebrew lyrics, a choro band, and Brazilian musicians in Israel.
Back in Seattle, his hometown, Ben plays with a klezmer group called Sasson, which combines traditional klezmer music with salsa and samba music. He also plays with a Brazilian group and teaches music at a pre-school.
"The thing about music is that if you can play really beautifully, and if you put love into your music, it's something that everyone can feel," Ben says. "Playing Jewish music this way allows people to feel the beauty in Judaism, and to focus beyond the sad things they may read in the news."