Chicago Musician Travels to Mideast, Plays in Israel, West Bank

The leader of a small suburban village near Chicago made his name as a small town politician and big city prosecutor.  Little did his constituents know that by the time he had entered college, nearly two decades earlier, Mark Damisch was an accomplished pianist.

After Damisch revived his musical career nearly a decade ago, he began playing for audiences around the world to raise awareness of worthy issues.  This week [August 4th to August 9th], the man known as the "musical mayor" is in the Middle East, playing for peace.

VOA's Kane Farabaugh has the story in the latest in our series:  Making a Difference.

People around the northern suburbs of Chicago might recognize Mark Damisch as the former village president, or mayor, of Northbrook -- or as the successful former prosecutor who, along with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, aggressively pursued corrupt police officers in the 1980s.

In between cases as an attorney at a downtown Chicago law firm, Damisch ran for but lost an election for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000.

But few people knew at the time he was also once a professional pianist.

"I was never going to be a quarterback on the football team or the starting pitcher on a baseball team," Damisch said. "But I found that I could find myself through playing the piano."
In the early 1980's, Damisch quietly put away his music and pursued a more practical career.

The Musical Mayor, performing for peace
As the new millennium approached, Damisch looked at the piano that had gathered dust for almost two decades, and began playing professionally again.

"In the year 2000, I did 12 concerts between here and western Europe, and that's grown to where last year I did eighty concerts in 120 days," he recalls.

He is known now at home as the "Musical Mayor."

He has performed as far away as China, where he has used music to raise money for causes such as the Red Cross.  Now, Damisch has taken on the role of musical ambassador in the conflict-torn Middle East.

"It's more important, I think, for artists to go over there and perform now than maybe at any time in the history of the world," Damisch said.

Damisch chose Beethoven's Appassionato Sonata for a reason. "To me, everything about the Middle East is passion," he said. "It's my land. It's your land.   It's my home.  It's your home -- my religion, your religion and the Appassionato Sonata is all about Beethoven's passion at a time when he realized he was about to lose his hearing."

Damisch admits that there is only so much a musician can do to encourage peace.  He says he hopes that by traveling to places not often visited by artists, he can in some small way draw attention to the issues at stake.

"The point is to go and play in places where they need people to reach out and to reach across the divide," Damisch said.

He encounters a region engulfed conflict for at least three quarters of a century, with a peace process that, once again, is in tatters.

Mark Damisch, a mayor, a prosecutor, a lawyer and, once again, a pianist says he hopes as an artist he can make a difference.

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