At the end of World War II, Holocaust survivor Joseph Feingold was in a German displaced persons camp awaiting passage to America when he found a violin for sale in a local market. Joe’s Violin charts the 70-year journey of Feingold and this violin from postwar Europe to a middle school in the Bronx, where his donated instrument helps him forge an unlikely friendship with 12-year-old musician Brianna Perez. Through Feingold’s and Perez’s stories, the film explores the value of connecting across generations and the power of music to both heal and inspire. Nominated, 2017 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject.
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1. Music is found around the world in every known culture, and its significance, form and function vary based on the social context. Why do you think music is such a vital part of human culture? What roles does music play in your life? Has music ever helped you through a difficult time?
2. Joe’s Violin follows the story of Joseph Feingold a Holocaust survivor. Where have you encountered stories about the Holocaust before today? (Possible sources include books, movies, the news, school lessons, family stories.) What are three facts that you know about the Holocaust?
3. Studies show that the United States is becoming more age-segregated, which means that people in different age groups—such as teenagers and senior citizens—spend less time interacting with each other. What are the benefits of different generations building relationships with each other? What is the value of connecting with people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and what can we learn from Joseph’s story that might be applicable to Brianna’s life today?
REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1. What inspired radio station WQXR and the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation to collect instruments to donate to schools? Why do people involved in those organizations believe it is important for students to have music education? Why do you think Feingold donated his violin?
2. After World War II, Feingold was sent to a displaced persons camp near Frankfurt, Germany. Why did he choose to buy the violin during that difficult time rather than spending his limited money on something more practical? What role did music play in his life before the war? How did music help him after the war ended?
3. The students at the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls are all from new immigrant families and have diverse cultural backgrounds. The principal refers to the students in the school as “survivors.” What does she mean by that? Why are all the children at this school taught to play the violin? How do Brianna Perez and her classmates feel about the music program?
4. Perez’s classmate says Feingold’s violin “looks like a violin, but it’s way more.” What does she mean by that? How is the violin more than just a musical instrument for Feingold and Perez?
5. Although Feingold and Perez are from different generations and have had different life journeys, they are now part of the violin’s story. What else do they have in common? What experiences, interests and qualities do they share? How does each of them benefit from their new friendship?
Intergenerational Oral Histories
The field of social history emphasizes the lived experience of people who experiences global events. Using Joe’s Violin as inspiration, identify older members of your community to interview and record their oral histories. Be sure to prepare your questions in advance. (For example: What was it like to grow up in—or migrate to—this community? What has changed? How do you feel about the community today?) Compare and contrast the opportunities and challenges youth experienced then and now. Organize a community exhibit where you can share your interviews along with photographs and meaningful objects loaned to you by your interview subjects. If possible, connect with a local historical society and ask it to include your projects in its historical archives.
The Story of an Object
What contributes to the meaning of an object? Can an object’s significance change over time? As Joe’s Violin demonstrates, sometimes an object can transcend its original purpose through its connection with the people who use it. For this activity, select a significant object to investigate. It can be an object that you own, or you can request an object from an older relative or community member. Research the object’s history, including how and where it was made and how it came into the owner’s possession. (Did they buy it at a store? Was it a gift? Was it passed down through their family?) You can also compare the object’s original purpose with the way it is currently used and explore how and why it became significant to its current owner. Use your research to create an illustrated timeline of the object’s history; write an “autobiography” from the object’s perspective; or develop a multimedia slideshow that reveals the hidden story of the object.
Music for Change
Select an example of today’s music that reflects social issues. Why is the song personally significant to you? Analyze the chosen song’s lyrics—either orally or in writing—and discuss examples of lyrics that illustrate messages with your group: How well do the artists communicate their messages? Who is the intended audience? Would the impact of this message be as effective—or more effective—in other forms of media, such as a speech or a movie? Can music contribute to positive social change in the same way as other media? What examples can you give?
Organize into small groups to brainstorm and identify issues that are meaningful to you. (Issues might include bullying, discrimination, neighborhood safety, drug use, and environmentalism.) Once you have selected a topic, collaborate on lyrics for your own song about it. Be sure to consider your audience and select a genre, language and imagery that will appeal to that community of listeners. Present your lyrics as part of a community performance in the form of a spoken word poem or a song. You can also record your song digitally using live instruments and/or computer-generated beats.
The film’s official POV site includes a discussion guide with additional activity ideas and resources.
The film’s official website provides information on the film and filmmakers.
This list of questions provides a useful starting point for leading rich discussions that challenge students to think critically about documentaries.
This organization develops and shares educational and teacher training materials on prejudices and injustice in American and European society, with a focus on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.
The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation donates musical instruments to music programs whose students have access to music curricula but lack the resources to compensate for equipment loss due to attrition, depreciation and wear over time.
NAfME is a national arts organization that provides music education resources for teachers, parents, and administrators.