A Flute Now Silent

Hanoch Tel-Oren was born Charles Ehrenberg in Arkansas, in the small town of Pine Bluff, or Tel-Oren in Hebrew, which supplied the name he later chose for himself when immigrating to Israel.

Tel-Oren studied flute as a youngster, but World War II cut his studies short. He first served in the Merchant Marines and then in the U.S. Army. After he was discharged, he attended the Manhattan School of Music and Julliard, where he studied flute and was considered one of the most promising students. He was among the founders of the New York Woodwind Quintet, which is still active today. There he met Sharona Regelson, also a flautist, the daughter of Israeli writer Avraham Regelson ("The Dolls' Journey to Eretz-Israel," 1935), who became his wife and mother of seven of his children: Anava, Nadav, Nir, Adiel, Omri, Reviva (Vivi) and Corenet (Cory).

Under Sharona's influence, Hanoch became involved with the Young Guard movement and immigrated to Israel ahead of her in 1950. Sharona later found him at Kibbutz Messilot, happily working in the farmyard as part of a training program to join Kibbutz Barkai. She paled at the sight of the effect of manual labor on his beautiful fingers and declared that they would live on a kibbutz, but only as musicians.

After visiting many kibbutzim, they settled in Ma'aleh Hachamisha, after the kibbutz council agreed that the two could play in the Israel Radio Orchestra (now the Jerusalem Symphony - Broadcasting Authority Orchestra), and transfer their salaries to the kibbutz. Hanoch was the orchestra's principal flautist (and initially the only one) for 27 years. Haaretz's music critic Uri Epstein wrote that Tel-Oren "was blessed with a natural and developed sense of the beauty of sound."

Sharona also played in the orchestra, but fought long and hard before receiving tenure. She says that back then women were seldom accepted by the orchestra, especially women like her, who were constantly pregnant. Along with cellist Yitzhak Belsberger and pianist Nelly Ben-Or, the Tel-Orens founded the "Dalet Clei Shir" (Four Instruments) quartet, and Haaretz wrote that their music was "convincing, clearly borne of their visible pleasure in playing, a contagious pleasure that spreads to the listeners."

On March 11, 1978 the Tel-Oren family was on its way back from Amirim, near Haifa, when the bus in front of their car stopped, and a man got off and suddenly opened fire on them. It was the infamous bus that had been hijacked by Fatah terrorists in what would be known as the Coastal Road Massacre. Omri, 14 and a clarinetist in the Jerusalem Youth Orchestra, was killed by the gunfire. Hanoch was wounded in his right hand, but thanks to intensive therapy with Yohanan Ribrant, a top teacher of the Feldenkrais method, Tel-Oren was able to play again, a year later.

The Tel-Orens moved to Omer, where Hanoch gave recitals and taught at the Music Academy in Jerusalem and the Conservatory in Carmiel, raising generations of students who speak of him with admiration. One of these students, Haya Ofek, says that a meeting with Tel-Oren was a decisive event in a student's life and that a few of his students followed him each time he went to the United States (where he taught at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, at Ithaca College in New York and at the University of Texas in El Paso, where he lived until recently and where he remarried, to Terry, who bore him another son, Amiri).

Another student, Ra'anan Elon, says that Tel-Oren's playing was hypnotic, and embodied "extraordinary ingenuity." Elon tried to explain that the sound Tel-Oren produced was not the "typical round flute sound," but rather a sound unique to him, and which he bequeathed to his students.

On Saturday night, Israel Radio's music channel will broadcast a special program of pieces performed by Tel-Oren. One of these is the concerto for flute and orchestra by Norman Dello Joio, who studied alongside Tel-Oren at Julliard. Alexandra Melamed, the program's editor, says that at first the program was called "A Guest in the Studio," in the hope that Tel-Oren would be able to participate in it, but now it has become a program in his memory.