Israel Portnoy and the Healing Power of Music

On a hot day, about a month after a forest fire engulfed the village he lived in, along with all his worldly possessions, minus only one, Israel Portnoy picked up the last object he owned (a vintage 12-string he calls “Guilda”) and began an incredible healing journey.

“Maybe I couldn’t bring myself to play her as I could sense some kind of survivor’s guilt syndrome,” Israel remembers. “Or perhaps it was because I was numb and struggling to deal with the loss of everything. The thought of trying to make music so soon after losing so much was sickening, honestly. I don’t know what was different about this particular day, but I decided to just pick her up and hear what she had to say…maybe for the first time in my life, just get out of the way of the instrument and let her speak.”

The healing power of music began to take effect immediately: “…this melody instantly fell out of her,” the artist continues. “I didn’t judge it. I didn’t ‘try’ to make something, and I didn’t dare sing over it. And just like that, I was alive again! Through the grace of Guilda (and some help from God), my creative juices were flowing again.”

Israel calls the resulting collection of songs Facing Flames Feat. Guilda. His solo debut, its 12 original songs (one for each string of his guitar) revolve around the theme of losing everything and starting life over.

Raised in the UK in a deeply religious and musical Jewish household, but being exposed to secular music outside the home while he was growing up, Israel felt he was always called to pursue music. His current folk-rock style grew out of his early exposure to radio during his trips to and from school. Absorbing those genres naturally led him also to the guitar, which, in turn, solidified his style: “The love of guitar kind of naturally ends up taking you to that place where folk and blues and country and rock all kind of meet. The instrument naturally gravitates to that place.”

Although Israel observes that, generally speaking, “12-string guitar isn’t necessarily the most friendly sound on every song,” the instrument remains a focal point of the album, lending its rich, expansive tone to all the strumming, picking, and melodic playing you’ll find throughout.

Check out Israel Portnoy’s website here. Listen to the full interview here.