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Musician Turns Pet Portraits Into ‘Sympawnies’ to Honor the Memory of Furry Friends

A skilled musician is channeling his talent and lifelong love for animals into a unique profession, turning animal portraits into one-of-a-kind symphonies to honor beloved pets.

Jerusalem-based musician and animal lover Noam Oxman, 31, grew up in the small village of Yuvalim in northern Israel. He and his wife, Leehe, have rescued three street cats: 8-year-old “momma’s boy” O’Malley, 6-year-old “fluffy cushion” Michael, and 7-year-old feline who “runs the house” Mazie. And these cats became the inspiration for Oxman’s very first “sympawnies.”

Oxman made his first attempt in early 2021 and was thrilled when a drawing of Mazie on musical staves translated into a pretty song. A true animal lover, he is using his platform as an artist to spread his message of respect and compassion toward all animals and nature, and at least 20 percent of Sympawnies’ profits go toward caring for over 100 stray cats in his neighborhood.

Epoch Times Photo
Noam Oxman. (Courtesy of Noam Oxman/@sympawnies/Sympawnies)
Epoch Times Photo
Oxman with Mazie’s first “sympawny.” (Courtesy of Noam Oxman/@sympawnies/Sympawnies)

Listen to the Sympawny No. 1 – Mazie:

(Courtesy of Noam Oxman/@sympawnies/Sympawnies)

Oxman told The Epoch Times that as a musician who can also “draw a little bit,” he thought of several different ideas on how to create pet portraits using his specific skills.

“I came up with several [ideas], including a portrait made of a spectrogram,” he said. “But there was one thing that popped into my head and inspired me to eventually create portraits made of stylized notes: Bach’s handwriting. Bach wrote music almost as if he was drawing.”

Oxman went public with Sympawnies on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube and commissions came rolling in.

Epoch Times Photo
Oxman with his three rescued cats: O’Malley, Mazie, and Michael. (Courtesy of Noam Oxman/@sympawnies/Sympawnies)
Epoch Times Photo
Michael the cat and his “sympawny” portrait. (Courtesy of Noam Oxman/@sympawnies/Sympawnies)

Listen to Michael’s “sympawny”:

(Courtesy of Noam Oxman/@sympawnies/Sympawnies)

O’Malley the cat’s “sympawny”:

(Courtesy of Noam Oxman/@sympawnies/Sympawnies)

The portraits’ formats vary depending on the size and details, therefore, Oxman has a “slightly different” approach for each type of format.

“However, they all start pretty much with the same preparation process,” he said. “I read about the portrait’s subject in the description that my clients send me, look at the subject’s images, and try to get inspired before I make some decisions that will determine some significant aspects of the piece, such as the instrumentation, the tempo, and the musical style.”

Usually, Oxman begins by drawing a pet portrait with “almost completely random notes” and a general time signature or texture. Next, he translates these random notes onto his piano and into the scoring software Sibelius and moves them around to form coherent music. Small-, medium-, and large-scale pieces can be written for solo piano or a multi-instrument ensemble.

Epoch Times Photo
Oxman with Michael the cat. (Courtesy of Noam Oxman/@sympawnies/Sympawnies)
Epoch Times Photo
Oxman’s clients’ beloved pet compositions. (Courtesy of Noam Oxman/@sympawnies/Sympawnies)

“When working on my ensemble pieces, I love to use randomness to my advantage. It generates unexpected musical elements that I wouldn’t have come to otherwise,” Oxman said. “Randomness can be a very powerful creative tool in music and art in general.”

However, when working on small-scale pet silhouettes and large-scale pieces for solo piano, Oxman prefers to compose while drawing, since, in these cases, randomness is “too messy.”

“I am a pianist,” he said. “I sit at the piano and advance slowly from bar to bar, making sure every note fits both the image and the music.”

A commission can take between two days and two months, depending on its size and complexity, and Oxman works on several at once. Sometimes the music comes easily, sometimes he struggles to find the right notes, and a pet with “long, curly fur” can make the music complicated—but Oxman’s clients are always happy with the result.

Epoch Times Photo
Oxman with his compositions inspired by his cats Michael and Mazie. (Courtesy of Noam Oxman/@sympawnies/Sympawnies)

“That, of course, brings me much joy,” the artist said. “Some of my clients express deep emotions when seeing and hearing their piece for the first time, especially when the piece is for a deceased best friend. One of the comments I will never forget was when a lady who commissioned a piece in memory of her deceased dog told me that she felt like I brought him back home to her.”

Making music has always been second nature to Oxman, who learned harmonica and piano and constantly played with intervals and harmonies as a child. Inspired by jazz, he began transcribing the melodies in his head onto piano at the age of 11 and learned the rules of composition with his teacher. He went on to study composition and music theory at the Jerusalem Academy of Dance and Music.

Today, Oxman’s “sympawnies” are technically coherent pieces of music that also capture his subjects’ personality traits. He has created song portraits for cats and dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, a snake, a badger, a wolf, a horse, and an ox for a fundraiser against bullfighting in collaboration with ANADEL Spain.

While Oxman tries to make each new song his “best so far,” he counts his favorites as his first five compositions that were written for his own three cats and his father-in-law’s two dogs, all of whom are still alive.

Epoch Times Photo
Oxman with his father-in-law’s dog, Lola the little Corgi mix. (Courtesy of Noam Oxman/@sympawnies/Sympawnies)

Listen to Lola’s sympawny:

(Courtesy of Noam Oxman/@sympawnies/Sympawnies)

“Seeing the huge amount of interest people from all over the world have in my art made me realize that my ideas and emotions pass through my art, and that other people are able to relate to it,” he said. “I’m 100 percent emotionally involved in my work, because I love animals more than anything else!”

Oxman and his wife have named every single stray cat in the area and are committed to their welfare.

“Every night for the last seven to eight years, we go out for an hour-long trip where we make sure every one of the cats in about seven different locations gets his/her meal of dry and wet cat food,” Oxman said. “Over the years, we spayed and neutered all of them, and when new cats arrive in our area we trap and neuter them as well. When a cat gets sick or hurt, we take them to the vet, all on our expenses, and that takes a big budget.

“[Sympawnies] is a realization of some of my dreams as a musician/artist, and generally as a human,” he said.

Enjoy listening to some more “sympawnies” of his clients’ beloved pets:

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