Harmony Beat

William Harvey's thoughts about cultural diplomacy and news about Cultures in Harmony, the non-profit he founded in 2005.

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Location: San Juan, Argentina

violinist, violist, educator, composer, conductor, arranger, cultural diplomat

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Iranian-American cultural diplomacy

It is great to see that Iran is engaging in cultural diplomacy by bringing jazz saxophonist Bob Belden and his group to play there, making them the first American musical group to tour Iran since the revolution. I hope they will be the first of many groups. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Video of Afghan song

This video is dedicated to the music and musicians of Afghanistan...to all who celebrate the beauty of traditional Afghan culture and its role in rebuilding this once-glorious nation. May Afghan culture flourish again in those places where it was destroyed!

American violinist William Harvey, who taught at Afghanistan National Institute of Music from 2010 to 2014, plays "Bia ke birim ba Mazar" in the ruins of Darulaman Palace—built during the 1920s and destroyed during the civil war of the 1990s—during a return visit to Kabul.

Friday, February 13, 2015

John-Edward Kelley

I am very sorry to learn of the passing from cancer of John-Edward Kelly, conductor of The Arcos Orchestra and one of the most extraordinary and unique mentors and friends I've had. To those who don't know him, one fact begins to illustrate how unusual he was: for a time, he was one of the world's foremost saxophonists who focused on Western classical music, until he decided to take as dramatic a career change as one could and become the conductor of a string orchestra with which I toured Europe in 2008 and 2010. What a keen ear he had, not just in rehearsal, but in selecting powerful and wrenching music by such under-appreciated masters as Anders Eliasson. The soul-searing, ear-bending pieces he found, primarily from the Nordic countries, epitomized the complex musician whose ideas remain with me as much as his personal warmth. He saw in me, as he saw in many of the musicians he found for his orchestra, a person with whose intellect he could engage. 

In his eccentric and hard-to-find political viewpoints, he reminded me of my dear brother Theodore Harvey, and indeed, both got along well at a New York dinner I arranged in 2010. John-Edward's principled opposition to democracy, unlike my brother's, was rooted in a suspicion of populism run amok that reminded me of the American founding father Light-horse Harry Lee. I remember John-Edward on a tour bus in Germany at night, refusing to allow the bus to move if the "monkey music" (some atrocious American pop song) was not turned off (I was secretly cheering for him). I remember him applying his pilot's knowledge of the aviation industry to help us make a connection on tour. For him, the concept of "backbone" was both literal and figurative: his posture, always perfect, and his adherence to what he knew to be right, unflagging (his ban on audible breathing while we were playing is something I still need to internalize). 

But above all, I remember knowing him at a time when I, like Jude the Obscure, was "in a chaos of principles—groping in the dark—acting by instinct and not after example." John-Edward became that example: a musician who programmed only the music that truly spoke to him, no matter how obscure; a proud American determined to think for himself and forge political beliefs that did not match those of any major party; a devoted father and husband; a witty but serious, stern but avuncular friend; and a reminder that one can forge a path in music and life without following the crowd. We all yearn to make a difference that transcends our life on earth. John-Edward, knowing that you existed has always made me feel less weird and less alone. Your passing does not change that, and never will.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Russian Embassy speech

I enjoyed performing with ANIM guest artists and faculty tonight at the Russian Embassy in Afghanistan. I gave the following speech before the performance:

My name is William Harvey, and I am professor emeritus of violin and conducting at ANIM. Some of you may remember me from the four years I lived and worked here.

Dr. Sarmast, ANIM’s Founder & director, could not be here tonight, and asked me to speak in his stead. When it comes to reasons why someone cannot attend a concert given by the faculty and guest artists of a music school one founded, Dr. Sarmast’s reason is pretty understandable.

On December 11, 2014, a suicide bomber blew himself up during a theater performance at the French Institute of Afghanistan. Our students, who were providing incidental music, were not hurt, but Dr. Sarmast was seriously injured and is in Australia receiving treatment for his injuries.

The Taliban selected their target very carefully: the theater performance directly criticized their use of suicide bombers. If they can be precise in their target selection, we can be precise in our response.

For every cultural event they attack, we can perform another one.

We can decline to use the word terrorist to describe them. We musicians stand before you tonight, well aware of what happened, prepared to do nothing more and nothing less than amuse you, delight you, and inspire you with our music, and we will not be terrorized. ANIM and music in Afghanistan are here to stay.

Tonight, we will play pieces by some of the greatest composers of Western classical music, composers whose works are studied by young Afghan students at ANIM’s campus not far from here. We’ll close tonight’s program with four famous and charming pieces by Russian masters, as a tribute to our kind and generous hosts.

We’d like to dedicate this concert to Dr. Sarmast, and I for one believe that the notes we sound here tonight will waft their way to Australia, where he is awaiting surgery to remove shrapnel from his head, shrapnel put there by an ideology that hears nothing worth saving in the strings of a rubab, and that recognizes nothing divine in the laughter of a young Afghan girl learning the sitar for the first time. 

We hope you enjoy this concert. More than that, we hope that the music and Dr. Sarmast’s fearless example inspire you to redouble your commitment to an Afghanistan that values its culture, educates its girls and boys, and lives in harmony with the world.

For your support of these goals: tashakor, manana, spasiba, and thank you.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Pakistan portion of Passacaglia Project complete

Last Thursday I flew from Islamabad to Kabul, thus completing the Pakistan portion of the Passacaglia Project and beginning the Afghanistan portion, which will see me work with students at Afghanistan National Institute of Music, where I taught violin from March 2010 to March 2014, to create their own passacaglias. 

In Pakistan, I enjoyed the honor of collaborating with musicians identified by IPAC from the four provinces of Pakistan: Akhtar Chanal, vocalist, Balochistan; Akbar Khamisu, alghoza (folk flute), Sindh; Ustad Zainullah, setar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; and Qurban Niazi, vocalist, Punjab. We were joined by expert musicians from Islamabad including Muhammad Ajmal, tabla, Salman Adil, bansuri (classical flute), Muhammad, dhol, and Mushtaq Ahmad, harmonium, to perform three concerts: at Kuch Khaas on February 1, at the Pehli Kiran School on February 2, and at Mashal Model School on February 2. The concert at Kuch Khaas attracted media coverage including this article in Dawn and this special report on BBC Urdu

The audience thoroughly enjoyed the Pakistani Passacaglia. In addition to the Passacaglia video, video was also posted on Facebook of a folk song from KPKThe benefit concert raised 22,100 rupees for Aware Girls, which is enough to fund one of their one-day workshops in which they educate domestic workers about their rights. 

As a gesture of respect, I had asked Akhtar, the Balochi folk singer and rapper (yes, there is an ancient and awesome tradition of Balochi folk rap that predates hip hop by countless centuries), to teach me a couplet I could repeat after him. He did, but warned me repeatedly to be careful about the pronunciation. You see, the second line says "Your eyes are beautiful like a deer." "Gadana" is the word for "deer." "Gandana" is the word for "my balls." You can guess which pronunciation I accidentally used in the nervousness of performance, with the result that any audience members fluent in Baloch heard me use what is probably the worst pick-up line ever created. 

The school concerts were a highlight of the project. Several hundred primary school children and their teachers attended both of the concerts on February 2. The children were very enthusiastic. “You won our hearts,” said the headmistress at the Pehli Kiran School. 

Before that concert, I noticed a small girl, her headscarf tightly wrapped around her face, with a big red sash reading HEAD GIRL. It was clearly a position of honor and responsibility. She kept track of other students and made sure they behaved. Immediately after the concert, she came up to me and stood next to me, a somber expression on her face. Unlike the other kids, she didn't want to try to speak to me in Urdu, or shake my hand, or try the violin, or take lots of pictures. Remembering what Malala Yousufzai said about how you can change the world with one book or one pen, I opened my violin case and picked out the very best pen I have. I pointed to her HEAD GIRL sash, said "Mubarak" (Congratulations), and gave her the pen. Her face lit up, and it was clear she understood that the foreigner was giving her the pen to congratulate her on her honor and urge her to keep going with school. She clutched the pen firmly, and when I was already in the van about to leave, she ran up to the closed window and said something in Urdu I could not have understood even if I could have heard it. The smile on her face when I gave her that pen is something no picture and no words could describe.

At the Mashal Model school, students from Afghanistan enjoyed connecting with me. I spoke Dari with them and added the Afghan folk song “Bia ke birim ba Mazar” to the program.

After the schools concerts, we stopped by the largest Sufi shrine near Islamabad. It is customary to buy a cauldron of rice to give to the shrine so that they can give it to the poor. I bought a giant cauldron for about $16. The cauldron didn't even make it to the shrine: impoverished people waiting on the street near the shrine took the rice away in small bags in a matter of seconds.

The video of me playing the Pakistani National Anthem at the site of the Salman Taseer assassination has gone viral. As of this writing, it has received 6,179 views, 147 likes, and 157 shares. The reaction was refreshingly positive. Umair Malik wrote: “Hey William bro im soo happy that people like u r present in the world. I felt so nice when u played the pak national anthen at the site of salman taseer's assassination. My prayers are always with u and stay happy.” Alexander Sufyan wrote “i never heard our own anthem being played so beautifully on violin..Also liked the show you did at Fm 101 channel of Radio Pakistan. God bless you sir.”

Near the end of the project, it was an honor to record with superstar singer Quratulain Balouch at Salman Albert's studio in Lahore. 

A big thank you to the US Embassy in Islamabad for funding the Pakistan portion of this project; to Susan and Glenn Pratt for sponsoring my participation; to IPAC, Aware Girls, and Kuch Khaas for their partnership; to the wonderful musicians of Pakistan with whom I collaborated; and above all, to my very good friend and host, CiH's unofficial coordinator in Pakistan, Junaid Malik, CEO of Raise D'Bar

Friday, January 30, 2015

Update the day before the big concert

Thursday evening, I enjoyed the opportunity to perform violin at the beautiful home of the Ambassador of Afghanistan to Pakistan. The audience included the ambassadors of Bangladesh, Nepal, Egypt, Bosnia & Herzevogina, Australia, Poland, the European Union, and Argentina. I improvised a musical medley in which I modulated from Lounga Reyot Elsonbaty (Egypt) to Waltzing Matilda (Australia) to Oblivion (Argentina) to Chopin's C-Sharp Minor Nocturne (Poland) to Bia ke Birim ba Mazar (Afghanistan). A second medley segued from Mor Tor Tillay Rana (Pakistan) to Bile them Cabbages Down (USA) to Bach's E Major Prelude (Bach was born in the defunct German duchy of Saxe-Eisenach, but let's say that his music is the heritage of all humanity).

I appreciated the opportunity to bring the invaluable work of the Peshawar-based NGO Aware Girls to the attention of these august personages. Sunday's concert here in Islamabad will benefit them.

Yesterday, the affable and engaging radio personality Rahim Khan interviewed me on FM 101. His on-air Facebook post about the interview quickly earned 40 likes and 19 comments, including the tongue-in-cheek remark that "We people like the music of bullets and bombs the most." I played music from Afghanistan and Pakistan, we chatted about Cultures in Harmony, and briefly discussed my video of the Pakistani National Anthem that I recorded on Tuesday at the site where Salman Taseer was assassinated. The video now has 4,990 views and 123 shares.

Later in the day, I was privileged to meet Uzair Khan, a member of parliament and great-grandson of HH the Nawab of Kalabagh, Amir Muhammad Khan. The evening ended with a wonderful moonlit dinner of spicy pickled chicken, mutton karahi, and hot roti with Aware Girls personnel at TDCP Hilltop, a stunning restaurant set amid the rolling hills near Murree, about an hour's drive from the capital.

I am up early this morning with jet lag, and look forward to a long day of rehearsals for Sunday's concert.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Article about work

Video of Pakistani national anthem dedicated to victims of extremism

Salman Taseer was assassinated right there,” my friend Junaid said, pointing to a tree a couple yards from the table in an outdoor cafe in Islamabad. A chill ran up my spine. Salman Taseer was the governor of Punjab province. After raising the idea of revisiting Pakistan’s blasphemy laws so that they would not be abused to target the innocent, his own bodyguard gunned him down. An idea occurred to me, a way to pay tribute to Mr. Taseer and to all the victims of extremism in Pakistan. 

“Could we record a video of me playing the Pakistani national anthem at this very spot?” I asked him. Cultures in Harmony recorded a well-received video of the national anthem during our first project here in 2009. Junaid agreed and got out his iPhone. A few waiters gathered to listen, and shook my hand afterwards.

In just one day, that new video was viewed 2,888 times and shared 84 times. The Pakistani community on Facebook has received it very well, with one young woman commenting, “Thank you for playing the Pakistani national anthem in Islamabad. You may not know me but i thoroughly appreciate what you did. With so much going on in Pakistan it is nice to see people like yourself do something commendable for us. We thoroughly appreciate it. You will always have a friend in us.” 

In the evening, Junaid and I went to The Hot Spot, Islamabad’s famous café built in a converted rail car. Colorful posters from D-list horror movies from Pakistan, India, and the US crowd the walls, alongside kitschy 1950s advertising images slyly revised with subversive feminist captions, like the one with a smiling housewife thinking, “Men have feelings too, I suppose. Who cares?” Particularly intriguing were the Pakistani horror movie poster of a woman in a blood-covered white burqa carrying a machine gun, looking ready to take on the world, and another poster showing a woman in a burqa carrying a mace and chain. I enjoyed the bagel melt with chicken and cheese, a carrot juice, and chocolate lava cake with ice cream.

We later headed to the home of a policeman for tea and conversation about the importance of preserving traditional musical culture. I look forward to doing just that when I play a concert with folk musicians from IPAC here in Islamabad this weekend.