Harmony Beat

Violinist from Indiana traveling to all 50 states in 2016, asking: "What is American culture?"

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Location: Indianapolis, IN, United States

violinist, violist, teacher, composer, conductor, writer, cultural diplomat, traveler

Monday, June 27, 2016

What is American culture in Illinois?

The Illinois week (June 19 to 26) of Cultures in Harmony's "What is American culture?" project included stays in both Chicago and Champaign-Urbana.




In Chicago, I focused on planning an event celebrating the halfway point of the project on June 23 at Jerry's Sandwiches that involved collaborations with jazz singer Sarah Marie Young, dancer Lanita Joseph, DJ Lauren Koors, flutist and Classical Revolution director Allie Deaver-Petchenik, and pianist Steven Ayers. With Steve, I performed George Antheil's Sonata; on my own, I played Augusta Read Thomas' "Pulsar," and the composer herself attended. Cultures in Harmony's Facebook page live streamed the event; check out the video here.

Earlier on that same day, Steve Ayers and I played a live broadcast on "Impromptu" on WFMT, hosted by Steve Robinson. We performed violin-piano works by Philip Glass, Lera Auerbach, and Reena Esmail; I also performed "Pulsar." The broadcast will soon be released as a podcast.

With world-renowned composers Augusta Read Thomas & Bernard Rands

Champaign-Urbana

On the weekend I spent in these twin cities in the center of the state, I did and observed a lot to show how people define and express American culture there.

Earlier today, I performed American music by George Walker, David Baker, Augusta Read Thomas, Lera Auerbach, and myself at the Urbana Free Library; pianist Stephen Levey Larson joined me for the Baker and Auerbach. I led a discussion with the two dozen attendees, who ranged in age from toddlers to senior citizens, about the many different ways to define American culture. One woman succinctly and paradoxically defined it as "inclusion with exclusion." A 6-year-old boy and aspiring musician named Ethan insisted that I play John Williams; since Mr. Williams is indeed American, I improvised a medley of the main title themes from Star Wars & Indiana Jones that Ethan found delightful.

Champaign's Friday Night Live featured performances on the streets of Champaign by local bands:



On Saturdays, Urbana's excellent Farmer's Market also features live music, such as Man the Still, a very fine bluegrass group that uses cello instead of bass:



As if this weren't enough live music (and one can never have enough music), this weekend also so Urbana host the Blues, Brews, and BBQ festival, including such crowd-pleasing acts as Slam Allen:



Finally, I attended the Station Theatre's entertaining production of Leaving Iowa: here is my review.

Thank You

In Chicago, thank you to Ian Petchenik & Allie Deaver-Petchenik for their hospitality; Augusta Read Thomas & Bernard Rands for their strong support, which means the world to me; Sarah Marie Young for her incredibly generous and thoughtful assistance; Lauren Koors & Lanita Joseph for their collaboration; Steven Ayers for going above and beyond the normal role of pianistic partner by actually locating a last-minute keyboard; Steve Robinson & Louise Frank of WFMT for their 15 years of support and encouragement; and Michael Tunney, CiH's accountant (based in Chicago).

In Champaign-Urbana, thank you to Dave & Val McWilliams for their hospitality; Stephen Mayhew for arranging so many great contacts; Debra Larson for arranging the library concert; and her son Stephen Levey Larson for playing piano with me.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Performances during first half of project

During the first half of Cultures in Harmony's "What is American culture?" project, I performed the following pieces by American composers. Names of the pianist are in brackets. An asterisk indicates that the composer is from Indiana: performances of music from Indiana are underwritten by the Lilly Endowment in celebration of Indiana's bicentennial. When the piece is a link, it links to my own performance.

Violin-Piano Repertoire


Sonata No. 1 (1923) by George Antheil (1900-1959)
June 17, Peck School of the Arts, Milwaukee, WI [Steven Ayers]
June 23, Jerry’s Sandwiches, Chicago, IL [Steven Ayers]

Postlude by Lera Auerbach (1973-    )
May 14, Atlas Industries, Newburgh, NY [Katya Mihailova]
June 17, Peck School of the Arts, Milwaukee, WI [Steven Ayers]
June 23, WFMT, Chicago, IL [Steven Ayers]
June 26, Urbana Free Library, Urbana, IL [Stephen Levey Larson]

Blues (1966) by David Baker* (1931-2016)
March 30, InTake, Stamford, CT
April 2, Beechwood Arts, Westport, CT [Frederic Chiu]
May 6, Church Street Marketplace, Burlington, VT
May 14, Atlas Industries, Newburgh, NY [Katya Mihailova]
June 26, Urbana Free Library, Urbana, IL [Stephen Levey Larson]

Nigun by Ernest Bloch (1880-1959)
March 4, Sentara Heart Hospital, Norfolk, VA [Kamal Chemali] March 30, InTake, Stamford, CT
April 1, Fairfield University, CT
April 2, Beechwood Arts, Westport, CT [Frederic Chiu]

Graceful Ghost Rag by William Bolcom (1938-    )
May 14, Atlas Industries, Newburgh, NY [Katya Mihailova]

December 1952 for various instruments, by Earle Brown (1926-2002)
April 8, Community MusicWorks, Providence, RI

Nocturne (1947) by John Cage (1912-1992)
Jhula Jhule (2013) Reena Esmail (1983-    )
June 17, Peck School of the Arts, Milwaukee, WI [Steven Ayers]
June 23, WFMT, Chicago, IL [Steven Ayers]

Sonatina (1967) by Don Freund* (1947-    )
May 14, Atlas Industries, Newburgh, NY [Katya Mihailova]
June 17, Peck School of the Arts, Milwaukee, WI [Steven Ayers]

Selections from Porgy and Bess, arr. Heifetz, by George Gershwin (1898-1937)
April 2, Beechwood Arts, Westport, CT [Frederic Chiu]

Three Preludes, arr. Heifetz, by George Gershwin
January 8, Dreamland, Louisville, KY [Ethan McCollum, 2nd only]
May 6, Church Street Marketplace, Burlington, VT
May 14, Atlas Industries, Newburgh, NY [Katya Mihailova]

Sonata (2008) by Philip Glass (1937-    )
May 14, Atlas Industries, Newburgh, NY [Katya Mihailova]
June 17, Peck School of the Arts, Milwaukee, WI [Steven Ayers]
June 23, WFMT, Chicago, IL [Steven Ayers]

River Song (orig. for choir & piano) by Cynthia Gray
May 29, First United Methodist Church, Parsons, WV [Pam Ruediger]

Sonata No. 4, “Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting” (1916) by Charles Ives (1874-1954)
April 2, Beechwood Arts, Westport, CT [Frederic Chiu]
Love Undefined & Solomon Song Matt Kirkegaard
January 16, The Studio, Nashville, TN

Suite by William Grant Still (1895-1978)
January 20, Jackson State, Jackson, MS [Harlan Zackery]
January 24, Aldersgate Church, Jackson, MS [Harlan Zackery, II]
February 19, Ashley Hall, Charleston, SC [Anna Brock]
April 24, Grace Episcopal Church, Manchester, NH [Ken Grinnell]

Variations on Yankee Doodle by Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881)
March 30, InTake, Stamford, CT (1820-1881)
April 1, Fairfield University, CT
April 2, Beechwood Arts, Westport, CT [Frederic Chiu]


Unaccompanied Violin Repertoire


I from Violin Variations with Piano (1987) by Gregory Biss
April 28, Beatrice Rafferty School, Passamaquoddy Pleasant Point Reservation (ME)
April 28, Christ Episcopal Church, Eastport, ME
April 30, Blue Hill Wine Shop, ME

Fantasy “Remembering Roger” by Elliott Carter (1908-2012)
April 27, Eastport Elementary, ME
April 28, Christ Episcopal Church, Eastport, ME

Music for the Violin (2007) by Nicholas Csicsko* (1984-    )
January 12, Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor, Franklin, TN
January 16, The Studio, Nashville, TN
February 3, Art Walk, Jacksonville, FL

Sonata for unaccompanied violin (1998) by William Harvey* (1982-    )
January 6, Crescent Hill Radio, Louisville, KY
January 29, Huntsville Study Circle, Phillips home, AL
February 3, Art Walk, Jacksonville, FL
February 9, Savannah Country Day School, GA
March 4, Sentara Heart Hospital, Norfolk, VA
May 28, Lamplight Gallery, Thomas, WV
June 6, Okemos High School, MI
June 11, Worth-Nelson Residence, Flint, MI
June 26, Urbana Free Library, Urbana, IL

March 17, LaFate Gallery, Wilmington, DE
March 18, Tilton Cool Cafe, Wilmington, DE
April 2, Beechwood Arts & Innovation, Westport, CT
April 30, Blue Hill Wine Shop, ME

Rhapsody No. 1 (2015) by Jessie Montgomery
April 27, Eastport Elementary, ME
April 28, Beatrice Rafferty School, Passamaquoddy Pleasant Point Reservation (ME)
April 28, Christ Episcopal Church, Eastport, ME
April 30, Blue Hill Wine Shop, ME
May 1, WERU, Belfast, ME
May 6, Church Street Marketplace, Burlington, VT
May 28, Purple Fiddle, Thomas, WV
May 28, Lamplight Gallery, Thomas, WV
May 30, First United Methodist Church, Parsons, WV
June 6, Okemos High School, MI
June 7, Chippewa Middle School, Okemos, MI
June 11, Worth-Nelson Residence, Flint, MI

Caprice No. 5 in F Major by Mark O’Connor (1961-    )
January 6, Crescent Hill Radio, Louisville, KY
January 12, Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor, Franklin, TN
January 16, The Studio, Nashville, TN
January 27, Southside Cantina, Huntsville, AL
February 2, Hemming Park, Jacksonville, FL
February 18, Ashley Hall, Charleston, SC
February 23, Isis, Asheville, NC
February 28, Norfolk Academy, VA
March 11, Bel Air Middle School, MD
March 17, LaFate Gallery, Wilmington, DE
March 18, Tilton Cool Cafe, Wilmington, DE
March 24, Isles, Trenton, NJ
April 8, Community MusicWorks, Providence, RI
April 27, Eastport Elementary, ME
April 28, Christ Episcopal Church, Eastport, ME
April 30, Blue Hill Wine Shop, ME
May 6, Church Street Marketplace, Burlington, VT
May 28, Purple Fiddle, Thomas, WV

Blue/s Forms by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004)
February 16, Meeting Street Academy, Charleston, SC
February 29, Bay Youth Orchestra, Norfolk, VA
March 2, Soundscape, Newport News, VA
March 4, Sentara Heart Hospital, Norfolk, VA
March 8, KIPP Academy, Washington, DC
March 11, Owings Mills High School, MD
March 11, Bel Air Middle School, MD
March 18, Tilton Cool Cafe, Wilmington, DE
March 23, Trenton Community Music School, NJ
March 24, Isles, Trenton, NJ
April 8, Community MusicWorks, Providence, RI

Love Me Tender, arr. William Harvey, by George Poulton (1828-1867)
January 12, Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor, Franklin, TN
January 16, The Studio, Nashville, TN
February 10, Savannah Smiles, Savannah, GA
April 30, Blue Hill Wine Shop, ME
May 6, Church Street Marketplace, Burlington, VT
May 30, Community Center near Morgantown, WV
June 11, Worth-Nelson Residence, Flint, MI

Whip Nae Nae, arr. William Harvey, by Silentó (1998-    )
March 10, KIPP Academy, Washington, DC
March 11, Owings Mills High School, MD
March 11, Bel Air Middle School, MD
March 18, Tilton Cool Cafe, Wilmington, DE
March 23, Trenton Community Music School, NJ
March 24, Isles, Trenton, NJ
April 8, Community MusicWorks, Providence, RI
April 28, Beatrice Rafferty School, Passamaquoddy Pleasant Point Reservation (ME)
April 28, Christ Episcopal Church, Eastport, ME

Pulsar (2003) by Augusta Read Thomas (1964-    )
January 16, The Studio, Nashville, TN
January 29, Randolph School, Huntsville, AL
January 29, WLRH, Huntsville, AL
January 29, US Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL
February 9, Savannah Country Day School, GA
February 18 & 19, Ashley Hall, Charleston, SC 
February 28, Norfolk Academy, VA
March 11, Owings Mills High School, MD
March 23, Trenton Community Music School, NJ
April 1, Fairfield University, CT
June 6, Okemos High School, MI
June 11, Worth-Nelson Residence, Flint, MI
June 23, WFMT, Chicago, IL
June 23, Jerry’s Sandwiches, Chicago, IL
June 26, Urbana Free Library, Urbana, IL

Star-Spangled Banner, arr. William Harvey, by John Stafford Smith (1750-1836)
January 6, Crescent Hill Radio, Louisville, KY
January 8, Dreamland, Louisville, KY
January 16, The Studio, Nashville, TN
January 27, Southside Cantina, Huntsville, AL
January 30, Gip’s Place, Bessemer, AL
February 2, Hemming Park, Jacksonville, FL
February 16, Meeting Street Academy, Charleston, SC
February 28, Norfolk Academy, VA
March 10, Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
March 11, Fort McHenry, Baltimore, MD
March 13, FOX 45, Baltimore, MD
March 18, Tilton Cool Cafe, Wilmington, DE
April 8, Community MusicWorks, Providence, RI
April 27, Eastport Elementary, ME
April 28, Christ Episcopal Church, Eastport, ME
May 6, Church Street Marketplace, Burlington, VT
May 29, Mud Bog Race, Parsons, WV
May 30, Community Center near Morgantown, WV
June 6, Okemos High School, MI
June 11, Worth-Nelson Residence, Flint, MI
June 26, Urbana Free Library, Urbana, IL

Bleu (2011) by George Walker (1922-    )
January 8, Dreamland, Louisville, KY
January 20, Jackson State, Jackson, MS
January 29, WLRH, Huntsville, AL
February 9, Savannah Country Day School, GA
February 28, Norfolk Academy, VA
March 8, KIPP Academy, Washington, DC
March 11, Owings Mills High School, MD
March 18, Tilton Cool Cafe, Wilmington, DE
March 23, Trenton Community Music School, NJ
March 24, Isles, Trenton, NJ
June 6, Okemos High School, MI
June 7, Chippewa Middle School, Okemos, MI
June 11, Worth-Nelson Residence, Flint, MI
June 26, Urbana Free Library, Urbana, IL


Performances with Musicians from Other Genres

If the date is a link, it will take you a video of the performance.

January 8, 1200 (rapper), Dreamland, Louisville, KY
January 16, Stephanie Adlington, vocals; Kent Burnside, guitar; John Owen, bass; Matt Kirkegaard, piano; Tom Larson, drums; The Studio, Nashville, TN
January 24, RoHarpo the Blues Man & Bad Mules, Club Ebony, Indianola, MS
January 30, Revernd Tex and the Hotrod Revival, Gip’s Place, Bessemer, AL
February 6, Mal Jones, [a street corner in] Jacksonville, FL
February 23, Tuesday Night Funk Jam, Asheville Music Hall, NC
April 2, Kristen Graves, Edmond Town Hall, Newtown, CT
April 11, Amherst Country Dance players, Amherst, MA
May 8, Gary Miller, vibraphone, South Street Cafe, Bennington, VT
May 28, Trevor Reichman, Purple Fiddle, Thomas, WV

June 23, Sarah Marie Young, Lanita Joseph, Lauren Koors, Allie Deaver, Jerry’s Sandwiches, Chicago, IL

The Center of American Culture

The nostalgic comedy Leaving Iowa probably plays better the closer to the center of the US: all too fitting, since the plot toggles back and forth between a writer's remembrance of childhood car trips with his "Father Knows Best" nuclear family, and his effort as an adult to properly dispose of his father's ashes, a quest that eventually takes him to the geographic center of the continental US.



I saw the play at the Station Theatre in Urbana as part of the Illinois week (June 19-26) of Cultures in Harmony's "What is American culture?" project. For the first part of the week, I was in Chicago, and although this 2004 hit sold out a year-long run at Chicago's Royal George Theatre, did those audiences value it because it was a well-constructed play, or because they could relate to the experiences it described? Much of the audience's laughter in Urbana felt like the laughter of recognition.

The comedy is gentle and never ribald, satirically limning characters we Midwesterners know all too well: the grocery store employee or waitress who talks far too much and is far friendlier than a harried big-city type would value. But mostly, the play focuses on the fictional writer Don Browning, his sister, and their parents. The father pays compliments to his wife's driving while showing that he doesn't really trust her to drive. He ignores, and where necessary shuts down, the kids' desire to make their humble vacations (which are all he can afford) more extravagant and interesting. And only too late does Don realize that he never properly appreciated the paragon of decency and selflessness that his father was.

This subject matter could veer easily into mawkishness, and today there are many who would look down their noses or even condemn the play's sentimentality about an era when cars didn't always start and America consisted of white middle class families taking uninteresting road trips. But given that the topic of my project is a nationwide inquiry into our rapidly changing and increasingly varied American culture, it's worth examining the Middle American stereotypes about what that culture used to mean and seeing if there's anything valuable in there before we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I can't think of a more appropriate place to do this than an outstanding theater company in Urbana, Illinois. The director, David Barkley, skillfully got the cast to avoid the material's tendency to invite overacting, and the four principals were perfectly cast (although the stubble on Jeremiah Lowry's Don Browning made it hard to see him as a little boy during the flashback scenes in which we see the family on their road trips).

Maybe later generations, including my fellow millennials who subscribe to the knee-jerk "social justice warrior" mindset, have been too quick to cast off the decency, frugality, and patriarchal outlook of people like the play's father. Yet even the more sarcastic, ironic, and self-consciously cosmopolitan youth of the last 40 years could not fail to agree with the play's conclusion: that the ashes of this selfless man belong squarely at the center of our nation.

Leaving Iowa runs at the Station Theatre in Urbana, Illinois until July 2. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Yearlong project asking “What is American Culture?” reaches halfway point

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 20, 2016
Contact: William Harvey

CHICAGO—A project in which a concert violinist travels to each state for one week, asking the question "What is American culture?”, has reached its halfway point. That occasion will be marked with an eclectic musical event and broadcast in Chicago, as well as a fundraiser in collaboration with acclaimed visual artist Eunice LaFate of Wilmington, Delaware.

During this presidential election year, Cultures in Harmony (CiH), a nonprofit promoting cultural understanding through music, has been collecting and sharing answers to the question posed by the project in order to celebrate and explore the many ways it is possible to define American culture. CiH founder William Harvey is traveling to every state for one week; Illinois is the 25th state. 

The occasion will be marked as follows:
  • Radio broadcast: On Thursday, June 23, at 2:00 p.m., William will appear on 98.7 WFMT-Chicago to discuss the project and perform American classical music by Philip Glass, Reena Esmail, Augusta Read Thomas, and Lera Auerbach with Milwaukee-based pianist Steven Ayers.
  • Concert (link to Facebook event page): On Thursday, June 23, at 6:30 p.m., at Jerry’s Sandwiches, 1938 W. Division St., Chicago, CiH and Classical Revolution will present “ENERGY: What is American culture? An eclectic music-fueled event.” The concert will explore the concept of American energy, whether defined as political energy or the sort that fuels our machines. Performers include renowned jazz singer Sarah Marie Young, winner of the 2011 Shure Montreux Vocal Competition; Steven Ayers, with whom William will perform George Antheil’s insane, ultra-modernist, finger-busting Sonata; versatile contemporary dancer Lanita Joseph, whose choreography has been performed in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Houston; Classical Revolution director and flutist Allie Deaver-Petchenik; and DJ Lauren Koors, a passionately committed DJ active in Chicago’s music scene. Intermingled with the music will be opportunities for the audience to share their own thoughts on American culture and what the concept of “energy” means to them, whether in cultural or environmental terms. Energy-inspired drinks will be available.
  • Fundraiser: Until July 31, 2016, half of all proceeds from sales of lithographs of “Melting Pot vs. Salad Bowl” by Eunice LaFate will support CiH’s “What is American culture?” project. William and Eunice collaborated during the Delaware week (March 13 to 20). William composed four pieces for solo violin based on Eunice’s paintings, including the one featured in this fundraising opportunity. Don’t miss this chance to own a beautiful and inspiring lithograph while supporting CiH’s work. The lithograph is available for purchase here.
Highlights of the American culture project so far include:
  • School residencies in which students are challenged to artistically express their own definitions of American culture
  • Public discussions and forums in most of the states visited so far
  • Videos showcasing a wide variety of definitions of American culture: the Kentucky video includes interviews with a gun store owner and a member of the New Black Panther Party
  • Public concerts in Connecticut, New York, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Maine
  • Perspectives reflecting the breadth of American society, from President Jimmy Carter and Mayor Tecklenburg of Charleston, South Carolina, to children from the Passamaquoddy tribe in Maine and men playing chess in a park in Jacksonville, Florida
  • A video filmed at the US Space and Rocket Center showcasing the role of the space program in defining American culture in Alabama
  • A video showing the breadth of culture in Tucker County, West Virginia, from an arts festival to a mud bog race
To explore highlights of the project by state, check out the project page here. To make a tax-deductible donation in support of this project and Cultures in Harmony's international projects, click here.

Grassroots participation: Antidote to election-year politics?

You are invited to participate in the American Culture project in any way you choose:
  • Set up a discussion, performance, exhibit, or other event to probe the culture of your region and the USA
  • Take part in a performance or interview
  • Support the project with a donation 
  • Join the discussion on social media with the hashtag #americancultureis

Since 2005, Cultures in Harmony has conducted 40 projects promoting cultural understanding through music in 16 countries from Pakistan to Papua New Guinea. Its founder, William Harvey, studied violin at The Juilliard School and Indiana University, taught violin in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2014, and has performed solo with orchestras in the USA, Mexico, Argentina, and the Philippines.  

What is American culture in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin calls to mind superb dairy products and natural beauty. Much of the Wisconsin week (June 12 to 19) of Cultures in Harmony's "What is American culture?" project was spent in preparation for a recital I gave with pianist Steven Ayers on June 17 at Peck School of the Arts in Milwaukee. The concert was arranged and promoted by String Academy Wisconsin.

The recital was live streamed on Facebook, which archived the videos. Please check it out below!

Part 1 of 3: Sonata by Philip Glass and Jhule Jhule by Reena Esmail:



Part 2 of 3: Sonatina by Don Freund and beginning of Sonata #1 by George Antheil:



Part 3 of 3: Conclusion of Sonata #1 by George Antheil and Postlude by Lera Auerbach



Service



I attended Milwaukee's memorial service for victims of the shootings in Orlando. It was a powerful event featuring the Milwaukee Children's Choir. I was particularly struck by the moving remarks of Rahul Dubey, the representative of the Sikh faith. He lost his godfather in the shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek in August 2012. It should not be the case that any time there is a mass shooting in the USA, any vigil in the country is likely to have a speaker personally affected by yet a different mass shooting.

Mr. Dubey and I met the day after the service for an interview about the role of the Sikh faith in America. I'll post that interview to the blog as soon as it's transcribed. The resilience of the Sikh community is inspiring, but we should work harder to remove the horrific catalysts for a community to discover its inner resilience. We must ask ourselves why #americancultureis #gunculture and #massshootings.

Lakefront Festival

A more positive aspect of American culture is our ability to sustain and celebrate the many cultures that feed into ours. On June 19, Milwaukee residents could choose among at least four major festivals: Lakefront Festival of the Arts, Polish Fest, Juneteenth, and Asia Fest. I attended the Lakefront Festival, held on the grounds of Sergio Calatrava's stunning Milwaukee Art Museum, in order to hear my friend and host Ruth Williams and her husband Sandy play in the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra, the oldest such ensemble in the world (established 1900).



Of the dozens and dozens of booths, I particularly connected with some book-inspired paintings by Jerry Brem.

A photo posted by William Harvey (@williamrharvey) on


Concert

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is a world-class orchestra. Their Saturday evening concert was a brilliant tour de force by the pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane, who paired Ravel's coruscating Piano Concerto with Gershwin's overplayed Rhapsody in Blue. The pairing highlights Ravel's direct inspiration from a party in New York where he met Gershwin and asked him to play the Rhapsody. Whatever Kahane's genius as a pianist/conductor, I was disappointed in his programming. He also conducted Copland's Appalachian Spring and Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. I can live without ever hearing another group of middle-aged tuxedo-clad musicians feign ferocity and enthusiasm as they shout "Mambo" or snap their fingers in imitation of Bernstein and Sondheim's beliefs about how gang members behave. These are superb musicians, and when it comes to classical music, #americancultureis more than Copland, Bernstein, Barber, and Gershwin. 

Thank you to Ruth Williams and Sandy Stehling for their very kind hospitality! Thank you also to Darcy Drexler, Director of the String Academy Wisconsin, and Jamie Hofman, a teacher at the String Academy, for arranging and promoting my June 17 concert. It was a great opportunity to work with the superb pianist Steven Ayers.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

What is American culture in Michigan?

Workshops

The centerpiece of the Michigan week (June 5 to 12) of our "What is American culture?" project was a series of workshops at Okemos High School presented in collaboration with the school's wonderful orchestra director, Joel Schut. For their final exam, groups of students had to explain to an alien visiting Earth what American culture is. They had to be in groups of 3, take no more than 3 minutes, use 3 art forms, and include 3 aspects of American culture.


Student presentations were incredibly creative. Here is a hilarious video one group created about a tailgate party that includes sports rivalries, martial arts, and s'mores. One group constructed a music stand out of logs to show American ingenuity:


Many students' skits, raps, and poems included witty observations about American culture:
  • "America was so proud of its various accomplishments, / Winning wars and its freedom, but was there overconfidence?"
  • "We try to allow for liberty, / But sometimes, we get it wrong."
  • "And we still have cases like Freddie Gray / And racist gangs like the KKK / But we're working on unification / Becoming one big nation"
  • "We also discovered a lot of stuff / Like the nuclear bomb and marshmallow fluff"
I particularly enjoyed a biting satire of American ignorance about other countries: in one skit, a student asks a teacher "What about Canada?" and the response is "Oh sweetie, Canada isn't real, just like Santa."

In addition to teaching and coaching the workshops, I performed works of American classical music by George Walker, Augusta Read Thomas, Jessie Montgomery, and myself for the high school students and for students at Chippewa Middle School.

In general, students did a great job of presenting the fictitious extraterrestrial with a balanced understanding of both the virtues and flaws in American culture. Thank you to Joel for being an outstanding co-teacher and a wonderful host.

Videos

I conducted three video interviews:

Flint



For the first time in nearly 30 years (since I was a toddler), I returned to my birthplace of Flint, Michigan. Sadly, Flint is now known for its water crisis, but in my short visit, I could see that the community is already rebounding, although any public places still advertise the cleanliness of their water in order to inspire confidence. Still, people can joke about it now: when one resident learned of my project, he suggested a concert alternating movements of Handel's "Water Music" with heavy metal bands (since the lead that was in Flint's water is a heavy metal).

The vibrancy of Flint culture is readily apparent in the popularity of the Art Walk organized by the Greater Flint Arts Council. Hundreds of Flint residents explore the downtown galleries on the second Friday of every month, and the artistic spirit spills over onto the streets:






Few things scream "American culture" more than a rock band proudly wearing the American flag as clothing. I made a Vine of such a band, PLeThorA, playing during the Flint Feastival:



My wonderful hosts, Jan Worth and Ted Nelson, organized a community gathering at which I performed American classical music for unaccompanied violin. Attendees shared their own definitions of American culture. Such discussions are the primary purpose of this project.

Thank you also to the great writer Connor Coyne and his wife Jessica for showing me around. Connor was a childhood friend of my brother Theodore.

Press

The American culture project continues to get more press coverage:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A masked ball in Cleveland


How many masked balls feature a twerking fire eater named Faith McFluff, a DJ who plays hurdy gurdy, homemade ice cream, an exhibit about steampunk, and a 3D printer? Probably only the annual Bal Ingenieux put on as a benefit for Ingenuity Cleveland











I attended the June 4 event as part of the Ohio week of Cultures in Harmony's "What is American culture?" project, our initiative to explore and celebrate the diverse nature of American culture. Upon entering the old warehouse, I was so struck by the extraordinary ambience that I immediately wanted to interview someone to learn what the heck this was all about. I spoke with Ingenuity Cleveland's program director, Emily Appelbaum. Thank you to Alice St. Clair for transcribing our conversation.



WH: What strikes me about this event is that it is a really interesting mix of a lot of different ways of defining culture. What do you think about that?

EA: I love that question because if I had to define this event and our project more broadly, I would say we are a place where culture doesn’t have any rules. If you look at what’s around here, it’s definitely a mishmash of erudite, educated, tongue-in-cheek, kitschy, and everything in between. A lot of the decorations are made out of recycled materials. We had tons of artist workshops to build all of those. They were both fine artists and people who had never really done anything creative in their lives, working together to build decorations. All we really provided was the "stone soup" impulse to bring it all together. The same is true for a lot of the performers. We have seasoned performers, we have up-and-coming performers. You know, the furniture is made out of pallets or borrowed, the lighting…..how did you find out about this?

WH: I googled "Cleveland events." It struck me as interesting too that Cleveland is a city that is both an international city and also has to be very local, very midwestern. What about this event captures that duality?

EA: I think what we are trying to bring to Cleveland here is, one, a sense of the really vibrant, strong emerging national conversation on creativity. So, STEM education became STEAM education. We have a very international appeal. High quality art in a warehouse space is not provincial, yet at the same time we try to pay homage to Cleveland’s industrial roots, its manufacturing roots. We try to connect with the post-industrial landscape here just like the building we’re in. So, it’s about bringing arts and culture together with workmanship, craftsmanship…..what we do year round is we support the intersection of big business and the tiny artist or entrepreneur through unique events like this.

WH: And finally, the reason I am doing this project this year is because it’s a presidential election year. Politics often involves people sort of imposing their own definition of American culture. Given that we are about to see Cleveland on the international stage for the Republican convention: if this event had happened to coincide with that, what would those folks learn about American culture by coming here?

EA: It’s not linear. There are no political boundaries around what we are doing here. It’s about enjoying yourself, being creative and actually connecting to people who aren’t like you. So, I think earlier I referred to the fact that we have fine artists working with carpenters or people who don’t have an arts background who maybe never thought of themselves as artists. But they are certainly creative, they are certainly capable and adept. When you bring these different, diverging perspectives together, something really special blooms.

*

After speaking with Emily, I enjoyed chatting to the team of Case Western students from Thinkbox. Thinkbox allows anyone to come in and use their 3D printers. They only have to pay for the plastic they use. I asked the students to imagine how 3D printers would change American culture, and their initial answers looked maybe 5 years in the future. I told them, "You're all about 20. You'll still be alive in half a century. At that time, how will 3D printers have changed American culture?" 




Then, their answers got more interesting. We'll be able to 3D print cheese, one students said confidently. I'm sure he was right, but in the mean time, I'll stick with good old Cheddar from cows who say moo, not printers that go gggzzz gggzzz. 




I visited many other booths, sampling chocolate made in liquid nitrogen and learning about steampunk, the genre of fiction, music, and fashion that imagines an alternate future in which steam technology, zeppelins, and other 19th century technology simply became more complex. I met a member of a band called Astrocelt



Many events in many cities offer an opportunity to meet interesting people, although few costumed events inspire costumes quite as creative as the ones at Bal Ingenieux. What really makes this event special is its blend of art and science, its paean to the power of creativity that does not merely occur outside the box, as the cliché goes, but smashes the box and wears it as a hat before careening joyfully off into a new dimension. 

No matter who you are or what you enjoy doing—dancing or conversing, drinking or listening to music, learning or meditating—an Ingenuity Cleveland event will affirm and liberate the quirky and weird individual spirit our society may have long ago confined to some forgotten crevasse of your soul. In doing so, it also gives the lie to any stereotypes you may have had about Cleveland. Far from being just another Midwestern city, creativity knows no bounds here, and unless you've already 3D printed cheese while taking a bath in liquid nitrogen, eating fire, and listening to the hurdy gurdy, you will come away from any encounter with Ingenuity Cleveland convinced that the human capacity for blissfully weird invention springs eternal.






What is American culture in Ohio?

America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. 
Everywhere else is Cleveland. 
Tennessee Williams

If Tennessee Williams’ witticism is correct, it implies that Cleveland is a bland, character-less stand-in for most American cities. I spent the Ohio week (May 30 to June 5) of Cultures in Harmony’s “What is American culture?” project proving the great playwright wrong. Cleveland is at once a great international city and a proudly Midwestern one.

Louder Than Words



This exhibit at the the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (presented in collaboration with the Newseum), is a must-see. It offers insights into the connection between rock & roll and politics, organized by every presidential administration from Eisenhower to Obama. 

You'll learn that Martin Luther King wrote that rock and roll "plunges men's minds into degrading and immoral depths." King found folk music more palatable: Pete Seeger eventually persuaded him to adopt "We Shall Overcome." Before 1960, musicians used to have to pay radio stations to be broadcast, a practice the government eventually ended; this practice is still common in Afghanistan.

For the purposes of this project, the exhibit was extremely important. Few other genres of music have shaped the public perception and reality of a country the way rock and roll has shaped the postwar US. No matter your level of interest in rock and roll, the exhibit is informative and thought-provoking for anyone with an interest in music's impact on American politics. And, for any admirer of architecture, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's brash defiance of spatial convention perfectly mirrors the museum's subject.


Cleveland Art Museum







The Cleveland Art Museum is a world-class museum within which a proudly Ohioan & American museum resides, if you know where to look. Given the nature of this project, I focused my visit around their American art. They have an extensive collection, from the colonial period to modern art. Organized chronologically, the art on display does a decent job illustrating the scope and sweep of American history through both our iconic and lesser-known artists. One common theme might be the artists' location of beauty in our quotidian experiences, whether doing laundry or eavesdropping on music. Another theme might be our fascination with mimicking European formality while celebrating our own informality.


The museum itself does a brilliant job of melding its two buildings, old and new, just as our country itself has had to do.

MOCA


The Museum of Contemporary Art has no permanent collection, but rather offers a rotating series of cutting-edge exhibits. I thoroughly enjoyed the current one by Mark Mothersbaugh, who blurs the line between music and art. The above Vine gives a small idea of his orchestrion creations.

Playhouse Square


Playhouse Square is one of the most stunningly beautiful and ornate theaters you could find anywhere. I saw the famed comedian Bill Maher perform there. After criticizing Republicans and their candidates for a while ("I'm not saying all Republicans are racists, but if you are a racist, I can recommend a political party for you"), he started to use humor to slowly bring a Bernie-leaning audience around to sympathizing with Hillary. At first, he told jokes like "Whenever she laughs, she sounds like a woman who just convinced Snow White to eat an apple," but the jokes got gradually more sympathetic ("You had a choice of fish or chicken. We're out of fish. You're gonna have to eat chicken") until finally, he had the whole audience cheering for her when he talked about what a f@#$ing great week she's had (a reference to Thursday's San Diego speech). Talking about the choice of Hillary vs. Trump, he said, "This isn't a choice between Coke and Pepsi, it's a choice between Coke and the tap water of Flint, Michigan." He knew that his audience didn't contain Republicans (after one reference to them, a heckler called out "they're not here"). But given how carefully and expertly his humor progressed, I would be very surprised if he weren't aware that he was employing his full comedic power to get the #BernieOrBust crowd on board with Hillary.

Bal Ingenieux

How many masked balls feature a fire eater, homemade ice cream, and a 3D printer? Perhaps only Ingenuity Cleveland's Bal Ingenieux, which I wrote about here

During my Ohio week, I stayed in Oberlin. Thank you to Michael Isaac Strauss & Cathy Partlow Strauss for their advice and hospitality.

Although I didn't see much of Ohio beyond Oberlin and Cleveland, I did prove Tennessee Williams wrong. Cleveland is not the bland, all-American city, but a world city limned by flashes of local color one could not find elsewhere. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

What is American culture in West Virginia?



Of the many states I've been to as part of Cultures in Harmony's "What is American culture?" project, West Virginia seems to hue the closest to the traditional concept of what American culture is. That's why Tucker County, West Virginia could easily lay a claim to being the capital of American culture. The week I spent there (May 22 to 29) allowed me to experience and participate in two events showcasing different interpretations of American culture: Artspring, an annual visual and performing arts festival, and Challenge in the Hills, a mud pit car race. My sense was that most Artspring attendees supported Bernie Sanders, and most Challenge in the Hills attendees supported Donald Trump, but both events were family-oriented, fun, and quintessentially American.


As part of Artspring, I performed on May 28 and 29 at the Purple Fiddle with Trevor Reichman; we broadcast both performances live on Periscope. Much of the joy of Artspring is walking into different galleries on Thomas' Front Street. I enjoyed interviewing artists Seth Pitt and Joshua Miller about their work. Seth makes whimsical, cartoon-like art, frequently graced with fanciful yet inspiring text he writes, and Joshua makes art inspired by farm implements. I also saw John Brubaker's "On Confluence," an exhibit of photographs "processed directly in river water effected by acid mine drainage and have absorbed traces of the same heavy metals and mine runoff as the North Fork Watershed itself." Artspring is packed with other fun activities, like the drawing machine exhibition or the square dance (both shown in the above video). 


On May 27, I attended a jam-packed performance by the energetic, highly enjoyable folk group Hillbilly Gypsies. Like my performances with Trevor it took place at the Purple Fiddle, an astonishing place. Owner/manager John Bright packs the joint with a busy schedule of world-class folk music groups. Not only that, he serves some of the best sandwiches, homemade ice cream, and beer you could ever want to find. The place is not just worth a detour: it will make you wonder why you ever thought you were busy in the first place.


On May 29, I performed at a church service in Parsons with pianist Pam Ruediger. After church, I attended the "Challenge in the Hills" mud bog race, where I also performed my version of the national anthem. Additionally, I spoke with Cassidy McCoy about the extraordinary success of the Hillbilly Proud brand.

In Thomas, I met Guisepi Spadafora of the nationally touring Free Tea Bus, which has been profiled in the New York Times. Here is my own video profile of them:


Tucker county boasts stunning natural views, many of which can be seen in the video. I wrote here about the stunning natural beauty. 



I extended the West Virginia week by one day to go to Grafton to attend the 149th Annual Memorial Day parade: the longest-running in the country. I wrote about the emotions evoked by the parade and the political discussions I had with people I met in West Virginia here









In addition to the folks mentioned above, thank you to Dave & Pam Ruediger, Anne Jones of the Tucker County Development Authority, Jessica Scowcroft of the Tucker County Convention & Visitors BureauStephanie Adlington, Joslin Bennett, Casey King, and Nancy & Mick.