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: Mumbai, India

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

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Egypt project (guest blog by Rebecca Schlappich)

Hello from Cairo, Egypt!  As our adventure is coming to a close, I look back with fondness and appreciation over the last week.  Please enjoy as I do my best to try and adequately share our experience with you.

My name is Rebecca Schlappich, and I am honored to say that I have been a member of Cultures in Harmony for the past three years.  I have cherished each project that I have participated in during my time with this fine organization, and our travels to Egypt are no exception.  My Cultures in Harmony associates for this project are Patrick Sutton on guitar, and Demetrios Karamintzas on oboe.  Our project is a collaboration with the world music/jazz fusion group Nour Project, headed by saxophonist Nour Ashour.  Members of Nour Project include Ahmed Derbala on acoustic guitar and vocals, Fady Badr on keyboard and qanoun, Marwan W. Zaki on drums, Muhammad Nabil on percussion, Wael Badrawy on keyboards, and Ousso Lotfy on electric guitar.

After a long day of travel, Patrick and I arrived for our first rehearsal at Vibe studio with Nour Project.  We had a brief introduction and then started digging into the music.  Right off the bat it was apparent that these musicians are highly skilled on their instruments.  While we as classical musicians are known for our ability to read music quickly and efficiently, many of these musicians rely on their finely tuned ears to learn their parts and retain large amounts of musical information very quickly.  We spent the afternoon learning, both by ear and with the aid of some chord charts and melodies written out, seven of Nour’s pieces:  7azr ba7r (or C Curfew), Irene, Longa, Mofta7 El Farag (or Key of Happiness), El Sax Fel Tax, Hayyaso Sa’afo (or Clap and Dance), and Ooooooo.  

After a few short hours of rehearsal, it was time to have some fun and test just how much information we retained from the day’s rehearsal.  Our first performance was at the iconic Cairo Jazz Club.  It is apparent as soon as you enter this club that it is the hub of musical life and excitement, and I would say a second home, for many of the musicians of Nour Project.  The interior has been recently renovated, and it has the cool, stylized feel of a small bar and club you might find in the West Village of New York City.  Time and effort has been taken to make this venue a place you want to visit repeatedly.  We soundchecked, had a meal, and prepared ourselves for the evening’s performance.  The place was empty when we first arrived, however by the time the show started around 11:30 the room was filled with people ready to enjoy the evening.   Suddenly the band had grown from the 5 people we had met in rehearsal to 7 or so, including two guitars, two keyboards, saxophone, percussion, drums and sampler.  The energy of the musicians was intoxicating.  This was definitely a great introduction to the music scene in Egypt.

Early the next day Demetrios arrived from Germany, and the rehearsal process continued.  Demetrios found his place with ease and skill, and we enjoyed the hours fine tuning the music we planned to play in Alexandria the next day.

As we learned the band’s songs, we also learned the stories behind these songs.  Some, such as Longa, are based on traditional Egyptian melodies.  Other original works have personal stories behind them.  C Curfew was written during the revolution.  In support of the revolution the musicians would find themselves playing music in a place nicknamed “The C” and as the time of the mandated curfew drew near they worked out the structure of this song.  Other songs have lighter, more humorous stories behind them, such as El Sax Fel Tax, which is both a play on words and an homage to the time that Nour forgot his saxophone in a taxi!

Alexandria is about a three hour drive from Cairo, so a little after one o’clock we all piled into a bus and a couple of cars to make our trek to the Bibliotheca.  In contrast to the cozy intimate space of the jazz club, the Bibliotheca has a spacious outdoor stage constructed in the square facing the entrance.  With room to spread out, we really started to find out stride as an ensemble.  The audience was excited and receptive, and we enjoyed the sound that the large outdoor venue afforded.  After the concert ended and the dozens of enthusiastic fans requesting pictures and selfies subsided, we had the honor to dine with the Consul General of Alexandria, Mr. Stephen G. Fakan and Cultural Affairs Assistant Mr. Adel Samir Dekinesh.  With the beautiful melodies of a solo lounge pianist accompanying us, we talked of many things: music, our pasts, our goals, the future of technology, and our shared and differing cultures.  Mr. Fakan expressed his enjoyment of the evening’s festivities, and we are so grateful for his support and the support of the US Embassy in Egypt.

Following the performance in Alexandria, we had the opportunity to attend another, much larger, concert at Porto Marina, which I will address in a moment.  Our final concert with Nour Project was at the cozy and intimate venue called The Room.  As all of the musicians of the band are incredibly busy with multiple projects of their own, the band was slightly smaller, but no less accomplished or energetic.  With two performances down, we relaxed and enjoyed our last time sharing a stage together.  Luke Meinzen came on behalf of the US Embassy, who has so graciously supported this project, and it was a pleasure speaking with him.  

During our stay our friends in Nour Project were also incredibly generous hosts, and we had the opportunity to experience Egypt in a way only possible with locals.  We rode horses behind the pyramids late at night, watched the sun rise by the Mediterranean Sea on the North Shore, and experienced our first Egyptian rock concert at Porto Marina.  The concert was the iconic Mohamed Mounir, whose fame spans 40 years and who is beloved by all Egyptians.  There is not an American rock star that I can adequately compare him to, for I have never seen someone so universally loved and respected by an entire country, but if I had to choose I would compare him to Bruce Springsteen or Elvis Presley.  The crackling energy of the evening was palpable and we were very fortunate to be invited backstage to observe the exciting, often chaotic, event.  

In my final day in Egypt I convinced Wael to give me a lesson in Egyptian Arabic scales and tuning.  He did me one better by also involving accomplished violinist Mohamed Medhat in my studies.  Considering the ample use of quarter tones, relative lack of written music, and completely different approach to melody, I have a lot of homework to do!  Luckily, they introduced me to famed Egyptian violinist Abdo Dagher via youtube videos, so I have plenty of resources to research when I return home.

I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone involved in making this program a reality.  Nour, Ahmed, Fady, Marwan, Muhammad, Wael, and Ousso, it was an honor making music with you.  Thank you to the talented sound crew Osama Refaat, Ahmed Hakim, and Yousef Ahmad, for making us sound fantastic on stage.  Thank you to Ahmed Sakran and Angie Balata, the band’s tour and business managers, for corresponding with us, organizing the events, and taking such good care of us.  Thank you to Omnia Mohsen El-Ghoul, the band’s stylist, for making us look good, and from me personally, for keeping an eye on me and hanging out with me during my extra days in Cairo.  Thank you to Stephen G. Fakan, the US Consul General Alexandria, and Adel Samir Dekinesh, the Cultural Affairs Assistant to the Consulate, for attending our concert and supporting our endeavours.  And finally thank you to the US Embassy for their financial support of the project, without which none of this would have been possible.  We are so grateful for the support of the US Embassy in Egypt and hope that we can continue our relationship with them in the future.

In all, our program in Egypt with Nour Project is an experience none of us will soon forget.  Friendships were formed, much was learned about our respective worlds, and most importantly, beautiful music was made.  Thank you so much to each and every person involved in this project, and Demetrios, Patrick and myself look forward to returning to Egypt someday and continuing our musical relationship with our new friends and colleagues.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Start of work in Turkey and Tunisia, plus a report from Philippines

I am now in the charming, ancient Greek town of Mustafapasha (population 1,550) in Turkey, sitting in a small café and eagerly awaiting the start of the Klasik Keyifler music festival, in which I will work with children from Cappadocia for the Turkish portion of Cultures in Harmony's Passacaglia Project.

From Tunisia, our Deputy Director Kimball Gallagher reports that the two full days of advance preparation for our annual work teaching young musicians in Beni Mtir with Atlas Music Academy have made this the best year yet. A new series of meditation sessions by first-time CiH project participant, guitarist Vova Kuperman, have really "changed the atmosphere" and helped people focus.

Meanwhile, our partners in the Philippines, the Cartwheel Foundation, have released their annual report from 2014. It mentions their work with us to provide music workshops for the Tagbanua community in Culion in August 2014. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A second Bahamian Passacaglia!

On Monday and Tuesday, at the community center in Murphytown, Abaco, Bahamas, I worked with adult musicians identified by Garnell Limperes Stuart of Island Waves to create the following passacaglia, which has a uniquely Bahamian theme:

Monday, July 27, 2015

Support the Passacaglia Project: Tunisia

What two things are simultaneously the same and different? 

Humanity, and a passacaglia. 

In a passacaglia, the bass line stays the same throughout, just like certain traits and values are common to people from all cultures. What keeps a passacaglia interesting is the difference between the variations—and that’s what keeps humanity interesting also! 

We are grateful to all of providing the support that has enabled us to take the Passacaglia Project, begun in Pakistan in February, to Tunisia, the Bahamas, Egypt, Turkey, and Zimbabwe in July and August of 2015, our 10th anniversary year. It is especially meaningful to return to Tunisia—a country where we’ve been almost every year since our inception—this year, when the country has endured an increase in terrorism in an attempt to drive it away from the community of nations. 

Tunisia has always been, and must remain, a beacon in the region, standing for women’s rights and personal liberty while offering a warm welcome to all visitors. We salute the courage and dedication of our partners, the Atlas Music Academy; our students; and especially our three musicians who started teaching there today: Kimball Gallagher, piano; Anya Yermakova, piano and singing; Vova Kuperman, guitar. 

Our Tunisia project has resulted in extraordinary ramifications over the years. In 2005, I met a young man named Nidhal Jebali, who was convinced that he would have to leave music, as there was little opportunity for professional advancement in Tunisia as a violinist. I persuaded him to apply for Indiana University, and recommended him highly to my former teacher there, Mimi Zweig. He has now graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from IU, and by a happy coincidence, today he starts in my former job as concertmaster of the orchestra in San Juan, Argentina! 

CiH has also encouraged the talents of Souhayl Guesmi, a talented young composer. Kimball has played his solo piano piece in various concerts, and Classical Revolution/Chicago (led by CiH flutist Allie Deaver-Petchenik) premiered his trio for flute, cello, and piano, a work inspired by the Tunisian revolution. Souhayl also came to a prestigious summer program called Hamptons Music Sessions twice. 

Please allow us to sustain our relationship with Tunisia by donating to Cultures in Harmony today. As the young Tunisian violinist Amal wrote me in 2008, “It was terrific to meet you and I hope that I will see you again next year and I’m awfully happy to know and to meet you. Besides, you’ve changed the image that I had about Americans because you’re completely different. You’re nice, kind, friendly, generous, awesome, beautiful.”

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bahamas Passacaglia

Please enjoy the Passacaglia (part of our Passacaglia Project) that I co-composed with the children of Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas. A big thank you to Garnell Louise Limperes of Island Waves, and her partners in Sandy Point, Mrs. Estelle Pinder and Ms. Higgs, for making these workshops happen!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Books for the Bahamas

“Please, I wanna come back at 4:00 and make more music. I mean, that’s why you came here right?” Frederick pleaded with me. We were chatting after the composition workshops that were supposed to conclude for the day at 1:00 p.m.

I arched an eyebrow. “You were talking a lot today. Why do you want to come back this afternoon?”

“Sitting at home is like watching paint dry. I can’t even watch TV.”

“Why not read a book?” I suggested.

His face fell. “I love books, but we don’t have many books here.” He perked up. “Will you get me a book?”

My heart broke. He asked not for a Kindle, a Powerbook, a Galaxy, or an iPad. He asked for a book, here in the Bahamas, one of the world’s most luxurious vacation destinations, and where he lived—in the beautiful settlement of Sandy Point on Abaco Island, far from the madding crowds of American tourists—there were almost none.

I’m here to work with the Island Waves program, founded by the incredibly hard working, determined, entrepreneurial, multi-talented, multi-tasking Garnell Limperes Stuart.  Within the Bahamas, Abaco Island is the fourth largest by area and third largest by population. The few tourists who come to the island come to Marsh Harbour. Garnell teaches general music classes in settlements throughout the island. 

In Marsh Harbour, I had a taste of the tourist life (and tourist prices) when we shared a wonderful conch-themed lunch at Conky Joe’s waterfront restaurant overlooking some ramshackle docks, destroyed (but never re-built) during the most recent hurricane. Judging by the price of that lunch, I could get an inkling of how much money tourists bring to the Bahamas. But who makes sure that this money provides benefit to the people?

Garnell, or Miss G as her students affectionately call her, has taken matters into her own hands, insuring that even the most impoverished settlements have music education. Yet even though I’m a lifelong musician, I can admit that books are more important than music, so tears stuck at the corners of my eyes when Frederick asked his question. Someone could launch a program convincing travel agencies to ask American tourists to bring their old books to the Bahamas. Or, the government could raise the cost of every hotel room by $1 a night, and provide enough books for the island’s children in perpetuity. But growing up with books, libraries, and skilled, compassionate librarians is even more fundamental a human right than the right to listen to and enjoy music.

People don’t usually think of the Bahamas as a place to go for social causes. Many friends and Cultures in Harmony donors rolled their eyes and laughed when I told them I was going to Bahamas. Basing a donor pitch on our new project here will be difficult, although I will certainly try. 

But there is a Bahamas tourists don’t see. Children, hungry for intellectual stimulation, eager for a book, a piano keyboard, a drum. They did talk and move a lot during the workshops, which will (hopefully) result in the creation and world premiere of a passacaglia tomorrow as part of the Passacaglia Project. However, I have enough experience working with children to know that this was part of their excitement, their joy of making music. They want to do everything, to make all possible sounds, at all times. The space of their lives can never be too full with music. 

Garnell is doing phenomenal work, and it is a privilege for Cultures in Harmony to begin a new collaboration to support her mission of ensuring that Bahamian children grow up with a musical education. I patiently convinced children that there was some value in learning to play one note at a time on the keyboard, instead of banging on it, and I was rewarded when, at the end of the day, they said that the drums should not play all the time, or they wouldn’t hear the softer instruments. They had understood my lesson on the concept of balance.

If it is a privilege to teach music here, it is also a pleasure. After the morning workshop, we headed to the beach to pick conch shells to add to our new composition. Little Chrissy, a tiny girl who preferred smiling and hugging to saying much, exclaimed, “I can go on your back!” It wasn’t a question, and of course I was happy to give her a piggyback ride. 

The utter calm and tranquility of Sandy Point are quite something. I don’t mean to give a negative impression of it when I call attention to the fact that its children—and their educators—deserve more resources. It is idyllic in a way that many modern tourists claim to search out. Its position at the narrow southern tip of Abaco Island means that the beach is never more than a minute’s walk in any direction. 

But Sandy Point doesn’t need the tourism industry to “discover” it, and I don’t see where a resort hotel would be built anyhow. Sandy Point needs for the tourism industry to consider what it might owe the people of the Bahamas. 

At the very least, it owes Frederick—and every girl and boy in this paradise of a country, whose citizens fight overwhelming want with unflagging hope—some books.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Raag Bhopali in India

On June 26, I played Raag Bhopali in Mumbai, India, with the talented, brilliant, and beautiful Vishala and Kamakshi Khurana of The Sound Space. Please enjoy the video here: