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, November 23, 2015

American culture: what we're thankful for

Since announcing our new #AmericanCultureIs project a week ago, response has been terrific. Lots of folks are interested in investigating the question: What is American culture?

Exciting collaborations beckon with institutions around the country such as Indiana University  and KIPP DC Schools, as well as musical groups such as Harpeth Rising and Hampton Roads Chamber Players. Know an institution, band, person, or group in your state that would make a good collaborator? Contact me!

We’ve been working to get the hashtag #AmericanCultureIs trending on twitter. What do YOU think American culture is? Write a tweet, and use the hashtag! It will take twenty seconds and zero dollars. OK, maybe a bit longer than 20 seconds if you have a hard time condensing your thoughts on this huge subject to fit into 140 characters! I know I do.

Would you like to contribute to the project? To use an old American expression, that’d be swell! Every little bit counts, and remember, a gift of $1,000 will designate you as the sponsor of a state. If you want to give less than that, $15 will buy me food for a day. My stomach will thank you. Donate here!

On Tuesday, I returned to the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City for the first time since the performance that changed my life. On September 16, 2001, I played there for families of the 9/11 victims and soldiers returning from work at Ground Zero. Tuesday’s return was very emotional for me: read about it here, and check out the videos I recorded there of the Star-Spangled Banner and the Bach Sarabande

Fourteen years ago, I decided that I wanted to dedicate my life to affirming the central role culture plays in society: connecting us, sustaining us, celebrating the humanity we share. That performance led me to start Cultures in Harmony, and also inspired me to join the faculty of Afghanistan National Institute of Music. So it was only fitting to return there before embarking on this major project that will see me travel to all 50 states and receive (hopefully!) thousands of answers to the question: what is American culture?

Whatever your answer is, let the American cultural experience unite us, and in this season of thanksgiving, let us give thanks for the wondrous fact that there are as many correct answers to that question as there are people who can answer it. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Return to the Armory

There’s a good reason I didn’t have my iPhone with me on the day that changed my life: they hadn’t been invented yet. Five days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I performed for soldiers from the Fighting 69th Regiment as they returned from working at Ground Zero. Thousands of people from around the world read the letter I wrote about that performance, a letter that appeared in print, broadcast, and online media, from the Wall Street Journal to a church newsletter in England. Emails came from as far away as Russia, South Africa, and Papua New Guinea.

Until that concert, I had wanted to pursue a conventional classical music career. Afterwards, however, I was no longer content to merely offer refined entertainment to those who already knew the joys of Saint-Saens and Schubert, and who kept their Friday evenings free for that purpose. Thinking about what that performance meant, I decided that I wanted to do whatever little bit I could, as a musician, to prevent another 9/11. Quixotic, yes. Foolish, certainly. But I wanted to try. 

In 2005, I started the non-profit Cultures in Harmony, which has since conducted nearly 40 cultural diplomacy projects in 14 countries. We’ve performed local music with local musicians in schools in Pakistan, prisons in Cameroon, and concert halls in Zimbabwe. 

Since the non-profit has never paid me a salary, I moved to Kabul to teach violin at Afghanistan National Institute of Music. I spent four years there, the highlight of which was a tour by the Afghan Youth Orchestra to the USA. Capacity audiences in Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center saw an orchestra of Afghan girls and boys performing together for the first time. 

All of that, inspired by a single performance. And yet, in 14 years, although that performance had inspired me to visit 25 countries, I had never once returned to the 69th Regiment Armory. The experience had been too powerful. 

Perhaps I feared that if I returned, I would have to consider the possibility that one mission that place had planted in my heart—to bring peace to the world through music—had failed, a failure manifest not only in the obvious frequency of violence ripping fissures throughout our world, but in comparison to what I could have done, had I worked a little harder, been more virtuous, inspired more to follow the message implied by the notes I played and the words I wrote. Had I lived up to that promise? Could anyone?

Since I’m about to travel to every state in a project that will ask artists and members of the public to reflect on the nature of American culture, I wanted to use my new iPhone to record a solo violin version of the National Anthem, figuring that I might occasionally need to play it during this year-long odyssey. The 69th Regiment’s historian, Bert Cunningham, kindly gave me permission to do so at the place that changed my life.

He showed me murals commemorating battles from the Revolutionary War to World War I, as well as a display case highlighting the role the 69th and its Armory played in the aftermath of 9/11. I swallowed hard as I saw a photo of the Armory’s outer walls, which were covered with missing posters in the days after 9/11. Those walls, plastered with missing persons smiling from white sheets of paper, were my first sight of the Armory on September 16. On that day, I entered the building and played for family members who had tacked those posters to the century-old brick walls with tape. In the days following my performance, most of those family members would give up hope before learning that their loved ones were not missing, but killed. 

Mr. Cunningham also showed me a wall within the Armory featuring photos of soldiers killed in Iraq, where the Fighting 69th secured the road from Baghdad to the airport in the aftermath of the invasion. This was the hardest part for me. There were too many men, each with a different smile, each regarding the camera from a different angle. Some projected calm, others, a cocky confidence. They seemed too different from one another to be described with any common word, such as “casualty,” and yet too united by a common purpose for that purpose to have failed. Did I play for any of these men, three years before they left for Iraq? I asked. Possibly, Mr. Cunningham replied. I had hoped my performance would bring a couple hours of peace to soldiers who thoroughly deserved at least that much, but it had always been too much to hope that I would bring them anything more.

I recorded the National Anthem first in the historic Duffy Room, which honors the Fighting 69th’s commander, Col. Edward Duffy, at the time it moved into this building in 1906. The beautiful wood paneling, an American flag, the regimental flag, and a portrait of Col. Conroy, their World War II-era commander, formed an appropriately somber backdrop. Visually, it was clearly the best place to make the video. Yet my soul was not finished with the Armory.

Afterwards, I asked if I could record again, at the exact spot where I played in 2001. The rest of the Armory, I had not recognized. Fourteen years ago, the dozens of missing posters thrust themselves on my eyes, pleading, insisting, hoping without reason. Now, I was surprised to see an exterior of ochre, the solemn ancient bricks standing apart from the garish modernity of midtown Manhattan. Fourteen years ago, the Armory had covered its cavernous central room with tarps and filled it with booths to minister to the hundreds of grieving family members. Now, with the tarps gone, only a haunting silence crammed stillness into the hall, and only the basketball lines laid down by the New York Knicks, who played here for 14 seasons in the 1940s and '50s, peeked out faintly from the wooden floor. 

Instantly, I recognized the spot where I had paced for nearly three hours while playing for the soldiers. Just past the thick, double wooden main doors leading from the street, two large staircases on the left and right lead to the second floor. Between two pillars is a stretch of open hallway, about twenty feet wide, where it’s possible to look down at anyone coming up the staircase, or across the length of the second floor, or over to the doors leading into the central room. That’s where I played in 2001, and that’s where I would record now.

I chose the Bach B Minor Saraband, which I had just started learning for the first time back in 2001. Its haunting, elegiac quality had also led me to suggest it to Steve Robinson of WFMT-Chicago, when he’d asked me in October 2001 to record something I’d played at the Armory as background music for a broadcast version of my letter. No soldiers listened this time. The hallways were empty. 

When I finished playing, time began to play tricks on me. Hadn’t I just been here yesterday? Had anything really changed? 

I would never have founded Cultures in Harmony had it not been for that performance. Our motto is that we bring people together through music. Yet how many people have we brought together through music? What difference have we made, globally? Is there more or less division in the world of 2015 or in the world of 2001? 

I would never have been to Afghanistan had it not been for that performance. The music students I taught in Kabul play bravely on, building from success to success, as in a recent video in which Afghanistan’s first female conductor leads the orchestra my Afghan boss asked me to start in April 2010. Yet the school’s continued achievements shows that I wasn’t as irreplaceable as I thought. 

The idealism that led me to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tunisia had also animated the spirits of those men and women who listened when I played on September 16, 2001, and some of whom were then killed in Iraq three years later. 

It is tempting to want to give in to cynicism, or to use a cynic’s way with words and convince myself that I am merely acceding to difficult realities. Perhaps I could view the two times I played violin at the Armory as the first and last chapters of a mammoth book, filled with 14 years of striving, a book I can now close. 

Perhaps. But I’d like to keep that book within reach, on my shelf, and keep its idealism accessible as I set out across the USA in search of American culture. Not every high hope that sprung, fully formed, into my heart on September 16, 2001, has yet been realized. And of all the goals I suddenly acquired on that day, perhaps the most difficult to define (and therefore to achieve) is a desire to restore culture to its place at the center of society. 

I’m not ready to give that up. I may have left the Armory a second time, but I can never allow myself to abandon the intense and meaning-pregnant possibility of connection that birthed my adult consciousness that day. Fourteen years ago, I brought the power of music to an Armory filled with scarred inner worlds, in a way that happened to transform the inner world of my future aspirations. I have not yet done enough to transform the world around or within me, here and now, and so I must continue to learn the lessons of that Armory performance, freed both of the expectation that its lofty goals can ever be realized, and of the burden of believing that their realization, rather than their pursuit, was ever the thing that mattered most.

Monday, November 16, 2015

American culture project!

Cultures in Harmony is proud to announce "What is American Culture? A 50-State, 1-Year Exploration." In 2016, CiH violinist and director William Harvey will visit all 50 states—one week per state—in a collaborative, educational, and participatory quest to highlight the many strands that combine to form the American cultural tapestry. 

CiH enthusiastically invites your collaboration in any of the following ways: 

1. Create your own answer 

 Using the hashtag #AmericanCultureIs, upload your own answer as a video to Vine, a tweet to Twitter, or the Reddit post on the topic. Create your own concert, art installation, flashmob, performance, panel discussions, show, dance, artwork, composition, and advertise it with the hashtag or upload it to YouTube. 

2. Make a donation

We enthusiastically welcome donations of all sizes! Want to make a big gesture? The project will cost $50,000, so a donation of $1,000 designates you as the sponsor of the activities in one state!  Have $1 to contribute to this investigation of what American culture is? Donate it online

3. Collaborate 

Let’s initiate collaborations and discussions with musicians from any genre of music, from hip hop to country to folk to Western classical, as well as with artists from all disciplines: actors, painters, sculptors, dancers, writers, clowns. Also, groups are welcome to perform/contribute on their own, and performances can take place long before or after William comes to any given state. Let’s initiate a national conversation about what American culture is! 

4. Host 

William will be looking for a place to stay in each state. Thank you in advance for your hospitality. Please contact us about this. 

5. Create video and social media content 

 It would be great if someone can help create weekly videos about the work of the project in each state for YouTube. Although ideally, the entire project would have one videographer throughout, we don’t have the budget for that at present, but if anyone is able/willing to help on a per-state basis, that would be fantastic.

6. Set up a performance or event 

In each state, there will be at least one performance involving William and any local musicians, artists, dancers, actors, poets, writers, or circus performers who want to participate! Possible performance venues include sports stadiums (William’s happy to play the national anthem), churches & other places of worship, homeless shelters, hospitals, hospices, prisons, schools, parks, government buildings, and community centers. 

7. Provide connections 

 The project will need a wide variety of people in all 50 states to make it a success. Do you know someone, anywhere in the US, who might be able to help? Let’s make this happen! 

8. Conduct a discussion 

 At universities, community centers, houses of worship, discussion groups, and other places across the country, let’s discuss: what is American culture? Why is it challenging to try to define? Given the French origins of the Statue of Liberty, the English origins of our national anthem, or the Italian origins of pizza, how can we claim any aspect of our culture as uniquely our own? How inclusive is the phrase “American culture” anyway? 

9. Educate 

 Got a connection to a kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, or college? Want to work together on a curriculum related to the project? Let’s inspire America’s youth, at all stages of educational development, to reflect on what American culture means to them, to examine, celebrate, and critique American cultural expression, and to create their own works of art. 

10. Follow the project 

Most importantly, we want lots of people to follow the work of the project on social media, so please follow the project on Blogger, Periscope (@cih2005), YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit,  Instagram, and Vine. Thank you so much for your interest! In a year when politicians will seek to highlight our differences, let’s remember that in our diversity lies the source of our unity, that American culture may be the only one in the world for which so many infinite definitions are equally correct.

Thank you for joining us on this amazing journey!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris attacks

Thank you to my many friends for their kind birthday wishes. At this tragic time, we all value more than usual the network of family and friends that sustains us.
Cultures in Harmony had intended to announce the launch of a major domestic project today. Your support for this exciting project is the best birthday gift I could hope for. Given last night's horrific attacks, the project will launch Monday morning by 9 a.m. Eastern time. 
The Paris attacks were motivated by exactly the sort of cultural rift we have always sought to bridge. While ISIS wishes for its actions to be seen as a response to Western military attacks on their territory, they have also stated that the targets were "precisely chosen" and described the concert they attacked as "hundreds of pagans gathered for a concert of prostitution and vice." (according to The Independent and other online sources)
In March 2014, a policeman in Kabul stopped me just after my driver let me off at a barricade that had been erected one block from my house. When the officer saw my violin, he gave me a lascivious grin and said that I could only pass if I danced for him, conflating music, dancing, and prostitution as too many men in conservative Muslim countries have done and still do. 
Yet the man who saved me from what could have become an ugly situation was my Muslim driver Wais, an unarmed man who, at great risk to his personal safety, shouted at and intimidated the automatic-rifle-toting policeman until I could safely return home. 
If yesterday's victims included primarily non-Muslims, Muslims worldwide are still the vast majority of the innocent victims of Islamic extremists. To reduce the frequency of these kind of attacks, both Muslims and non-Muslims in all countries will need to be more honest and more self-critical than either side has been comfortable with thus far. 
Western militaries will be as precise in their response to this so-called "payback" for anti-ISIS attack as ISIS was. We musicians can be equally precise in our response.
Cultures in Harmony has performed with hip-hop, rock, pop, classical, semi-classical, folk, and traditional musicians in Tunisia, Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. We will continue to stand next to everyone who shares our commitment to music as a universal language of peace, as a way to bring people together.
Out of respect for the victims, Cultures in Harmony will delay the project launch until Monday, but we will launch it and then implement it. For every concert attacked, let the musicians of the world schedule a million more. 
As Bernstein said when Kennedy was shot: "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Zimbabwe videos with Oliver Mtukudzi now available!

The videos of our performances in Zimbabwe with living legend Oliver Mtukudzi are now available! On this historic occasion, I conducted the orchestra of Musicamp Zimbabwe in my arrangements of three of his songs. It was the first time that his music had been performed by an orchestra, and the first time that the orchestra of Musicamp had played black Zimbabwean music in its 51-year history. Thank you to Billy St. John, the director of Musicamp, for helping make this happen!

Watch all three videos!


Wenge Mambo:


Thursday, November 05, 2015

Office Administrator position available

Cultures in Harmony (CiH), a New York-based NGO that promotes cultural understanding through music, seeks a reliable and trustworthy Office Administrator for part-time work (2 hours per week at $16/hour). The Office Administrator will:
  • Live in New York County (Manhattan)
  • Help CiH select a new PO box at a Post Office convenient for the Office Administrator
  • Check that PO box not less than twice per week
  • Record the date, name, postal address, and amount of all checks received by CiH
  • Forward (via email and once per week) this information to CiH in an Excel spreadsheet
  • Deposit all checks received in our account at a Chase bank
  • Report on any other mail received by Cultures in Harmony at the PO box

Depending on a variety of factors including job performance, mail volume, total donations received, and mutual agreement, the duties and compensation may increase over time.

Interested parties may send a CV and may be asked to participate in an interview via Skype.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Interplanetary Mullah now online!

I'm very happy that the world premiere recording of my 2014 composition "Interplanetary Mullah" is now online! If you've ever wondered what my compositions sound like, or if you've ever wondered what a musical description of the experiences of the first mullah in space would sound like, give it a listen. And then, if you're in a position to do so, please, pretty please, commission me to write more music! Thank you to everyone at the Da Camera Society and DC8 for a great performance on May 14, 2014, at the Farmer and Merchants Bank in Los Angeles!

The performance received a very positive review in the Los Angeles Times:

For starters, William Harvey's ink-still-wet "Interplanetary Mullah" came pre-loaded with references to musical influences from Afghanistan, Cameroon and even Mars in the narrative, but it was best appreciated purely for its musical attributes. Heard in the score was a dense blender effect, a post-Charles Ives mesh in the multicultural 21st century.

Here are my program notes for the piece:

Interplanetary Mullah

B-flat Clarinet
Percussion (1 player):
Suspended Cymbal

commissioned by
The Da Camera Society of Mount St. Mary’s College, Los Angeles, California, USA

9 January 2014
Kabul, Afghanistan

9 minutes 30 seconds

Program Notes
A century from now, enough humans have left Earth for work on other planets to justify the expense of bringing religious authorities to live among them and advise them. The international body managing the colonies must therefore locate knowledgeable, open-minded people who can work well within their faith, with secular authorities, and with representatives of other faiths. What, then, will the mullah be like? What would prompt him to accept the invitation? What will go through his mind during the journey? What will he face when he arrives at the colony on the other planet to advise the Muslim workers he meets there?
This composition attempts to answer these questions. First, we learn the mullah’s identity: he has a naturally thoughtful, introspective disposition. He has an emotional attachment to something (or someone) here on Earth, but what? He doesn’t say. He is well-traveled, frequently making trips to meet with Muslims around the world, whether in Cameroon, India, Turkey, or Afghanistan. He receives the invitation to go to space, and after much reflection, he embarks on the lengthy journey. When he finally arrives, there is a disagreement between those who believe it is sufficient to face the general direction of Earth while praying, and those who want to use technology to locate Mecca more precisely. He attempts to resolve the disagreement rationally, but only succeeds in getting both groups to set it aside temporarily as mind-numbing routine consumes their lives.

After many years of traveling to Muslim countries and four years of living in Afghanistan, I have great respect for Islam, although I am not Muslim myself. When I am in Afghanistan and I have time to temporarily escape from the intense demands of my job teaching violin at Afghanistan National Institute of Music, I daydream about life in outer space. So this piece looks at an exceptionally hypothetical situation and person, neither of which could possibly exist for many decades to come, from a standpoint of respect, awe, and wonderment. 

For further reading:

The Quran and Extraterrestrial Life

A conference in 2006 in Malaysia to determine how to pray while in space