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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Arrival in San Juan, Argentina

On Sunday, I arrived in San Juan, Argentina, to begin my new job as concertmaster of the Orquesta Sinfónica de la Universidad Nacional de San Juan, and teacher at the Music Department of the same university. I have traveled so much through my work with Cultures in Harmony and during the last 4 years at Afghanistan National Institute of Music, that I'm embarrassed to say that I've never been to South America before, and now I'll be living in Argentina for at least a year!

So far, I enjoy it. If you speak Spanish, please check out this article about my arrival. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Announcing 2014 projects

Cultures in Harmony is pleased to announce 3 major projects for 2014.
We will partner with the Atlas Music Academy to bring 5 musicians to Tunisia from August 4 to 17, 2014. Together, we will present workshops for young classical musicians and perform outreach concerts alongside them.
From August 7 to 23, we will partner with the Cartwheel Foundation in a project called "Structure of Culture, Structure of Hope," that will send 5 musicians to the Philippines to ensure the continued vitality of the culture of the Tagbanua people after they survived Typhoon Haiyan.
Finally, we will partner with Blume Haiti to help send teachers of wind, brass, or piano to music camps in Haiti throughout the summer.
For any musician interested in applying to the project, please note that this ApplicationForm2014, your C.V., and an application fee of $50 are due by Friday, April 25, 2014. Please download the form for more information. Applications are accepted for Philippines and Haiti projects only.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The closeness of mountains

"Ko ba ko namerasah, adam ba adam merasah." This Dari proverb means that mountains cannot become close to one another, but people can. Given that Afghanistan has taught me more than I could ever teach its young musicians, I was grateful to learn this extraordinary saying on my last day from ANIM clarinet teacher Ahmad Farid Shefta.

Thursday night's horrific attack on the Serena by the enemies of Afghanistan and its religion and culture typified the stories about the country that appear in the Western media. For me though, one of the victims of the attack dogs of the Taliban is a far better exemplar of what it means to be Afghan than the religious conservatives who have done their best to destroy a magnificent country.

I did not have the privilege of knowing Sardar Ahmad personally, though many of my friends did. This deeply moving tribute shows what made him special. Dr. Sarmast reminded me that he also came with his family to ANIM concerts.

I also will forever associate Afghanistan with my wonderful students and with Dr. Sarmast. It can be the most difficult thing in the world for all of us to remove the stone within our hearts that prevents us from reaching out to those very different from ourselves, but in an age when the world believes that Afghanistan and the USA are at loggerheads, my students showed me the truth in that proverb every day.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A farewell concert...and another food review

I was very honored that H.E. James Cunningham, Ambassador of the USA to Afghanistan, threw a farewell concert in my honor at the US Embassy last night. Here is the press release, here are some pictures, and reproduced here is the picture taken of Amb. and Mrs. Cunningham, Dr. Sarmast, the ANIM students with whom I performed, and myself:

I received a certificate of appreciation that thanked me for my "outstanding leadership and contributions to the promotion of music education in Afghanistan." I am also grateful to the embassy for feeding the students and me pizza from the embassy's Pizza Hut, which we were privileged to eat in the formal dining room on china with the embassy logo. 

Speaking of food, time is running out for me to add more restaurant reviews, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention what a fabulous experience I had at Cherry Berry in Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood today. The frozen yogurt shop has already acquired quite a cachet among my Afghan friends, and I note that their Facebook page has nearly 35,000 likes. Sadly, most foreigners living in Kabul will never experience the awesomeness of Cherry Berry, since its glass windows look right onto the main road of Wazir Akbar Khan and there are no armed guards. Personally, I feel that going to places frequented mainly by Afghans is the best way to remain safe, and I am lucky that I spent my four years here without suffering from the security regulations that many employers impose upon foreigners here. 

The Cherry Berry experience is delightfully simple. You go in, grab a large cup, fill it with as much frozen yogurt (at least 8 flavors), toppings, and syrups as you want, weigh it, and then pay by weight. What a brilliant system! No complicated worrying about sizes and whether or not to pay extra for toppings. The quality of the frozen yogurt and toppings is uniformly high: everything was so scrumptious that I ate a bit too fast, getting a "brain freeze." My unique combination was 3 kinds of yogurt (pomegranate, kiwi, and cookies & cream) plus the following toppings: white chocolate chips, chocolate crunch, graham cracker crumbs, and fresh strawberries. Yum!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Afghanistan's culture ascendant

As preparations to leave Afghanistan one week from today consume my schedule, I pause today to reflect on how the cultural scene in Kabul has become more vibrant in the four years I have been here. Today I had the privilege of attending the inauguration of Cinema Aryub. The grand old movie theater was one of Afghanistan's 28 cinemas before anti-culture forces in the 1990s drove most cinemas to neglect and ruin. I enjoyed hearing the reminiscences of a middle-aged Afghan man who remembered that when he was a teenager, he would stand in the foyer just outside the entrance and comb his hair with feigned nonchalance in case any girls were watching.

I visited Cinema Aryub in January 2012 when it was still dusty and in shambles, with discarded Bollywood movie posters from the 1970s yellowing in the corners of an abandoned restaurant next door watched over by a guard who offered my driver and me some tea while I was waiting for a visa from the nearby Embassy of Pakistan. The contrast with that earlier visit was quite something: the cinema is now a fully renovated and functional cultural center. Most of the 900 seats were filled for the inauguration, and the audience clapped and whistled along to a concert featuring some of the best crossover music I've heard: a rock band made up entirely of Afghans playing a song alongside traditional Afghan musicians from the kharabat district. Too often in Kabul, rock music feels imposed by foreigners eager for adventure and for credit, oblivious to the lack of interest among most Afghans in rock music. Yet this young Afghan band managed to blend the classical sounds of their country with Western rock influences in a new and innovative way, even allowing the tula, a bamboo flute, to be heard over the accompanying electric guitar.

I ran into an old acquaintance prominently involved with the Kabul cultural scene and also made same new friends, one of whom was interested in an outing after the inauguration. This old acquaintance suggested we all go tour the new Afghanistan Center at Kabul University. The center's collection of documents, photos, books, and manuscripts related to Afghanistan is based on the collection of Louis and Nancy Hatch Dupree, and she serves as the director of the center, even though she is now well into her 80s. She has lived in Afghanistan (or in Afghan areas of Pakistan) for over half a century, making my 4 years here seem insignificant. It was an honor to pose for a picture with the American who is most beloved by Afghans.

The Afghanistan Center exemplifies what new architecture can do for Afghanistan. It is so obvious that no corners were cut and no expense was spared to build a state-of-the-art, visually striking library that would be a source of pride for any university in any country, but which also reflects the culture that produced it.

Any Afghan student visiting the center will leave reflecting that there is no reason her or his nation cannot stand as an equal with all others. Places like the Afghanistan Center should go a long way towards inspiring Afghan youth to redouble their commitment to a country far too many intelligent and open-minded Afghans—willingly and unwillingly—have abandoned in the last forty years.

This long day started with my second appearance on Afghanistan's popular morning TV show, Bamdad-e Khosh. I'll link to it if the show uploads it to YouTube. The easygoing host, Omid Nezami, stays true to his roots as a pop singer by including live music on every episode; the show airs for two hours every morning, six days a week.

At ANIM, I coached the second string quartet I have helped form there in recent months. This one, called the Afghan Young Artists Quartet, shows real promise. I also rehearsed the Afghan Youth Orchestra for an upcoming performance in which I'll conduct them for President Karzai.

Did I make a mistake by leaving Afghanistan now, as its culture is ascendant?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Restaurant Review: Everest Pizza

Lately I have been very busy preparing the Afghan Youth Orchestra for a few major performances this month and dealing with the complicated logistics of moving from Afghanistan to Argentina. Last night, when I had some free time, I read this sad article about the state of the Kabul restaurant business after the January 17 attack on Taverna, one of my favorite restaurants here. When reading about the tribulations facing Everest Pizza, I realized to my surprise that I had not been to Kabul's oldest and best-known pizza restaurant. Given my post-Taverna attack resolve to review as many of Kabul's restaurants as I could before my move, I decided to head there today.

Located on the main street of Wazir Akbar Khan, the restaurant's security guard may have been bored by the lack of customers, for he smiled and shook my hand, which I appreciated. I was the only customer the entire time I was there.

Although the menu is primarily pizza, the restaurant has beautiful traditional Afghan decor, such as ornately carved wooden chairs. Like many casual cafes here, the lighting is fairly dark. Many Kabul restaurants have an extensive fresh juice selection, but today, Everest had only orange and apple. The orange was decent.

The pizza was truly delicious: I ordered the "Mountain Pizza," featuring beef, mushrooms, and a delectable garlic sauce. Its mouth feel was based on real flavor, rather than grease. How was it that I'd never been here in four years in Kabul? And here I'm leaving soon...well, I'll have to come back before I leave, and include it in the list of restaurants I recommend to whichever foreigners succeed me.

I had returned home when I learned that while I was enjoying my pizza, the Swedish journalist Nils Horner was murdered about 600 meters away. I condemn his unforgivable killing.

Security played no role in my decision to leave after four years here, and I hope that the murder of Mr. Horner will not deter other qualified and well-intentioned foreigners from working in Afghanistan. Positive interaction between cultures remains as essential here as it is elsewhere. Recently, I was inspired by this story about the Israeli musician David Broza conducting workshops with Palestinian youth. I also agree with this essay by my friend, former US Ambassador Cynthia Schneider, about the importance of efforts in Pakistan to challenge extremists in that country through culture. Music and dialogue grow in vitality and relevance in the world's most conflict-ridden places.

Mr. Broza has faced concerns about "normalization" of interaction between Israelis and Palestinians that occurs without a long-term solution to the crisis. Every conflict is different. Here in Afghanistan, it is important to assert the value of the normal in our lives. Music, for me, is never normal, but always extraordinary, and even more so here.

Eating pizza, on the other hand, is an activity of such delightful normality that it asserts that those fomenting fear cannot have succeed entirely. So come to Kabul. Stand with Afghans as they rebuild their country. And enjoy some amazing pizza at Everest!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Iconic pictures: Cultures in Harmony

After performing for the famous Bhutto family, Karachi, Pakistan, 2009

With a whirling dervish, Konya, Turkey, 2007

After a performance at a center for lepers and their families, Cameroon, 2013

Jamming with prisoners, Cameroon, 2013

Concert at a school run by The Citizens Foundation, Karachi, Pakistan, 2009

Leading a music workshop on the beach, San Miguel, Philippines, 2008

Cultural exchange concert with mbira player Onias Horiwa by the side of the road in Zimbabwe, 2006

After a concert for the Iba indigenous community, Philippines, 2008

Dinner with former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, at her Manila home, 2007

Concert at a soccer stadium, Alexandria, Egypt, 2012. Photo: Corinne Grassi

Teaching violin at Casa San Miguel, Philippines, 2007

Music lessons for orphans from Casa Hogar, Pátzcuaro, Mexico, 2007

Concert with Pakistani band "FEW" at home for mentally and physically disabled, Karachi, Pakistan, 2012

After a school concert, Yaoundé, Cameroon, 2009

Impromptu concert, Papua New Guinea, 2008

Impromptu concert at a bar in Wedza, Zimbabwe, 2006

Entertaining orphans with a friend in Zimbabwe, 2006

After creating compositions with AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe, 2006

CiH Musicians helped a photography class practice their art by serving as models in the Philippines, 2009. Photo: Kat Teh 

After a performance at the English Language Village, Tunisia, 2008

Iconic pictures: Afghanistan

As I prepare to transition away from four years in Afghanistan, I thought it would be fun to create two blog entries of pictures. This one will showcase the most iconic pictures of my four years in Afghanistan. The next one will showcase the most iconic pictures of my work with Cultures in Harmony in other countries around the world.

Recording session with rubab virtuoso Homayoun Sakhi, 2012

Working with community group Jahesh to help feed the impoverished, 2013

Staring out at Kabul from the ruins of Darulaman Palace, 2012

With the Afghanistan Girls' String Quartet, which I coached, after their first performance, 2014

With ANIM Founder/Director Dr. Ahmad Sarmast on my first day in Afghanistan, March 21, 2010

With superstar Afghan singer, Aryana Sayeed, 2012

Playing on Bamdad-e Khosh, one of the most popular TV programs, hosted by Omid Nezami on Tolo TV, 2013

Looking out at Babur Gardens from Emperor Babur's tomb, 2010

Shaking hands with ANIM ghichak student Farhad Safari in Carnegie Hall, February 12, 2013

Beginning of my short-lived career as an Afghan model, 2014

With Dr. Sarmast, famed singer Ustad Gulzaman, and the police at ANIM's inauguration, June 20, 2010

Dancing at a faculty picnic at Spojmai Restaurant (before it was attacked), Lake Qargha, 2010

After conducting a performance for President Karzai, March 2013

With John Kerry on his first day as Secretary of State, listening to ANIM students perform, February 4, 2013

Teaching an ANIM student, 2010

With one of my most talented students, Mehran Fanoos, 2014

Accompanying my student as she plays for US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, 2011

On the remains of a tank, 2010

Conducting the Afghan Youth Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, which we sold out, February 12, 2013

Conducting the Afghan Youth Orchestra in Kabul for US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, 2010

Trying to play one of the violins ANIM had before receiving a huge shipment of real instruments in April 2010

After climbing Kabul Wall, 2012

Conducting the Afghan Youth Orchestra at the French Institute of Afghanistan, 2012

A command performance for the Afghan National Police, 2010

Visiting a student's home, 2010