William Harvey's thoughts about the ability of the arts to cross cultural barriers, including diary entries from his job teaching at Afghanistan National Institute of Music; news about Cultures in Harmony, the non-profit he founded in 2005; and general thoughts about cultural diplomacy.
- Name: William Harvey
- Location: Kabul, Afghanistan
Monday, November 26, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
One of the best concerts ever
Occasionally, a person strikes you as being so noble, so completely and fully human in their capacity for empathy, that you feel lucky simply to share a planet with that person. I feel that way now about Sir Simon Rattle. Forget for a moment that he is a superb musician. Before his arrival in Berlin, this was an orchestra that could ruffle feathers simply by straying from its staple repertoire: the classics written over a century ago by men from Austria and Germany. Sir Simon arrived and insisted that somehow, that was no longer enough.
One of the first things he did was to conduct a performance of Rite of Spring in which the dancers were inner-city, underprivileged children in Berlin, some of whom were immigrant orphans from impoverished nations such as Nigeria. And now, he brought this concept to New York.
I also feel lucky to share a planet with choreographer Royston Maldoom, who has the ability to invent simple gestures non-dancers can execute and convince children to do them. Not just any children: children who have been falsely conditioned by American society to believe that their lives do not need the arts, and that their economic status holds no hope of a better future.
Carnegie Hall and the Berlin Philharmonic deserve a lot of credit. When two of the most august institutions in the arts collaborate on a project like this, their work shatters all kinds of expectations and stereotypes while sending a clear message: outreach is important. Art matters. Our children matter.
Carnegie Hall was also selfless enough to schedule the event in another venue: the stunningly grand and ornate United Palace Theater, up in my neighborhood of Washington Heights, just north of Harlem. By placing this cultural exchange in the neighborhood where many of the children live, they sent yet another powerful message to members of the arts community: art must go to people. The days when artists should expect people to come to them are long over, even if those artists happen to be the Berlin Philharmonic.
The most credit, of course, goes to the children themselves. It is good that they transcended society's expectations of their abilities. But it is far more admirable that they exceeded their own. If you'd told them three months ago that they would give the a spectacular modern dance performance, would they have believed you? Now, there is nothing they will not believe themselves to be capable of.
I'm writing about this concert here for two reasons. On the first half of the concert, the children presented compositions that they had created inspired by Rite of Spring. Cultures in Harmony has taught composition to children with no musical training: AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe, members of the Tala-Andig tribe in the Philippines, and orphans in Mexico. I learned a lot from seeing how the Berlin Philharmonic led a similar educational process over the course of the six-week project.
Most importantly, this was the one of the finest examples of cultural exchange I've ever witnessed. On the one hand, you had the Berlin Philharmonic, predominately male, almost entirely white. On the other hand, you had over a hundred students from Harlem, mostly black and Hispanic. The success of the exchange could be read in the delighted laughter and thunderous applause of the audience, as well as the obvious commitment and passion of the students on stage. The mayor of Berlin gave a speech in accented English which concluded with him saying, "We love New York." A large African-American man to my left shouted out, "We love you too."
I tweaked the truth a bit in the first paragraph of this entry when I stated that these children have "never danced before in their lives." In truth, all of us have danced: in our hearts, in our bedrooms, in the street when we thought no one was looking. That desire to dance and sing, that visceral reaction to the presence of beauty in our lives connects eminent British knights to Hispanic second graders from Harlem and bookish German oboists to Nigerian orphans. It shows us all that at a time when so much violence and hate beset our world, hope remains resilient.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Congratulations to Ricardo
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
A steadily growing flame
Not having heard of Mr. Akbar previously, I did what research I could. The government website for Basilan touts his many successes as provincial governor, including his advocacy for the impoverished, his campaign against illiteracy, and his important infrastructure projects. On the other hand, Mr. Akbar was not immune from charges of cronyism: Basilan's new governor and the mayor of Isabela City (its capital) were both married to Mr. Akbar, a Muslim.
Whatever Mr. Akbar was like as a politician, let us all renew our commitment to renouncing murder as a means of political dissent. We in the United States are not immune from the attitudes that led to Mr. Akbar's assassination: as the whole brouhaha over Alberto Gonzales firing attorneys showed, we have also occasionally chosen to silence debate rather than nurture it.
Cultures in Harmony exists to create free and open exchanges: of music, of people, of contrasting viewpoints on cultural and social matters. This is one reason I feel compelled to condemn Mr. Akbar's assassination. Another is that some musicians and funders may be concerned about how this act of terrorism may affect our project in the Philippines.
The Islamic terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, the probable perpetrators of this attack, is confined to various southern islands, such as Basilan, of the Philippines' 7,107 islands. We never travel to Basilan. Though the recent attack occurred in Manila, in general the megalopolis of Manila is safe. This was certainly the case during our two successful projects in 2006 and 2007, and I do not view this recent event as anything other than a tragic aberration.
More importantly, however, all of us who have been to the Philippines with Cultures in Harmony feels complete trust, faith, and love in our three partner institutions in the Philippines, both as regarding the institutions themselves and the wonderful people who work for them. Based on the strength of the friendships we have forged, I believe that our 2008 project will be just as safe and secure as our 2006 and 2007 projects.
If the attack is a reason to renew our support for free and open discourse, it is also a reason to renew our commitment to reaching out through music, so that the light given off by our friendships shines as a steadily growing flame in the darkness.
p.s. I invite my Filipino friends to post comments below.
Two new projects
Puentes Musicales will build "musical bridges" between the U.S. and Mexico by teaching composition to children in Pátzcuaro and by working with the youth orchestra program of Mexico City.
A Sound Vision will send musicians to Zimbabwe to partner with the non-profit Eyes for Africa, teach composition to school children in Marondera, and work with young classical musicians at MusiCamp and the Harare and Bulawayo Colleges of Music. The project will promote a sound vision in a literal sense by raising funds to restore sight to people who cannot afford the cataract operations they desperately need; in 2007, our benefit concert raised enough funds to restore sight to 145 people. In a larger sense, our project will enable the buddying young composers in Marondera to "visualize" sounds and then realize them, and all our efforts in Zimbabwe work towards a vision of Zimbabwe as a sound, stable, and peaceful nation.
Our six projects in 2008 will create unimaginable opportunities for friendships forged through music in nine countries: Philippines, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Mexico, Tunisia, India, Zimbabwe, and the United States. Combined, these six projects will also cost $100,000.
Please help us fund this important work by making a tax-deductible contribution to Cultures in Harmony.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Importance of the arts
By clicking here, you can send a letter to all of the presidential candidates asking them to embrace the arts. If enough people send these letters, hopefully our next president will not feel as though the arts are an issue unworthy of notice or funding.
The website allows you to copy and paste sections of a form letter. I chose instead to write my own. Here it is:
At a time when our nation and world are starkly divided by concerns such as global warming and the relationship between Islam and the West, it may seem like the arts are a trivial concern. Such a perception could not be further from the truth.
Art clarifies. Art transcends. It connects us across ideological lines. It offers hope where it could not reasonably exist.
My non-profit, Cultures in Harmony, has taught composition to AIDS orphans in Harare, Zimbabwe. From their smiles and words of thanks, I know that these workshops forever expanded their notion of what is possible, and forever changed their view of who Americans are.
I have performed as a violinist in dozens of schools in Maine and in numerous nursing homes and hospitals in New York City, Indianapolis, and Spokane. The arts serve Americans just as well as they bridge the gap between Americans and people of other cultures. The beacon of hope they represent knows no borders of race, class, religion, or nationality.
Through benefit concerts sponsored by Cultures in Harmony, 145 people in Zimbabwe have regained their sight; the Turkish non-profit Kimse Yok Mu collected $600 for furniture for the poor; and UNICEF collected 7,000 books for its Early Childhood Development Campaign in Moldova.
When millions around the world and here at home see the arts, they do not see an expendable item in a multi-trillion-dollar budget. They see one of the most potent sources for inspiration and unity that humanity has ever originated.
Thomas Jefferson once urged his wife, "Do not neglect your music. It will be a companion which will sweeten many hours of life to you." I respectfully urge you to make support for the arts a cornerstone of your presidency, so that the arts may continue to sweeten, enrich, and ennoble our lives.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Looking for guitarists
Friday, November 02, 2007
Looking for percussionists
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Farewell Karen Hughes
The diplomats I know who know Ms. Hughes spoke to me of her good intentions, so I wish her the best. Yet the temporary vacuum created by her departure is all the more reason for Cultures in Harmony to renew its dedication to facilitating the "direct contacts" that certainly do affect our image in other countries.