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

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Response to rejection

Recently, the U.S. Embassy in a country where Cultures in Harmony will soon conduct a project responded to a letter I sent requesting their sponsorship. I figured that as the official agency charged with representing the United States, they would eagerly jump at the opportunity to sponsor us.

Sadly, I was wrong, but I do not intend to take this lying down. I wrote the relevant official back immediately. What follows is an edited and excerpted version of that letter, changed to mask the country's identity in case the Embassy there reverses their decision:

Thank you for your response. I understand the limitations of staffing and budget. However, as a U.S. citizen, I feel that the work of Cultures in Harmony is far too important for the United States Embassy to ignore.

We live at a time when more people in more countries dislike the United States than ever before. As an American patriot, it pains me to see the hatred directed towards my country across the globe. This is why I started Cultures in Harmony.

I do not claim that Cultures in Harmony has stemmed that hatred anywhere in the world. But I do know that we have reached thousands of individuals with little or no previous exposure to Americans. In every encounter over the past three years, we met as foreigners and left as friends. The work we have done is directly in line with the mission of the United States Embassy.

Let me step outside the role of fund-seeker for a moment. As a 25-year-old American, I join with my idealistic peers in refusing to look at the world as it is and accepting it as the limits of possibility. I decline to accept a world in which the different nations view one another with suspicion. Rather, I shall fight for a different world: one in which the Iraqi and the American and the Palestinian and the Israeli regard one another as friends. I will not settle for a cessation of hostilities. A mere handshake is not enough for me, and for the millions of youth like me who will create great change in our nation and world in the months and years ahead.

We envision a world in which those who were once enemies embrace as brothers, intensely aware of their common humanity. This world is not merely difficult to build; it is close to impossible. And yet it will be built person by person, image by image, policy by policy, spreading outward in expanding circles of interdependence, trust, and understanding. This is the work that Cultures in Harmony does. This is what all diplomats at all levels and in all nations strive for.

I ask you to reconnect with that part of you that decided to enter the Foreign Service. I ask you not to settle for limited budgets and cramped schedules. I ask you to transcend what is probable and reach for what is possible.

Thank you again for your consideration of this matter.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Another Times article endorses cultural diplomacy

Is the New York Times trying to help Cultures in Harmony raise money? Seriously, in the past few weeks I have been pleased and surprised by the number of articles which, in one way or another, offer a forceful endorsement of cultural diplomacy or which diagnose America's most salient problem as one of image (the precise problem which cultural diplomacy aims to rectify).

This lengthy, fascinating article about America's diminishing role in the world concludes with several prescriptions which the author believes can help us regain global prestige. Among the pieces of advice: "We need a Peace Corps 10 times its present size, plus student exchanges, English-teaching programs and hands-on job training overseas — with corporate sponsorship. ... The secret weapon must be the American citizenry itself. American foundations and charities, not least the Gates and Ford Foundations, dwarf European counterparts in their humanitarian giving; if such private groups independently send more and more American volunteers armed with cash, good will and local knowledge to perform 'diplomacy of the deed,' then the public diplomacy will take care of itself."

Sounds a lot like a clarion call for more person-to-person exchanges of the kind in which Cultures in Harmony specializes! Make a tax-deductible contribution to Cultures in Harmony today.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Cultures in Harmony on New York Times blog

The blog of famed columnist Nicholas Kristoff links to Cultures in Harmony's website. The blog entry is the second of two that elaborate on his column in yesterday's New York Times about social entrepreneurs.

This is not quite the same as a mention in the print New York Times, but it's still pretty terrific. Social entrepreneurship of ever variety assumes greater importance in a world beset by so many problems. Cultural diplomacy makes solving these problems easier by transcending the barriers that divide us and inhibit communication. Cultural diplomacy is the core of the mission of Cultures in Harmony.

Click here to make a tax-deductible contribution to Cultures in Harmony today!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Busy day

The frenetic pace of yesterday's schedule prevented me from updating with our latest fundraising thermometer:

Click here to make a tax-deductible donation today!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Rebellion of the Canes

In 2004, UNICEF invited Swedish animator Erling Ericsson to teach children in Egypt how to use animated movies as a means of self-expression. They created some incredible short films, such as a brilliant vignette where the canes in all the schools rebel and refuse to hit the children. I found this one particularly affecting, given the prevalence of corporal punishment in Egypt. The whole process was documented in the award-winning short film "Rebellion of the Canes" by Offshoot. This article and this article have more information.

What does this have to do with Cultures in Harmony? After all, the main issue here is self-expression for Egyptian children. However, empowering Egypt's children increases the chance that the more numerous voices of moderate Egyptians will drown out the more strident voices of religious extremists. This, in turn, may lead to a stronger relationship between moderate Arabs and Americans.

UNICEF is interested in partnering with Cultures in Harmony to initiate a project similar to Mr. Ericsson's. It only remains to get the musicians to Egypt in 2009...but before that, we have to fund our projects in 2008.

You may ask: why is this so difficult? How was Mr. Ericsson's work funded? By the Swedish government, of course...he went to Egypt not just to do some good, but to boost his country's image. To date, the State Department has given $1,000 to Cultures in Harmony, thanks to the advocacy of Paul Engelstad, Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe.

While we are very grateful for this support and any future support from the State Department, in general Washington does not seem to share Stockholm's understanding of culture's ability to strengthen international relations. Therefore, it is up to you to support Cultures in Harmony.

Make a tax-deductible contribution today!

The rectitude of our role

The following quote from this New York Times article about the 2008 U.S. presidential election has special resonance for Cultures in Harmony:

"Many of those interviewed remembered the emphasis placed in the 2000 campaign on restoring personal integrity to the Oval Office. Several volunteered that the focus of the current campaign should be on the rectitude of the country’s role in the world."

The country's role in the world...this is precisely the issue which Cultures in Harmony seeks to address. To support Cultures in Harmony in this effort, make a tax-deductible contribution here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

More on the environment dust-up in Bali

Our project in Papua New Guinea refers to last month's dramatic moment at the U.N. Climate Change Conference when Kevin Conrad, the representative from Papua New Guinea, forced the U.S. to suddenly reverse its obstructionist position. A recent New York Times article has more details about a story that's more complicated than it seems.

Returning to the Philippines

A videographer from the Philippines wrote me: "I pray that you will be able to raise the necessary funds for your return here. It will mean a lot to our local artists."

Please help ensure that we will return to the Philippines by making a tax-deductible donation now.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


We are currently far short of the amount of money we need to make these projects work: $80,000 by May 1. The following thermometer illustrates our shortfall:

Here are some of the initiatives that will fail if we do not meet our goal:
  • A high-profile cultural exchange concert with sitarist Gaurav Mazumdar in New Delhi, India. Proceeds from the concerts will benefit The Environmental Resources Institute, chaired by Rajendra Pachauri, whose other organization, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.
  • A new music academy for young Arab classical musicians (with an American faculty) in Borj Cedria, Tunisia.
  • Composition workshops for an indigenous group in the Philippines, Himalayan village children in India, orphans in Mexico, and public school children in Zimbabwe
  • A powerful, high-impact series of composition workshops in Papua New Guinea that will bolster U.S.-Papuan environmental cooperation in the wake of Papua New Guinea's by-now-famous confrontation with the U.S. at the December 2007 U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Bali, Indonesia

Click here to save Cultures in Harmony!

I will publish a new fundraising thermometer every Friday at this blog to chart our progress. If we do not meet the goal by May 1, the dream of bringing people together through music is over.


Cultures in Harmony would like to express solidarity with the British Council, the cultural diplomacy arm of the British government whose St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg offices were wrongfully closed by the Kremlin. Cultural organizations, especially those seeking to ameliorate international relations, deserve the freedom to operate openly, even if (and especially when) official political relations are less than healthy.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Tangible connections

In a big, cold world, it is difficult to remember the connections that bind us to one another. Today I treasured two reminders that the phrase "human family" is more than just a metaphor.

In an online search, I found this article and this other article about one of our main collaborators in Zimbabwe, Dr. Solomon Guramatunhu. The articles made me proud to know someone who has given selflessly of his phenomenal abilities in order to restore sight to so many. Cultures in Harmony is privileged to have presented a benefit concert for Dr. Guramatunhu's non-profit, Eyes for Africa. Proceeds from that concert restored sight to 145 people.

Also today, I enjoyed a lengthy phone call with our chief contact in Papua New Guinea, a man with whom I am planning our project there. He has done an incredible amount of work to arrange our workshops, which will promote the causes of conservation, AIDS awareness, and cultural preservation through the medium of music. The workshops will also bolster America's image in a country only recently entering the global community, and any look at the news will remind you that we need all the friends we can get!

American multinational corporations have exploited Papua New Guinea's vast mineral resources, a fact that has understandably created a lot of resentment, demonstrated most recently when the Papua delegate in Bali boldly challenged the American team on environmental leadership. Given the U.S. record in their country, it would be understandable if Papuans concluded that Americans do not care about the environment in Papua New Guinea.

We are going to Papua New Guinea to show that we do care. As individual musicians, we cannot undo the actions of giant mining companies, but we will speak up to assure Papuans that Americans stand with the exploited against the exploiters.

To support our work in Papua New Guinea, click here. The people of Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe are not as far away as you might think.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Extraordinary new video now available

The extraordinary 40-minute documentary film about our work in the Philippines is now available via YouTube! The main page of our website now features the video prominently.

If you want to check it out directly, here it is:

Don't forget to watch parts 2,
5, and

Back from Egypt

After a whirlwind visit to Cairo, Giza, and Hieropolis, during which I had productive meetings at the U.S. Embassy, UNICEF, and the National Council on Childhood and Motherhood, I look forward to the strong possibility of a Cultures in Harmony project in Egypt in 2009.

Increasingly, I believe that none have fully tapped the potential of cultural diplomacy to ease the ability of development organizations to communicate their message. Too often, the messages of development are received with suspicion, because development is unfortunately viewed as an externally imposed concept, rather than an internally exigent series of paradigm shifts in health, education, and gender roles necessary for societies to maximize their potential.

While fighting this stereotype is one option for development organizations, it will be more productive in the long run to encourage people not to view "development" as a West/East issue, or to view "West" as a pejorative. This can be partially accomplished through increased levels of person-to-person interaction between American musicians and youth groups, musicians, diplomats, humanitarian workers, and educators in other nations.

By partnering with outstanding development and rights organizations at the international (such as UNICEF-Egypt) and national (such as the NCCM) levels, Cultures in Harmony hopes to deepen the capacity of cultural diplomacy to effect positive social change. Our mission (ameliorating the American image abroad through music) and development are inextricably linked, since negative perceptions of the U.S. impede development.

If I'm starting to sound like a UNICEF project report, it's because I've just been reading UNICEF project reports off an on for twelve hours on the plane back from Cairo! They make urgent, if dense, reading. While the percentage of young Egyptian women still undergoing female genital mutilation is an alarming 74 percent, this is down from their mothers' generation, of which nearly all were circumcised.

The anecdotal evidence that negative perceptions of the West have prevented the number from falling faster speaks to the need to act now.

Monday, January 07, 2008

In Egypt

I am currently in Egypt, where I will have a number of meetings in hopes of setting up a project here.