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

Thursday, July 31, 2008

CiH on Yahoo! News

I'm very excited that Yahoo! News has an article on our project here in Mexico! So does Defecito, a website about events in Mexico City.

Meanwhile, here are some articles I just found about our Tunisia project:
Le Temps (scroll down to bottom of page)

Here are a couple pictures from our workshops with the Youth Orchestra Program of Mexico City:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Everything in Mexico is running like clockwork. It is astonishing to consider that we have nearly 300 students shuttling between ten teachers and that everything is going so well. The credit goes to Ariel Hinojosa, director of the Youth Orchestra Program of Mexico City, and his extraordinary staff of teachers and directors.

Today, three of us run around the city presenting outreach concerts with students from the program, while the rest of us continue helping the students prepare for our big concert on Friday.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Arrival in Mexico City

The airline lost my luggage, and by the time I filed the report and exited customs at Mexico City´s Benito Juarez International Airport, it was about 3 a.m. I apologetically greeted Ariel Hinojosa, the director of the Youth Orchestra Program of Mexico City. I was in bed by 4 a.m. and woke up at 7 a.m., having traveled 30 hours from Africa and having spent one week working 15 hours a day and sleeping 5 hours a night, so of course I am ready to work with 350 students and 10 American colleagues for another intensive series of workshops!

Shoelaces and tears

Can shoelaces bring people together as effectively as music? The day before our summer music camp began in Borj Cedria, Tunisia, Emeni Jebali worried that she would not be able to participate because her cello had broken six months earlier, and no one had been able to fix it. Cultures in Harmony pianist Kimball Gallagher, Emeni’s brother Nidhal, and I decided we could fasten the tailpiece back onto the instrument with a shoelace. A week later, the shoelace still held strong, a symbol of the strong friendships we had formed.


There was little Taha, an eight-year-old boy who spoke no English or French, but who loved his violin so much he could never bear to put it away. He would follow us around, violin under his chin, and learn everything by listening. He couldn’t read music, but insisted on staring at the music stand because that’s what big boys do. Every time I saw him, he smiled and kissed me on the cheek.


Then there was Soraya, who at eighteen displayed maturity beyond her years. Her growth astonished us, as she played chamber music for the first time with ease.


These are just two of the fifty-five students who we put through a hectic pace of workshops, master classes, private lessons, chamber music, and chamber orchestra…with time out for ping-pong. It is summer camp, after all.

We left the camp twice for concerts. Few experiences in my life equal the concert we gave at the best-preserved ancient Roman coliseum in the world, located in El Jem. Yet we made more personal connections at the concert we gave in Nabeul at an English Language Village where Tunisians can go for an immersion program. The Barber Adagio for Strings closed our concert on a note of raw power that deeply affected the several hundred students. One young woman in a Muslim headscarf came up to us afterwards and said, “During the Barber, I saw a woman in the darkened corner of a room. She has been shot and hurt, but she is trying to heal her pain.”


Such honest and direct dialogue set this trip apart from any other. We organized a cultural diplomacy forum at which all the students agreed that the sessions had changed their ideas about Americans, and they were eager to change Americans’ misconceptions about Tunisia. When we informed them that our government statistics claim that 98% of Tunisians are Muslim, they laughed. Only a quarter of the students identify as religious, and they estimated the percentage of Muslims in Tunisia at around forty. Yet one pretty girl without a headscarf enlightened us by observing that if you are religious, as she is, it is between you and God and should have nothing to do with headscarves.

The most meaningful comment came from a student named Amal, who gave it to me on a sheet of paper; she had been too shy to speak up in the forum. She wrote:

“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.”

Choking back tears, I thanked her. Her mother smiled. “Do you know what her name means?” she asked. No, I responded. “Hope.”


Is there reason for hope? Can Arabs and Americans live together in peace? Can conflict evolve beyond violence?

The coliseum at El Jem once resounded with the roar of lions devouring Roman slaves. At our concert a couple thousand years later, those same walls vibrated with the lively rhythms of music by William Grant Still, the grandson of American slaves. In 1982, the corridors of the Hotel Salwa shook from the impact of the bombs dropped on the hotel when Yasser Arafat stayed there. In 2008, Mediterranean breezes wafted the sound of children practicing Beethoven through those same hallways.

During this project, we were privileged to work with the Association of Supporters of Musical Creation, and we were honored by the support of the U.S. Embassy and the personal involvement of the Hon. Ambassador Robert F. Godec. However, we cannot continue bringing people together through music without your support.

During each project, we create Hands of Friendship, and everyone who donates at least $50 will receive a Hand of Friendship no later than October 1.

Who will grasp your hand? Will it be Amal, who now believes that Americans are “nice, kind, friendly, generous, awesome, beautiful?” As I was leaving the Hotel Salwa with the Jebali family, I saw Amal crying by the hotel gates, her mother patting her on the shoulder. Emeni and her mother spoke quickly in Arabic, and Emeni told me, “She cry because she does not know when to see you again.” Honking horns forced us to drive past, so I just barely had time to roll down the window and touch the tips of her fingers with the tips of mine as our car drove past.

The high-five lasted a nanosecond, but the connection will last a lifetime.


Forward this message to all your friends, co-workers, and relatives. Don’t forward the e-mail about how Bill Gates will give you money if you forward that e-mail. He won’t.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


The workshops at Hotel Salwa in Borj Cedria, Tunisia, have been an extraordinary experience so far for both us and our students. We are learning a great deal about how hard it is to present a music academy!

Today we have a concert at the English Language Village in Tunis.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Articles in Tunisian press

Jetset Magazine has an article about our work in Tunisia, as does the culture section of Le Quotidien, one of the five most widely-read daily papers in Tunisia.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Borj Cedria: Heaven?

From the white-walled private terrace of the Hotel Salwa, the sky arches over our heads, over the palm trees and the lush growth, over the fine-grained sand and the crashing surf, to just beyond the mountains that flank this particular segment of the Mediterranean, where blue meets glittering blue and the mind extends outside time. Borj Cedria, an idyllic suburb of Tunis, will be the setting for the Musical Friends Academy, which will begin on Monday with the arrival of all the students.

The ASCM has called all the students, hauled an acoustic piano to the hotel at considerable effort, negotiated conference rooms at the hotel, arranged our transportation, lined up counselors, and completed a myriad of additional tasks that promise to make the workshops an unalloyed success.

Meanwhile, the students complete their preparations. Emeni Jebali's cello broke six months ago, and apparently, no one in Tunisia was able to fix it. Despite having zero cello lessons between us, her brother Nidhal, Kimball Gallagher, and I managed to fix it in about an hour, using a shoelace and some good old-fashioned Yankee-Tunisian ingenuity. The shoelace holds the tailpiece to the cello, the bridge is in place, the instrument seems to hold its pitch, and Emeni will now be able to attend our workshops for the second time, studying with Cultures in Harmony's Robin Ryczek.

Fran, Lilian, and Robin arrived late last night, and already, they are busy planning and rehearsing. Yet one cannot help wondering: will this amazing setting be a bit too perfect for music workshops? I'm not too worried. These students are motivated, enthusiastic, and eager to learn. And beneath the brilliant surface of the Hotel Salwa lies a history ripe for cultural dialogue: Israel bombed the hotel in 1982 when Yasser Arafat stayed there after his exile. It has since been restored, but have relations between Arabs and Americans improved since then? The newspaper might suggest one answer, but the warmth of our welcome during this, our third project in Tunisia, suggests another.

During the coming week, the breezes of Borj Cedria will waft the sounds of Beethoven, not bombs, through the Hotel Salwa.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The ambassador is involved!

We are very proud for the first time in the history of Cultures in Harmony's eleven projects, the U.S. Ambassador is directly involved in our work. Yesterday, the U.S. Embassy here in Tunis organized a successful press conference pertaining to our project, attended by numerous newspaper and television outlets. Here, the Honorable Robert F. Godec, Ambassador of the United States to the Republic of Tunisia, opened the press conference, flanked by Dr. Lotfi M'raihi, head of the ASCM and our chief partner in this project, and yours truly:

Here, we take questions from the press:

Thank you to the Ambassador for honoring us with his presence and to Patricia Kabra, Khaled Souissi, and everyone at the U.S. Embassy here responsible for supporting our cultural exchange activities. It is wonderful to see an embassy enthusiastically underwrite a project that lines up so completely with their mission.

I hope everyone enjoys the next two pictures of Nidhal Jebali and me, taken on the same day, first with my father in Indianapolis and then with his family in Tunis. We are even wearing the same shirts:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In Tunisia

I have arrived safely in Tunisia. I enjoy the fact that in the US, Nidhal Jebali stayed with my parents, and in Tunisia, I am staying with his family. Later, I will post pictures of us in front of his home in Tunisia and my home in Indianapolis on the same day...even wearing the same shirt.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Article in Cultural Diplomacy News

A cancelled flight to Atlanta has kept me in the United States one day longer than anticipated.

I am very pleased that Cultural Diplomacy News, a project of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy has featured this article I wrote about Cultures in Harmony's project in Qatar.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A bizarre itinerary

On Friday, I finished teaching at the Indiana University Summer String Academy. One of my students there was Nidhal Jebali, a young Tunisian violinist whom I met during Cultures in Harmony's first project in 2005. I urged him to go to the String Academy in 2006, and he returned in 2007 and again this year. At the end of this year's session, he auditioned for IU's prestigious Jacobs School of Music and was accepted. The entire Cultures in Harmony community is very proud of Nidhal.

Tomorrow, we'll go to Tunisia! In Indianapolis, he stayed with my parents; in Tunis, I'll stay with his. I'm very excited about our project there. A hard day's travel on July 27 will bring me to Mexico City, for the first half of our project there. I'll recuperate for a few days in Los Angeles before heading to Papua New Guinea. I calculated that between July 14 and August 26, I'll take 17 flights totaling nearly 80 hours.

Tunisia, Mexico, and Papua New Guinea: it would be hard to find countries further apart geographically and culturally. What do their people have in common? Same thing all decent people share: a love of music and a desire to live together in peace.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Qatar: master of diplomacy

Check out this article about Qatar's bold efforts and frequent successes in the area of diplomacy. We are honored to have presented a project there and look forward to future projects!

A beautiful video

I encourage you to view this extraordinarily affecting video over at YouTube. The Times has this article. Cultural diplomacy at its most joyous, though what, exactly, is the culture represented by this dance? Does it matter?