Reflections after national media appearances
Umbreen probably took the title of her documentary, "Liberating Bach's Butterly," from a comment I made. Ironically, I think that comment was cut, so I'll reproduce it here: "Western classical musicians are like those mad scientists chasing after butterflies with nets so they can kill them, pin them behind glass, and talk about how beautiful they are. South Asian classical musicians create the actual butterflies."
In keeping with the title, her documentary focused more on the reactions of the four participants in the project to Pakistan and on the difference between Western and South Asian classical musics than on our work with The Citizens Foundation. I learned a lot from watching it. Waqas, our wonderful sitar player friend in Karachi, mentioned that I seemed reserved at first, so in the future I will work harder to be more outgoing right off the bat.
Ethan, Emily, and Chris all had perceptive comments. Ethan had some good insights into why bringing Western classical music to former European colonies is problematic. Emily observed that it is important to make sure that we are actually collaborating with our Pakistani counterparts, rather than merely talking about collaborating. And Chris concisely explained the role of the viola and the violist.
I was glad that Umbreen focused attention on Leena Ahmed, whose courage in pursuing a career as a tabla player is remarkable not just because she is a woman, but also because she does not come from a musical family (as is standard for South Asian musicians), and because it is her second career. Leena, and women like her, deserve all the exposure and approbation they can get in Pakistani media.
Umbreen made a few edits that made me wonder about the impression I made on her. She cut directly from me talking about leadership to a shot of George W. Bush, and later, when Chris was observing that he didn't like it when some voices dominate, she cut directly to me talking in a rehearsal, even though I'm fairly sure Chris was referring to abstract voices in a passage of musical counterpoint. Nevertheless, I am asking myself why I prompt a subconscious comparison to Bush, and whether my voice does dominate more than it should on these projects. Ethan's and Emily's observations also reminded me of the importance of never failing to ask the hard questions.
The national radio appearance in the U.S. was equally enlightening. Journalists everywhere give equal weight to the quirky detail and the significant point, so the opening of the From the Top piece almost made it seem like a documentary about mustard, since I related that my initial appearance on From the Top on October 31, 1998, was also the first time I tried mustard. The anecdote loomed so large in my interview that I feel compelled to place a plug for the delicious variety that I am currently enjoying on my sandwiches.
I had forgotten that they also conducted interviews with Mohamed Ahmed, former Cultural Affairs Assistant at the U.S. Embassy in Qatar, and Pam Wolf, member of the Cultures in Harmony board and founder of the New York Kids Club. Thank you to Pam and Mohamed for their very kind words.
I need to learn more linguistic precision, because misleading words can be offensive. I cringed when I referred to having performed a piece "all over Egypt." We gave four performances in two cities in Egypt, a vast nation of 80 million people, so by saying this in the heat of the moment, I unintentionally reinforced the facile American belief that the rest of the world is small and unimportant. I deeply regret this, and while I'm apologizing, I should also apologize for the article in which I stated that both the United States and Pakistan were created because of religious persecution. Anjum Altaf gently corrected me: religious persecution and religious conflict are very different, as his excellent historical survey makes clear. Appreciating this difference is key to navigating the path to a peaceful future for the subcontinent, so I regret that careless remark as well.
Both national media opportunities today offered me an invaluable opportunity to see Cultures in Harmony from the outside. Though I have been speaking to the media about Cultures in Harmony for five years, I learned a lot about media relations today, but most importantly, I learned that we can never stop asking if our projects our culturally sensitive and collaborative in nature. We must be cultural diplomats, not merely people who talk about cultural diplomacy.