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

Friday, December 24, 2010

What Cultures in Harmony's Friends Around the World Are Saying

This Christmas Eve, I sat in my little room in Kabul, Afghanistan, wondering how to write the year-end donation request letter for Cultures in Harmony.

Perhaps I could focus on how the Samuels Foundation has agreed to give us $3,000 if we can raise $3,000 in private donations by March 31, 2011.

Maybe I could emphasize that Cultures in Harmony was recently placed in the company of the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, and Sesame Street, when we were recognized, along with them, as a Best Practice in International Cultural Engagement at the US Summit and Initiative for Global Citizen Diplomacy.

But instead, I headed to Facebook, and over simultaneous instant message conversations with friends in Pakistan, Mexico, Philippines, Egypt, and Tunisia, I asked them why you should consider Cultures in Harmony in your year-end charitable giving.

Here is what they said:

"Cultures in Harmony is another effort to keep kids off religious extremism. It has my full support and should have yours too."

Adil Omar, famous rapper, Pakistan

"It would be excellent if you could provide the support CiH needs as they have come to Mexico and have done a great job with the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra of Mexico City. It would be very pleasant to have them back to support this music program."

Alonso, cellist, Mexico

"The Philippines is brimming with young and enthusiastic musicians, eager to share. If CiH came here, then they would have an outlet for sharing and learning at the same time."

Criselda, violinist, Philippines

"Egypt needs to be visited again. And tell them about the kids and the schools!"

Loay, engineering student, Egypt

"Cultures in Harmony was one of the most enriching experiences in my life in music. I still remember the day when we drew the Hands of Friendship. We should look to what unites us, not to what separates us. Politics does its best to make us hate each other. If relations were based on respect and tolerance, you would not see me as a Muslim girl. I would not see you as a bad American guy. We would just see each other as humans, and our differences would be an argument to get closer to each other, to enrich the little person that I am. With your respect to me, you will make me higher."

Nada, violinist and actress, Tunisia

I hope you will consider their words and give to Cultures in Harmony so that in 2011, 2012, and beyond, we can maintain the beautiful relationships music made possible. Rise to the challenge of the Samuels Foundation, so that our total donations from now until March 31 reach $3,000.

To the eloquent testimonials of our friends around the world, I can only add the wish from all of us at Cultures in Harmony that the holiday season lights your lives with joy.



Children in Pakistan enjoy forging connections through music on a Cultures in Harmony project

Friday, December 17, 2010

From Brooklyn to Kabul with a song

I'm at Dubai airport now as I wait to return to Kabul after my first extended vacation from my job at Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM). The past month has been a good way to gather strength for my return while doing work for each of the several hats I wear.

As Violin and Viola Teacher at ANIM, I gave an interview to National Public Radio, met with several people in the USA who are helping ANIM or are interested in helping, and made a trip to Indiana University to develop closer relations between them and ANIM, noting that three of ANIM's teachers are graduates of the great school in Bloomington.

As head of Cultures in Harmony, I accepted a major award at a very important summit, met with key volunteers to discuss the future of the organization, and recruited a few potential board members. I worked to revive the Juntos con Vecinos concert series that Cultures in Harmony started in collaboration with Culturarte when I lived in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan.

And of course, I had a wonderful time seeing family and friends and experiencing the extraordinary cultural and culinary offerings of Washington, DC; Indianapolis, Indiana; Bloomington, Indiana; and New York City.

Yet one of my favorite memories was on Wednesday, when I spent two and a half hours on the subway to go to PS 108, the school where I visited 36 times from September 2008 to May 2009 as a Fellow at The Academy.

I had thought that my students would have forgotten me. They are very young and 18 months is a long time. So I was delighted when even the little kids jumped up and down, delightedly shouting "Mr. Harvey's back!" I was particularly pleased to see two of the violin students who I'd started in first grade. They are now grown-up third graders!

Traveling around the school with my partner teacher, with whom I had and have maintained a very friendly relationship, I enjoyed the opportunity to introduce African-American and Hispanic kids in the middle of Brooklyn to Afghanistan through playing Afghan music and discussing Afghan culture.

With mixed success, I taught them how to clap along to the complicated Afghan rhythm of mughuli, which has seven beats. They enjoyed learning that since the music isn't written down, you can decide in performance when to play the ending, or khatem, and a volunteer (who had been quiet and cooperative during other parts of the performance) would get to whisper "khatem" to me to tell me when to end "Ta Ke Na Bashad."

Some kids danced, some kids looked bored, some listened. All asked great questions about the culture and food, though the younger kids didn't really have a concept of how far away Afghanistan actually is (they think Manhattan is far away).

The highlight was undoubtedly the first grade class in which I decided to see if they could learn the first two measures of an Afghan song, the Katagani of Baba Qiran. To my delight, half the class was soon singing happily while the other half banged out some simple accompanying rhythms on the percussion instruments my partner teacher handed out.

After several repetitions of those catchy first two measures, the kids were gleefully exclaiming, "I like this song!" Music, you really do connect folks as different as first graders in Brooklyn and little girls from the streets in Kabul...or are you suggesting that those folks aren't so different after all?