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Archive for June, 2010

The saying that nothing is for sure except death and taxes needs to be revised.  I would add, you can always find an iPhone app (or a Facebook quiz) for anything.

Today, I discovered the “Arabic Name Generator”.  You type in your name, and out pops your name, in Arabic.

Entering my name resulted in:

The only real concern I have is ever having to write it.  I must admit that I am exhibiting a bit of faith here, since as far as I know this may really say “run to the lavatory and push the emergency button.”  I guess we will find out for sure the first time I present it to somebody and they don’t either turn around and dash for the nearest men’s room, or fall down laughing.  If neither, maybe we are on to something.

Well, I am out of here tomorrow, so I had better get packing.  Maybe I will try out the neat “post by secret email” option from the airport.

Note:  This morning I received what will be my last communication from Lynne for the next week or so, before she heads for Calabar and visits Cercopan.  She is now headed deep into the forest to continue her census of Sclaters monkeys.  The good news is the report that she is finding “more monkeys than they did 4 years ago”, as she giggles, “there are lots of babies”.  I will be sure to pass along any updates as soon as I receive them.

(Photo of the only known captive-born Sclaters, born at Cercopan last year.  Lynne rescued this mother.)

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Ok, I have to get something off my chest, and I need to do it now, before I leave.

Most folks I talk to are extremely supportive of this trip…these workshops…these young talents.  I have to say that I am truly moved by the support that I have received from friends, family, colleagues, and people that genuinely care about the world around them.  However, over the last few months, I was given the opportunity to hear a “voice” that troubled me at times…on a rare occasion, true…but a “voice” that was clearly evident and too common for the age we live in.  And, I will say that I don’t think most that speak with this “voice” are always particularly conscious of it.  (Or, maybe they are?)

The “voice” sounds  something like this:

“With all you have to offer, why are going to go that far away to spend so much time with a people so ‘behind’ in life and the arts, so out of touch with our way of life, and are not even of our ‘ideology’.  What is in it for us, for you, and what benefit could there possibly be for the art music world…more specifically for our art music world… to take them seriously and make such an effort?”

Yes, it is true.  I would rather be in Salzburg this summer.  Sailing my boat on Lake Belton would be just dandy, too.  But all I can think of as a response is a story that my uncle once told me.

Some years ago he was the mayor of one of the larger Texas cities.  At that time (and I think for some time after) he also served on the board of the DFW airport.  Once his tenure as mayor passed, and he moved on to other things, he began spending considerable time and effort to help the city of St. Louis develop a new airport as well.   Apparently, some of his colleagues and fellow politicians didn’t understand why he was spending substantial time and effort on an airport project in a city outside of his own, and at some point one of them asked him why.

After a moment of thought, he said, “I was under the impression that after a plane takes off, it has to land somewhere.”

Which brings me to an introduction I would like to make.

Her name is Boran Zaza.  Boran lives in Iraq, in Kurdistan.  She has had little to no formal training at the piano.  Yet, Boran has a dream.  Her dream is to be the first professional piano teacher in Kurdistan.

Back in December of last year, Boran’s mentor contacted me in an effort to gain support for her to possibly come to America…possibly even my own University…to receive a degree in Piano Pedagogy.

Boran spoke to me, and this is what she had to say:

As of this year Erbil, Iraq, a city of 1.2 million people, has a new 500 million dollar airport that boasts one of the longest runways in the world (3 miles).

Perhaps it is time they have a professional piano teacher, too.

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…sort of.

I severely underestimated the difficulties associated with participating in the Baylor Summer Piano Institute during what should have been a solid week of travel preparations.  Preparing to accommodate future bills, the compiling of MP3 recordings, gathering scores, copying teaching materials, an afternoon media interview, responding to a barrage of emails, attending to a yard with foot tall grass (here, a big thank you to my student Jason for his acceptance of part-time summer employment), keeping 3 cats contented (one of whom is officially insane), chasing down a mis-delivered travel visa, and yes… actually practicing the piano, all while handling 9 to 4 duties for the institute and a few evening recitals, has resulted in an average of 3 to 4 hours of sleep per night for the last week.  But with a successful Institute officially ending today, I figured it was time for a blog update, which comes now only because I am too tired to sleep.

I did manage to learn something about MP3 players this week.  Perhaps it comes from being from the age of the Commodore 64 computer (That’s 64k to you geeks out there. And mine still works!), but 8 gigs of space for my CD collection sounded like a lot when I bought my Nano last week.  A whole lot.  But do you remember how when you grew up and took your allowance shopping your parents always made it seem like you had spent way more money than you thought, as they scolded you and explained that you had a lot to learn about money?  (It was their perspective, right?  After all, they came from an age when a dollar was worth more.)

Well, let’s just say I have a lot to learn about the value of megabytes and the capacity of MP3 players.

Today I bought a “real” iPod.

Some relief came with the knowledge that I will not be traveling alone, but with the company of veteran Carole McCann, the Musical Theatre Specialist for American Voices.  The thought of landing in Erbil, Iraq with nobody to greet me, however unlikely, was somehow unsettling.

And a quick note from Lynne Baker, as she slogs from village to village on her African “Sacred Monkey” project…She is doing well, and safe, if not a bit behind schedule.  It seems that political realities have changed somewhat since her last visit. But she is adjusting accordingly to insure security.

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Got word this morning that it looks like Iraq is “ON!”.  Confirmation to come Sunday.  Great news…not that I haven’t been preparing just the same.

A little surprise yesterday morning as I sent in my application for the Syrian visa:

There is a little box on the visa application labeled  “have you ever visited occupied Palestine?”  Having never been to that part of the world, I instinctively marked “no”, even before it dawned on me that what they want to know is  “have you ever been to Israel”.  Further research discloses that one cannot obtain a visa to Syria if they have ever been to Israel.  Ever.

Oddly, the musician in me felt a little pain that transcended the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the situation, and before I even had a chance to reflect on the political aspects of the phrase.  Strange as it may seem, the first thing that ran through my mind was the question “what if I could never play a Beethoven Sonata if I have ever played any Debussy?  Odd, I know.  I will leave it to someone else to analyze the psychology of that thought.  Regardless, I am reminded as to why I feel this kind of project is so important:  Helping to promote better understanding via the universal language of music, regardless of cultural differences.

P.S.  For those folks who found this blog via the Baylor Alumni Associations article and are interested in their note on the work of my wife, conservationist Lynne Baker… I am happy to relay that she arrived safely in Lagos, Nigeria a few days ago, and is now in the village of Lagwa, interviewing locals on their attitudes towards the “sacred monkeys”.

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Today was a productive day of preparations.  I spent most of it listing MP3 recordings of the great piano works I want to present,  planning which scores to gather up for reading drills, searching for a good pair of portable speakers to bring along, and yes…practicing.  I know that there are many talented and accomplished pianists in Syria and Lebanon.  But, I suspect that training in Erbil will be more remedial — uneven — and the thought that I may be presenting the students with some of these masterpieces for the very first time is quite exciting.

However, nothing can be taken for granted.  Even as I make my plans I hear that American Voices founder John Ferguson is still scrambling to sort out finances.  Donors come (and go), grants get approved (or not), and even extra and unexpected trips to Syria or Iraq become necessary.  Such is life in the world of NGO’s, arts funding, and international politics.

Still, for the kids, it is a done deal.  I hear that many are looking forward to the workshops like 6 year olds at Christmas.

Stay Tuned.


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On July 2, Firand, a 14-year-old boy, will board a bus in Baghdad, and attend the American Voices YES (Youth Excellence on Stage) Academy in Erbil, Iraq. Even though Firand’s music school was targeted by extremists in January, he and many other dedicated young talents persevere in their pursuit of an arts education to develop their artistic talents towards better opportunities.  As a professional classical pianist, I will be joining Firand, and 250 other aspiring musicians, actors and dancers from throughout Iraq, in their quest to pursue an arts education to develop their artistic talents towards better opportunities.  Together with a faculty of performing artists, we will the teach the students to prepare a Classical, Jazz, Broadway, and Hip Hop  concert that will be broadcast throughout Iraq on national television. This American Voices program will give these youth the skills and inspiration to last a lifetime.  In addition, I will work with American Voices to host professional-level performing arts training in Lebanon and in Syria in July.

I have established this blog (my first attempt at “blogging”!) so that you can be witness to this life-changing endeavor for these young hopefuls struggling to overcome the turmoil of years of conflict, deprivation and disrupted educations.

Over the past four years, American Voices has watched the graduates of the YES Academy program form new orchestras and dance companies, create youth programs and lead new music schools. There are jobs being created, which contribute to local economies and increased stability, and I am proud to part of the effort to create the new generation of arts and community leaders emerging from these programs.

It is notable that all of this training is provided free of charge, a gift that would not be possible without the generous and essential contributions of friends and donors like you. Any gift large or small will go a long way to helping the Firands of the world achieve their dreams; a positive return on investment whose potential impact can never be fully measured. Your tax-deductible contribution can be made online at www.americanvoices.org/support, by PayPal to rachel.dvoretzky@americanvoices.org or via NetworkForGood.org

All Best,

Bradley C. Bolen

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