can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
-- Margaret Mead
|This November, 2001, the historical Carribean town of Santiago de Cuba
will welcome a delegation of local and foreign choral groups, as they host
the VI Festival Internacional de Coros (Sixth International Choral
Festival). A full week of large-scale concerts, informal street performances,
and opportunities for choral groups to meet with social institutions (schools,
hospitals, cultural and day-care centers, etc.) will culminate in a Grand
Finale performance, with choruses from around the world performing together
in the streets and in the main square of Santiago. The World Harmony
Chorus will be there to proudly represent our local communities, California,
and the United States in the spirit of peaceful citizen's diplomacy.
The World Harmony Chorus is a community chorus, open to everyone, regardless of musical background or ability, with three branches in the San Francisco Bay Area - Mountain View, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The goal of the chorus is to create a sense of positive community, built on a desire to learn how to sing together and create music, with a spiritual connection that far exceeds the individual parts. Members of the chorus develop an understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, and a willingness to help others where they can. In witnessing the benefits of supporting one another, the chorus environment serves as a microcosm of the greater community and global experience.
This festival, and the week of cross-Cuba travel which we will experience beforehand, will give us an invaluable opportunity for cultural exchange, using music as a universal language that transcends borders and political ideologies. We will have the unique pleasure of meeting ordinary citizens, Cuban and other nationalities, who are equally interested in building bridges of solidarity and community through the sharing of song and spirit.
After spending the first 3 days in Havana performing friendship concerts and visiting with singers, musicians, and dancers, we will travel across the island to Santiago, stopping en route to visit several fascinating communities. Our tour leader, Jonathan Watts, has 12 years of experience bringing groups to Cuba for education and cultural exchange. He has an extraordinary understanding of the country's history, as well as personal relationships with people in the African, Jamaican, and Haitian enclaves on the island. We have been invited to share in private presentations of music and ritual with these groups. The second week will be spent in Santiago, where we will participate in the festival.
We believe that the educational benefits to the chorus as a performance group will be immeasurable as a result of this cultural exchange. Through workshops with top Cuban performance groups, as well as numerous concerts and presentations, we will be able to take full advantage of the richness of the Afro-Cuban culture. Witnessing the extent to which music is an integral part of daily life there will inspire us to heighten the role of music in our own lives and communities. Participation in an event of this caliber will expose us to an international set of standards and provide us with a broader context for our particular mission as an organization.
This is a very interesting time to visit Cuba. While the United Nations regards Cuba as excellent for its egalitarian distribution of income, national health care programs, and free and universal education system, the island is on a roller coaster of change that will only accelerate after Fidel Castro is gone. The American sentiment toward Cuba is likewise in transition, as the goals of the embargo are coming increasingly under scrutiny. Meanwhile, Fidel was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace prize, for his work on behalf of developing nations.
As our two governments continue to regard each other with suspicion
and distrust, and our news media continues to publish highly biased and
sensational stories about each other, cultural exchange between our two
nations is becoming increasingly important. School groups, artists,
musicians, as well as people interested in education, public health, and
urban planning are travelling back and forth, making personal and professional
contact and forging alliances and friendships. Citizen's Diplomacy
is widely held to be a fundamental tool for promoting world peace and understanding
and, in fact, is the guiding principle behind the Sister Cities program
in this country. We propose to participate in this vital process
by bringing the World Harmony Chorus to Cuba to perform, to study,
to meet with the people of Cuba and gain some understanding of them, while
giving them a sense of who we are in return.
-- Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation