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Classical 101

Healing the Divide Concert for Peace and Reconciliation

One of the more interesting concerts I ever attended was in New York City at Lincoln Center in September of 2003.  Healing the Divide Concert for Peace and Reconciliation gathered together a truly eclectic group of musicians from around the world for a unique event.  They included: Philip Glass, The Kronos Quartet, flutists Nawang Khechog and R. Carlos Nakai, Hamza El Din, Foday Musa Suso, singer Tom Waits, and sitar player Anoushka Shankar (Ravi's daughter).  Shankar, a young virtuoso,  played a composition written by her father especially for this event.

The Cause

Healing the Divide is a non-profit organization founded by actor Richard Gere to "improve the lives of people in impoverished communities in the Himalayan Region by providing digital technology, economic development, education, health and cultural preservation programs." The benefit concert coincided with a visit to New York by His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a series of Buddhist teachings and a public talk in Central Park that drew a crowd of over sixty thousand people.  A main theme in the talk,  seeing and appreciating our common humanity beyond our cultural and political differences, was also the guiding spirit of the concert at Avery Fischer Hall later that Sunday evening.

The Music

Richard Gere introduced the Dalai Lama, who gave a short talk (and then had to leave) expressing his appreciation to the sponsors of the concert for making it possible.  The music began with the Gyoto Tantric Choir performing traditional Tibetan Buddhist chants in the unique throat-singing style that allows more than one note to be sung at the same time by individual singers.  The music that followed alternated between old and new, sometimes musicians of different cultural backgrounds performing together and sometimes separately. Tibetan flutist and composer Nawang Khechog and the Navaho-Ute flutist/composer R. Carlos Nakai played a beautiful meditative duet on traditional wooden instruments, finding shared harmonies between their respective cultures.  Philip Glass, playing piano, performed with the Kronos Quartet a new piece he was working on for the 2004 Olympics in Athens. I had heard that soprano Jessye Norman was originally scheduled to be part of this event but had to cancel and was replaced by singer Tom Waits.  The result was the most eclectically diverse group of musicians I've ever seen perform at one concert.  In his gravelly voice and ragged demeanor, Waits closed the show with a group of his songs in arrangements with the Kronos Quartet that went from despair and paranoia, to hope, love and the possibility of redemption (or enlightenment?),  ending with "Always Keep a Diamond in Your Mind."

From His Holiness to Tom Waits?

From the Dalai Lama to Tom Waits?  That's quite a stretch, I thought.  And all those musicians in-between  from all around the world.  Good spirits seemed to pervade the whole event, both onstage and off. As I headed across the plaza at Lincoln Center that evening, I wondered why Tom Waits literally had the last word at that sometimes high-toned concert.  I recalled that in Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the diamond symbolizes the indestructible nature of enlightened consciousness that sees beyond the differences that sometimes prevent us from realizing our common humanity.  Hmmm.