Music on a Mission

SST at UNICEF

As the Swara Sonora Trio began to plan our Indonesian tour, we decided that we wanted there more of a purpose to our travels than the personal excitement of performing on the other side of the world. It was late 2008 as we ironed out details. Barack Obama had just been elected, optimism was running high, and attention was turned to the United States’ possible deeper engagement with Asia and especially with a moderate Muslim country like Indonesia (where President Obama spent part of his childhood). We titled our project the Peace Tour. It was a little cheesy, but the name stuck.

We wanted the trio to engage in significant ways that might actually promote understanding between cultures, so we came up with a three-pronged goal for our tour: we would reach out to audiences by sharing our music and our talents in performances across Java and Bali, we would connect with young musicians by teaching master classes at music schools along our travels, and we would make the tour a fundraiser for an Indonesian organization. It was important to choose a reputable organization with international recognition, so that our backers in the US would be comfortable getting on board with our fundraising. After a brief discussion we decided that UNICEF was the obvious choice because of their international reputation and their efforts towards children’s health and education in Indonesia.

UNICEF visit

At UNICEF headquarters in Jakarta. Our t-shirts translate to “I love Indonesian children.” Josephine is to the left of the UNICEF flag.

One of our most exciting days of the Peace Tour (it’s hard to name any one day “most exciting” because each day held new experiences, people, sights, sounds, and amazing foods) was when we visited UNICEF’s Indonesia Country Office headquarters in Jakarta. We’d been connected with Josephine Lapod in the office there, and had a formal agreement to turn over all our funds beyond expenses to support UNICEF’s children’s programs in Indonesia.

Dunkin' Donuts Jakarta

Aryo, dressed up in batik for our business meeting at Dunkin’ Donuts in the UNICEF building

Josephine took us to the Dunkin’ Donuts (a very popular chain in Indonesia; the menu is similar to in the US except you can get durian-filled donuts and coffee with sweetened condensed milk) on UNICEF’s campus to get to know each other and to sign our contract. Then we toured their offices, met the rest of the kind and professional staff, and posed for photos wearing our UNICEF t-shirts. Unaccustomed to men as tall as Nathan, they’d had to special order his t-shirt size and it had arrived just in time for our visit. The staff told us that the last visitor they placed a custom order for was Bill Clinton!

Thanks to many generous donors in the United States and the help of our fiscal sponsor Fractured Atlas which allowed us to raise tax-deductible funds, we gave $1,500 to UNICEF’s Indonesia Country Office. In the scope of the organization’s total budget that wasn’t a ton of money, but in a country like Indonesia it can buy a lot of vaccinations and school supplies. At our Indonesian premiere concert at Jakarta’s Erasmus Huis, we presented the funds with our version of the oversized check you sometimes see given to organizations at charity events.

donation

Ibu Erni and me displaying Swara Sonora’s “big check”

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Aryo’s mother Erni, who asked for support from friends, family and corporate sponsors there, and donations collected at our Jakarta concert, we raised another $1,500 in Indonesia which Ibu Erni brought to Joesphine after our Peace Tour ended.

I’m proud that our trio worked hard at fundraising so we could leave a lasting effect, however small, on the children of Indonesia, and grateful to all the people who helped us and gave to our project. We wanted to forge connections with our tour. One new relationship I didn’t expect was my own connection to UNICEF. Now N and I give a monthly  automatic contribution to UNICEF, and I see that as being a lifetime commitment of mine. And it all began with a brainstorm about how to add purpose to our group’s travels. I think we found some purpose.

SST & Ibu Angela

Swara Sonora post-concert with Ibu Angela Kearney, the head of UNICEF’s Indonesia Country Office

Reflecting on a life-changing experience: Indonesia 2009

Five years ago, my performing travels led me on one of the greatest adventures of my life: three and a half weeks singing, teaching, and touristing in Indonesia.

Kathryn in Bali

11 years before that, I took a college course on Indonesian music. This in-depth course, one of my very favorites out of many wonderful classes I took at Brown, covered not just the traditional and popular music of Java and Bali, but also bits of the history, culture, and politics of Indonesia. I fell in love with Indonesia long-distance, and decided that somehow, someday, I would get there. During high school I’d developed a similar serious crush on Spain when I soaked up the thin, black & white volume that was our history and geography text in upper-level Spanish classes. I’m still waiting for my trip to Spain, but I’ve been across the world to Indonesia. That fact confirms that Indonesia was in my destiny.

Fate made that clear when I arrived at the University of Arizona for graduate school in 2004 and was introduced to my teaching partners, baritone Nathan Krueger and pianist Aryo Wicaksono. That first day, I excitedly and correctly guessed from his nametag that Aryo was Indonesian. We three taught together for 4 years in the Opening Minds Through the Arts program in the Tucson schools, began performing on recital series around Tucson, named ourselves the Swara Sonora Trio, and then commissioned a cycle of songs from Ananada Sukarlan, a prominent Indonesian composer and pianist who now lives in Spain but receives rock star treatment whenever he returns to his homeland.

Swara Sonora Trio premiere

Swara Sonora in 2008, after our Love and Variations premiere

After our successful premiere of Ananda’s Love and Variations, we decided to take it on tour to Indonesia and premiere the work there. We were crazy, but we pulled it off, thanks to many donors in the US and Indonesia and to Aryo’s mother Erni who coordinated most of the logistics on the Indonesian end. The planning and handling the donations that so generously came pouring in became an extra part-time job for me and almost killed me (and probably Ibu Erni too), but it was worth it. So very worth it.

In the coming weeks I’ll write more posts about my reflections looking back on our Peace Tour. In the meantime, you can visit the trio’s blog; we posted almost every day along our journey to keep our supporters back home engaged with our amazing experiences and work there. Click here to access our blog, and find the August 2009 postings in the sidebar on the right.

More soon…

Swara Sonora in Jakarta

Swara Sonora at the Indonesian premiere of Love and Variations

 

 

Moons and Loons

I have to admit, I’ve traveled to many beautiful places in my life. Quite a few of them I could describe as paradise: Bali, Carmel, the Tuscan countryside

And now I have another paradise to add to that list — Western Montana. N and I were just there for the biennial family reunion of his big and wonderful extended family. Each family had a cabin on Seeley Lake, a place where the sunsets looked like this (this was actually the view from our cabin):

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The temperatures were in the 80s every day but dry, and at night it would dip into the 40s. Besides the family activities, meals and singing, there were many things to do in the area, like canoeing on the lake, hiking to stunning waterfalls,

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and visiting nearby Glacier National Park, which might be the most beautiful place I have ever laid eyes on.

GlacierGorgeous

 

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Being more accustomed to the arid Southwest — a different kind of beauty — I was amazed by the abundance of lakes, rivers and streams, full of crystal-clear blue-green snowmelt.

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The bugs were few and the air smelled fresh with tamaracks and other conifers. It really couldn’t have been more perfect. Lest you fear that this was a nature-only trip and that I missed out on indulging my love of food and of ice cream in particular, a trip into Missoula (a very hip town) for the farmers market yielded ripe local cherries and huckleberries, and on the way back from Glacier we stopped in Bigfork for highly recommended, absolutely delicious huckleberry ice cream.

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The days were long — darkness didn’t fall until 10:00 pm and the sky began to lighten around 4:00 in the morning — and we were there for the full moon, so nights were bright enough to walk along the lake listening to the cries of the loons. I’d never before heard the eery but entrancing call of the loon, and it added a soundtrack to the smells and sights of the cool Montana nights.

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As I fantasized about moving to Montana, I had to remind myself that winters there are long and cold. And snowy. I’m pretty spoiled living in North Carolina where the weather is survivable all year long. North Carolina is nice. But it’s not paradise. And so I know for sure I’ll be back to Montana someday.

Soprano in Tuscany

One of the best things about my trip to Rome last month was that I got to see a lot of my best friend Lauren, who is living and working there now.

K & L

On Lauren’s balcony

On my last weekend in Italy, N had to head home and I stayed with Lauren and her adorable family. On Thursday that week she texted me that they were thinking of going to the beach in Tuscany that weekend, and was I interested? I had to think about that one for oh, half a second. Probably less.

So Saturday morning they picked me up in their shiny red Fiat 500L, and we drove north. We were headed to Capalbio, their favorite beach town — really a collection of villages scattered across the green hills that roll into the Mediterranean — in southern Tuscany. After only an hour and a half on the road we came to this:

TuscanyHouse

the customs-house-turned-B&B where we stayed overnight. Look idyllic? Check out the view from the grounds:

TuscanyHouseView

There were ostriches and donkeys on the property so that the B&B could qualify as an agritourism venue, as well as an olive grove and a beautiful rose garden.

TuscanyOstriches

We spent several hours each day on the beach. The setup was just like N and I experienced  in Rome — we rented chairs and bought lunch (wonderful cheese and fried calamari; slightly different fare from what you’d get at an American beach snack bar) at the bar. The beach was much quieter and less crowded than in Rome, and the Mediterranean sea even bluer. There was an exhibition of kite surfers all weekend, and while the kids ran and played we sat in our chairs and watched the kites float across the sky.

Beach Capalbio

We drove up to the old town, perched atop a high hill, to get views of the landscape below,

TuscanHillside

to walk around its sweet stone buildings,

TuscanyOldTown

and to enjoy an afternoon snack, including my last gelato of the trip.

TuscanyGelato

Cioccolato, vaniglia, and frutti di bosco: a cut above Neapolitan ice cream

The entire weekend I felt like I was in a movie, or maybe a tourism brochure. It was that beautiful, sunny, and peaceful in Capalbio. And being led around by friends who know and love the area and took me to all their favorite places made it even better.

Everything was lovely. After an amazing long night of countryside sleep, I woke up in the bright morning to find this gorgeous crostata which the innkeeper had left for us in the living area and Lauren had delivered to our little apartment:

TuscanyCrostata

We ate well, saw a lot, and relaxed plenty. Even the somewhat horrific traffic on our way back into Rome couldn’t dampen my happiness on my last night in Italia. It was a perfect ending to a very special vacation.

TuscanyRose

 

La Spiaggia: At the beach, Italian style

beachromewaves

The Italian vacation to which I alluded in January is come and gone. And it was wonderful. I ate so much great gelato, pizza and pasta that I will have to do a separate posting on the food. Since N and I spent 9 days in Rome for our honeymoon in 2012, we’d already done a lot of the must-do things in that city, and we were free to plan each day — or not — as it came. This time, after a few days, we were ready to get out of the city. We opted to head to the beach.

From Rome, you can take the Metro straight to the beach at Ostia Lido. It’s only about half an hour from the city, and you can transfer to the train to the beach on the same 1.50 Euro ticket that got you started on your journey. It’s a bargain and a great getaway from Rome that doesn’t even have to take your whole day (which is good because we got a late start after a lazy morning and a trip to our neighborhood outdoor market for our picnic lunch).

Since the journey was ridiculously affordable and we were warned that the public beaches might be crowded, we planned to pay to enter one of the private beaches, and we went armed with the name of a recommended beach. All the beaches have their own bars (a bar is a coffee shop that also serves beer and wine, some cold food like pastries and panini, and maybe even hot food) and usually bathrooms and chair rentals, but private beaches offer more space and well, privacy. They have fancier bars or maybe even nice restaurants serving fresh seafood, and if you want to shell out, you can rent a private cabin for changing. It seemed like it would be a fun cultural experience.

beachroma

But we got sidetracked by a cultural experience of a different kind. On the train, we were befriended by an old Italian man. Actually, he engaged us in friendly conversation with several people on the train, and they all discussed the beach we had chosen and what bus would get us there once we got off the train.

Then our friend offered to take us to his favorite beach. With our limited Italian we gathered that it was the public beach where he, retired and with a free senior citizen pass for the Metro, goes every single day. We made sure there were bathrooms, umbrella rentals, and of course, a bar, and then decided we’d follow him. Why pass up the opportunity to experience something alongside a local? Also, his beach was a short walk from the Metro, two stops closer to the city, so we’d be on the sand faster and with a guide to get there we didn’t have to worry about taking the wrong bus and ending up somewhere way down the coast.

When we got off the train, the old man showed us the fountain where he always fills his water bottle (Rome has these ubiquitous and wonderful drinking fountains that continuously dispense safe, delicious drinking water), and then treated us to coffees at a bar on the way down the street! He delivered us to the beach, negotiated with the attendant for us to pay 5 Euros instead of 6 (too much, he said) for an umbrella, then shook our hands and went to his favorite spot to bake in the sun.

Sure, the beach was crowded.

beachcrowded

It was full of young Italians — not under umbrellas — and young central and eastern Europeans as white as us, who were more likely to be protecting themselves from the sun. We lounged under our umbrella for hours, taking breaks to splash in the (still chilly) Mediterranean waters and walk along the beach. We ate our picnic of bread, cheese, and ripe cherries, and didn’t even need a trip to the bar for further provisions. Our friend came to say goodbye to us, and we left not long after him, wandering our way back to the Metro for a tired, contended ride back into Rome.