Cultural Creativity in the Straits of Malacca

Peranakan? I was not familiar with this ethnic community and was immediately curious to learn more about this unique culture on display in Singapore and Malaysia. Centuries of intermarriage between Malay and Chinese led to a delicious cuisine, unique dress, and distinctive architecture. Please place the accent on the second syllable of Peranakan!

As my husband and I travel in Southeast Asia prior to our next installment as Artistic Advisors to the Hanoi New Music Ensemble, we are meeting composers and musicians throughout the area. We began our current trip in a part of the world that became central to the world economy many centuries ago.

Colors of Oaxaca

Oaxaca state in southern Mexico has a unique spirituality that is expressed in its colors and crafts. Possibly the most authentic part of Mexico, numerous indigenous people gather in the city of Oaxaca, located where three mountain ranges meet. The native cuisine, embroidered clothing, colonial architecture, pre-columbian archeological sites and artisanal crafts reflect this melding of ancient cultures.

On a recent visit, the city’s energy and culture grab you immediately. You hear languages that go back millennia, eat foods that are grown in hundreds of surrounding villages, and see everyday clothing that expresses its heritage through colorful embroidery.

Mexico’s Artistic Embrace

What defines Mexican art? Are the murals of Diego Rivera and the art carved on the pyramids of Teotihuacan equally vital? Do the crafts native to indigenous villages throughout the country influence contemporary visual artists? The colors of the homes in every city, architecture that features volcanic rock, archaeological sites that provide examples of ancient creativity for the 21st century – all of this provides inspiration for Mexico’s artistic environment.

I was fortunate to visit Mexico recently, experiencing for the first time the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) in Oaxaca. This important holiday showcases Mexican artistic expression through food, flowers, music, rituals and costumes

Experience Counts – The Personal Touch

The message in my voicemail was short and to the point: “I am a volunteer with the Music Academy of the West and I would like to thank you for your donation to our CARS program. This will benefit our scholarship fund and I am happy to let you know that we reached our annual goal six months early! If you would like to hear more about our programs, please call me at the following number.”

I was particularly happy to experience the personalized acknowledgment of our gift as I am an alumnus of the Music Academy. This exciting music festival which occurs each summer with top faculty in an incredible setting draws young music students from around the world.

Tanglewood Memories

Grandma led me to the Press Gate at Tanglewood where her dear friend Louie Esterman held court. Louie stopped us instead of waving us through – “I want you to meet Leonard Bernstein’s children: Jamie, Alex and Nina.” At ten years old, I wasn’t exactly sure who they were, but we nodded to each other. I could tell that Louie thought it was a special encounter.

My mother grew up in Pittsfield, next to Lenox, which is the location of Tanglewood in the beautiful Berkshires in western Massachusetts. As a child, my grandparents Anna and Nathan Bass began taking me to hear concerts at the summer home of the Boston Symphony because of my violin studies. I loved the beautiful environment and enjoyed the music.

Experience Counts – Build Your Resources

As one gathers ideas to begin a new venture, many questions surface. What do you want to do? Is your idea unique? Where is the best location and when should we begin? Who can I ask to help? And, what resources are available?

Ah, “resources.” This often becomes a code word for “where’s the money?” Even if you are beginning with funds out of your own pocket, you need many resources to support your idea. And, I wish to stress, the idea MUST always come first. A quick route to mediocrity is finding money first and then deciding what you can afford. A strong idea will always generate the resources — and many people agree with me. Michael Kaiser, former president of the Kennedy Center, has made this central to his advice to struggling organizations:

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