Bringing Music to Women in Afghanistan…a Leper Colony in Cameroon, a Blind School in Doha and more. Meet William Harvey.

William Harvey performing in prison in Cameroon
William Harvey performing in a prison in Cameroon

It began six days after the September 11th terrorist attacks of the World Trade Center towers. Violinist William Harvey, then a freshman at Julliard, performed solo violin for soldiers who were returning to the 69th Regiment Armory after an emotionally grueling day of digging at Ground Zero. William’s performance penetrated the soldiers’ deep, empty hole of grief and filled it with the beautiful sounds of Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Paganini during his two plus hours of non-stop playing.

William sent an email to his friends and family explaining how his interaction with the soldiers at the Armory had become a life altering experience, and it went viral – regional, national and international publications talked about it. Four years later, William created Cultures in Harmony, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the healing power of music to the world.

I recently met William during an interview he requested regarding inclusion of the Philadelphia World Heritage City Project in his current documentary project where he is spending one week each in 50 states to answer the question “What is American Culture?”

 It wasn’t long into our initial introduction and conversation that we realized that I needed to turn the interview on William Harvey.

Following is my interview with this amazing man who is on a mission to prove that music is the answer for peace and healing. William’s vision of a world “connected, not divided; sympathetic, not suspicious; lit by love, not darkened by hatred,” are words to live by.

G:  What is your biggest challenge while traveling the world on your cultural diplomacy projects?

W: The pace of globalization has exceeded our capacity as a species to grow in understanding. Music is the perfect way to embrace an apparent paradox: both our differences and our shared humanity are cause for celebration. Music speaks to each of us, thereby affirming a common core to the human experience, but just as languages and experiences differ from culture to culture, so does music. The challenge is that too often, people ignore this incredibly powerful message of music, or don’t take it seriously. Funding for cultural diplomacy remains inadequate, and if critics believe that it has not been effective in fostering real change, I would argue that it has not yet been tried at a large enough scale where it might be effective. If you truly listen to music, it is difficult to ignore its message of universality, its radical call to empathy.

G:  What is one of your biggest rewards?

W: Those moments in cultural diplomacy that achieve genuine connection represent the greatest reward. In Zimbabwe last summer, Cultures in Harmony facilitated the first ever performance by the Musicamp Orchestra of black Zimbabwean music when Oliver Mtukudzi joined us for my arrangements of three of his songs. Some of the white teenagers were not previously that familiar with Mtukudzi, who is a national hero for black Zimbabweans, but by the end of the rehearsal process, they were taking selfies with him and were proud of the collaboration. Conducting the Afghan Youth Orchestra in sold-out concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center in February 2013 was another thrill. For many thousands of Americans who experienced our US concerts and the publicity surrounding them, the fact of Afghan girls and boys performing side by side proved that progress has been made in Afghanistan, and served as a powerful reminder that girls and boys everywhere share similar aspirations: to express themselves, to be educated, to excel.

G:  While living in Afghanistan how did you remain safe? Americans have this notion of Middle Eastern people living in extreme oppression – music is banned by the Taliban and women are denied an education. How did you manage to teach music to women?

W: In Afghanistan, I benefited from working very closely with my boss, Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, the founder and director of Afghanistan National Institute of Music. He is the one who deserves primary credit for these advances. I supported his efforts through my own dedication and artistry, and I believe that our relationship offers an alternative model for how the relationship between our countries can look: trust brilliant, dedicated, honest, and visionary Afghans to manage their country’s reconstruction, and where necessary, play a supporting role.

I felt very fortunate to be embraced by most members of the Afghan public, who became familiar with me when I served as a guest judge on Afghan Star (equivalent to American Idol) and subsequently saw me conduct the Afghan Youth Orchestra frequently on Afghan national television. I learned Dari and frequently performed Afghan music in public. A middle-aged Afghan friend once described me as follows: “This is the greatest man that America has sent to Afghanistan. We need more people like him: musicians, not men with guns.”

His kind words affirm what those of us engaged in cultural diplomacy have always known: whether in Afghanistan or Zimbabwe, in New York, Jacksonville, or Philadelphia, cultural exchange points the way towards a future illumined by greater understanding and respect.

G:  How is your search for the answer to “What is American Culture?” going thus far?

W: With the American culture project, Cultures in Harmony seeks to catalyze a national conversation. The project will succeed only if and when millions of Americans start to share their own definition of American culture on social media with the hashtag #americancultureis; when we start to schedule concerts, exhibits, and events affirming and celebrating the open-ended nature of this question; and when we start to accept that we may never arrive at a single definition of our cultural, social, or political life. That acceptance, that willingness to agree to disagree, is disappearing and may soon be past the point where it will be possible to recover. This project seeks to do what our international projects seek to achieve: bringing people together. In this case, we bring people together around a commitment to validating diverse interpretations of our culture. America must remain a welcoming home to those who speak Spanish or English or another language; who are Christian or Muslim or another religion or secular; who are conservative, liberal, centrist, or any combination thereof. Your identity, your values, or your interests need not define you in this country: you are human, and American, and that should be enough.

My own search is not the point of this project. To the extent that people feel that the project is only about a violinist from Indiana getting to see the country, it is a failure. To the extent that the project inspires people to contribute their own definition of American culture or consider a definition that differs from their own, it is a success.

 G:  What are your feelings about Philadelphia as a cultural destination?

W: As a classical musician, I grew up with the highest respect for Philadelphia as the location of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Curtis Institute. During the American culture project, I discovered how much more Philadelphia has to offer. It is both the home of the Liberty Bell and of a powerful new museum honoring George Washington’s slaves. It is home to both the famous cheesesteak…and the sandwich at DiNic’s named best sandwich in the US. It remains a proudly multicultural city, and I greatly enjoyed climbing the greasy pole at the Italian Market Festival. Philadelphia’s status as the first-ever American city to be named a World Heritage City highlights its claim to be the birthplace of the USA, but it remains so much more than that. Given that few cities capture so much of our country’s unique characteristics as well as Philadelphia, it was an outstanding choice to represent America’s contribution to world heritage.

Click here to see video and interview with Zabeth Teelucksingh, Executive Director, Global Philadelphia Association (GPA) and John Smith, Board Chairman.

For more information on Cultures in Harmony visit

What’s Your Name?



Sister Henrietta, my third grade teacher at Immaculate Conception elementary school in the Bronx had trouble pronouncing my name – so she changed it.  One morning she announced that my name would be Grace not Graziella.

Could you imagine what would happen today if a teacher changed a student’s name?

Back in the 70’s the nuns apparently had the right to take your identity. Devout Catholics and recent immigrants like my parents did not go up against the church! So from elementary school through high school and even college my name was Grace or Gracie. In college, when I presented my resume to my advisor, he said I would never get an interview, let alone a job if I used my official name.

Well, I did get very good jobs during the 80’s – was it my name?

Like most immigrant children, I wanted to assimilate to American culture. I didn’t like being so ethnic. I wanted peanut butter and fluffer nutta on white bread for lunch. Instead, each morning mamma would freshly cook for our entire family. The aroma of the frittata on Italian bread, packed with so much love in a big brown bag, would waft through the air as it sat under my desk.  Mamma would write my name Graziella  across the length of the bag in her beautiful cursive Italian script. By lunchtime my name would be smeared in olive oil.

The first time I heard my name read out loud in a formal public setting was on my wedding day at the age of 25 – in church ironically. The church said they had to use my birth certificate name, (also the name on my marriage license), during the ceremony. The priest didn’t seem to have a problem with saying Graziella.

In many cultures your name defines your place among your ancestors. In Sicilian culture, the third child, if its a girl, is named after the grandmother on the mother’s side. I’m named after my nonna Graziella.

I was in my late thirties when I decided to reclaim my name. Grace is foreign to me.   “Godzilla?“ I have heard people ask many times. No, that’s “Graziella,” I say and then I spell it.

I’ve been told my name is artsy and exotic and some who knew me back in the day have asked if I changed my name to Graziella to fit in.  Fit in? Now ain’t that deep Sister?

An Article From Philadelphia City Paper. Remember the City Paper?

Philadelphia City Paper

The West Oak Lane Jazz and Arts Festival will always remain close to my heart. Those of you who have experienced its magic will understand why I consider that festival one of the most important projects of my career with LifeLine Music Coalition (LMC). As the music producers, LMC was responsible for programming the music for four outdoor stages and other special events – over 56 bands each year for eight years (2004-2011). Three days of non-stop music – for FREE! Each year thousands of people gathered on Ogontz Avenue, in the middle of a neighborhood in Northwest Philadelphia to see music legends which included: Chaka Khan, Teena Marie, WAR, Roy Ayers, Benny Golson, Esperanza Spalding, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, The O’Jays, Ashford & Simpson, The Ohio Players, Dave Sanborn, George Duke…so, so many. But more importantly, we were able hire hundreds of renowned Philadelphia area musicians and vocalists who were seen on the  big stage – where they belong. Hope you enjoy the article, I did. Thank you Shaun Brady.

City Paper 2005 festival article

Miss Communication


Do you know her? Steve Harvey recently announced her as the winner of something. Oh no, that was someone else. But everyone knows who she is. She may be in the form of a text, email, phone message, or even snail mail and in the end she’s the same thing – wrong! Once she hits send, the killing begins. No relationship is safe. She has destroyed business deals, personal relationships and caused world wars!

She’s a deadly chick and always the first excuse.

“It was Miss Communication,” we’ve heard the business person nervously saying as he/she tries to re-build the watered down brand. “What we really meant to say is…”   Spin doctors are usually called in to dig through the carnage but by that time the damage is done. Miss Communication could be the nail in your marketing coffin depending on how long she was allowed to wreak havoc.

No organization can afford Miss Communication. She is the femme fatale of public relations and is often the result of just not taking the time to craft a clear, concise and strategic message. Your message needs to be on point. But hey, it happens to all of us. I’ve spent a minute with Miss Communication and she was no fun. So, if she ends up in your email one day, don’t keep her alive. You’ll know its her immediately because she’s usually with her best friend – Miss Take.



Harley Bikers in China?

Harley Bikers in China?


When you think of Harley bikers, Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider” may come to mind. Chinese tourists on a Harley? Not so much. Yet Jeff Ji, owner of World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia member company Knight Hawk Tours, is changing that perception – anyone can and should be able to ride a Harley Davidson, especially in China. Want to ride a Harley to see the Great Wall or Confucius sites in China? Sign up for one of Knight Hawk’s tours. And, for Chinese tourists who want to take a 2,600 mile Harley ride through scenic Pennsylvania, Knight Hawk and Jeff Ji will make that happen.

Jeff Ji arrived in the United States in 1986 and received a graduate degree from American University and University of Pennsylvania. In 1993, Jeff started U-Combination Technology which offers diverse tech set-ups to area businesses, schools and non-profits. U-Combination has worked with the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PCVB) to design and host its website in China. Jeff is also on the board of PHL Diversity, a division of PCVB. Jeff is passionate about blending Chinese and American cultures. In April 2016, Jeff will be working to bring the Asian Food show to the Philadelphia Convention Center.

With the ever-growing middle class in China, more Chinese residents are able to afford Harley Davidson motorcycles.

“We are helping to sell more Harley Davidson motorcycles manufactured in Pennsylvania. Since 2008, Harley dealers in China have increased from 3 to 16. While U.S. sales of Harley decreased by 3%, China sales have increased by more than 10%. ”

To date, three Shandong tours from Pennsylvania to China have taken place, including a AAA Chinese New Year spectacular in 2014. And from Shandong to Pennsylvania, five tours have been organized. An average of 20 bikers participate on each tour.

Fred Harris is Director of the Ancient City Harley Owners Group with 300 members in St. Augustine Florida. In 2012, Fred and his wife Lynn led the Knight Hawk Harley Davidson Rally Experience Tour.

Valley Forge and Bucks County Harley Davidson dealership have been instrumental in supporting Jeff Ji’s mission to help sell American made products into China. In 2008, the Harley dealerships donated 30 bikes to get the ride rolling.

What would Confucius say?

Listening to folks complaining about the weather this morning prompted me to repost my “Wearing Dresses in the Snow”

Wearing Dresses in the Snow


October 30, 2012

It didn’t take long for snow to get inside my boots, but it took forever to melt. I remember the piercing feeling when it would land on my bare skinny legs and work its way down the oversized clumsy rain boots I shared with my sisters. The chunks of snow and ice would lodge somewhere around my ankles adding discomfort to my already soaked Catholic school socks that had long since drooped inside. But I loved playing in the freshly fallen snow, regardless of the fact that I would return inside almost frost-bitten.

As soon as I would get outside, it would take about five minutes before the snow would begin to taunt me, forcing me to choose between the absolute joy of creating my snow art or the comfort of a warm radiator. I chose to frolic as long as possible or until Mom would scream for us to come inside. As a little girl, my “wardrobe” consisted of my ill-fitting Catholic school uniform which I would wear all day until I changed into my nightgown, and a few dresses, one with a weird Gypsy-looking pattern. I didn’t notice that I didn’t own a pair of pants. I was raised a Sicilian girl, in the moment and poor.

As I write, this I’m listening to jazz music and avoiding the constant media drone that has been interrupting the airwaves to talk ad nauseum of Hurricane Sandy. I am one of the lucky ones. I have electricity and my home was unscathed. In fact, I have an orchid plant that didn’t move an inch on my patio table. I had nothing to do with my good fortune.

In the days before Sandy, I watched a reporter stand next to a skinny tree blowing in the wind, warning of winds picking up, and today, the day after Sandy, I see photos of the boardwalk blown out to sea in Atlantic City; my old subway stop in Times Square completely under water, and 50 houses burning to the ground in Queens, New York. Days before Sandy, most stores had sold out of bread, milk, bottled water and batteries. None of those things would have stopped the fires, water or winds.

I read one post on Facebook where a friend said she and her kids ate through most of their food provisions the day before Sandy hit. We will never be fully prepared for life’s disasters, no matter how big or small.

My mom and dad survived WWII and the German occupation of their small town of Ali Terme, Sicilia on the Mediterranean. They lived through starvation and bombings. When they arrived in America in 1956, they appreciated everything America had to offer: supermarkets, consistent electricity, running water and indoor plumbing. To this day, my parents don’t take anything for granted. They have chosen to live simply, making their children and grandchildren their priority along with fresh food daily. Growing up, we were never prepared for anything. By the time my dad would find the flashlight, the batteries inside would not only be dead but leaking. When the blackout hit New York City in the 70s, we lived for days watching the looting and insanity of greed from our front porch. Mom figured out how to cook whatever was perishing in the fridge. It was summertime and the tap water was brown because the kids in the building would keep the Johnny pump (fire hydrant) running all day and night. We survived.

Every once in a while, Mother Nature reminds us who’s boss. Hurricanes like Sandy are dangerous and deadly. But the fact still remains that we are a nation of spoiled people who demand instant gratification and more calories than we need. We insulate ourselves from reality and feel entitled to decimate our resources so we can live our drive-thru lives—always on the constant go—with our Styrofoam containers. It’s a frenetic lifestyle that we demand because of the demands put on us. We waste water and kill trees.  Young children go to birthday parties at man-made, overly chlorinated indoor water parks (inside hotels!) where they eat a “happy” chemically laden meal and then return home to the electronic mind control of violent video games. I’m sad that my young adult children will never know what life was like without an iPhone.

We have no choice but to accept what comes our way, and appreciate and respect what we have. Sometimes we have to wear dresses in the snow.





An international view of arts, culture and heritage