Tuesday, October 25, 2011

All that Jazz

Photo Credit: paulbeaudry.com 

Paul Mueller is an Economic Affairs Associate at the U.S. Consulate General Hyderabad. He is a former opera singer and multi-instrumentalist, not to mention a huge jazz fan!

When I first heard Beaudry and Pathways, a rush of memories flooded back – lazy summer nights in Seattle’s Jazz Alley and New York City’s Blue Note and Birdland.  Jazz, at its finest, has this uncanny ability to make the listener feel like they are more alive, more present in the moment, and Paul Beaudry is a musical matador in this arena.

Not only is he among the most promising young jazz musicians that America has to offer, he is one of those rare composers with an even rarer talent for conveying his emotions so precisely through melody that I almost feel I know what he was thinking when he wrote it.  Growing up in California, Beaudry was inspired by the giants of cool jazz and bebop, the music of Miles Davis and Dizzie Gillespie permanently imbedding their sounds into his style. I hear the influence of the jazz greats in his music, the soft imprint of Paul Chambers, the bittersweet ode to Joe Henderson, and yet Paul Beaudry’s compositions are all his own. As a musician myself, I understand how fully influences from one’s youth can continue to permeate one’s music.

Inspired though he was, Beaudry seemed destined for a Silicon Valley life, working steadily as a software engineer, suppressing his love for jazz into a weekend hobby.  All that changed, however, in 1996 when Paul packed his bags and moved to the East Coast to follow his dream of playing jazz for a living.  In 2001 he made the move to New York, a move that would allow Mr. Beaudry to immerse himself in the rich music scene of smoky clubs and dimly lit bars, the places were cool jazz comes to life.  It was there that he came to observe, cherish, and polish the things that simply can’t be taught in school, things like how to be present in every moment during his performances and how to be completely honest with an audience.

The roots of Jazz trace themselves back to African American blues music of the early 20th century.  It’s the quintessential music of America, and its improvisation and originality lend themselves to musicians who are most comfortable when taking risks.  Beaudry embodies these characteristics fully, his original style leading the audience to hang on to his every note, the listener not always sure where he is taking them, but thoroughly enjoying the ride.

The band Beaudry and Pathways have toured Central America, the Caribbean, and Central Asia as Jazz Ambassadors with the U.S. State Department. The quartet comprises Paul Beaudry (bass and vocals), Tim Armacost (tenor and soprano saxophones), Bennett Paster (piano and keyboards), and Tony Jefferson (drums and percussion). A mix of original compositions and a sampling of the great jazz standards has led to success for the band, who believe that making music should be exciting, emotionally engaging, and fun.

Today, Beaudry and Pathways will perform in Hyderabad’s Shilparaman outdoor auditorium. The intermingling of instruments floating through the soft breeze will undoubtedly make for a memorable concert, and with Beaudry’s unique combination of influences and personal style, a concert we won’t soon forget.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Difference a Volunteer Makes

It’s a little delayed because I was away in New Delhi last week, but I want to pay tribute in this blog to the great work that NGOs are doing in Andhra Pradesh, as demonstrated by those who participated in the Seva Mela October 7 and 8 during Joy of Giving week.  I had the great honor of participating in the opening ceremony and talking to members of all 60 NGOs that attended.  I was awed and energized by their commitment and creativity.
In the last two or three decades we’ve begun to talk much more than we used to about something called “civil society,” which encompasses the various forms under which individuals come together to pursue shared interests and purposes.  While the phrase “civil society” has become more conspicuous recently, the phenomenon is certainly not new.  In the western tradition, discussion of civil society can be traced back to classical Rome; I’m sure there is an equivalent for India.  Associations of citizens have been a prominent feature of U.S. communities from the earliest days of the republic.  in the early 19th century, a French historian visited the U.S. and commented on how Americans were much more prone than Europeans to form associations:  “Americans of all ages, all conditions and all dispositions, constantly form associations…The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodies; they found in this manner hospitals prisons and schools.”    (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835) 
Indian civil society has a strong tradition, which includes the nation’s wealth of religious and spiritual organizations and historical movements such as Ghandiji’s satyagraha movement.  My impression, though, is that NGOs are not as deeply rooted a part of India’s civil society as they are in the United States.   I am certainly not an expert, but I think this may be in part because Indians (like the Europeans de Tocqueville was familiar with) view the solution of problems in the society as the role of government. 
For example, when the Consulate organized a panel discussion on “Solutions to Extremism: A Community Based Approach ,” I was struck that the discussion focused in large part on how the community could communicate with government better to enhance government effectiveness in combating extremism.  It was an interesting and creative discussion, but it appeared to me that community action on such subjects in India is identified and defined in relation to action by government, rather than independently, because the fundamental responsibility for a solution is assigned to government.  I don’t think that same understanding exists in the U.S., and I could imagine a panel discussing the same subject in the U.S. without mentioning government at all.  (Of course it would all depend on the panelists—but for some, government might even be viewed as more likely to exacerbate than to solve the problem.)
If we are talking about the massive challenges that face us—like eradicating poverty or curbing climate change—a single individual is so powerless in relation to the scale of the problem, it’s natural to turn to government for leadership.  What really impresses me about the activists I met at the Seva Mela and during all my travels in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa is that, while they know they don’t have the power to fix the big problem-- eradicate poverty or stop climate change—they identify the challenges where they can make a difference.  The groups I met at the Zoroastrian Club included national organizations with many decades of experience and local organizations formed in the last few years and animated by a few committed individuals.  What they had in common is that each had identified an issue to address and mobilized resources to make a difference.  Many of them served discrete, vulnerable populations—children, the disabled, victims of domestic violence, people suffering depression—and provided services that changed the lives of the recipients.   Others took steps to promote environmental awareness and recycling, promote civic action or encourage spiritual growth.  India’s poverty rate may not be directly affected by an NGO that provides shelter for 20 homeless children or an organization that markets craftwork it has trained exploited women to fabricate, but they transform the lives of those children and women, and thousands of NGOs acting locally can change the world.  The phrase “Think globally, Act locally,” has been used most by environmentalists, but it’s equally true when we’re thinking about how to confront poverty or other forms of disenfranchisement.
Another phrase that my conversations with the NGO members proved true comes from the Bible:  “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  Everyone I spoke to clearly loved the work they were engaged in.  Those who work for the good of others make small sacrifices, but they earn large rewards.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Emergency Drills Work!

It’s great to be back home in Hyderabad.  I did some valuable work in Washington and spent a little time with family, but so many weeks, living out of suitcase is much too long.

We’ve been busy at the Consulate since I returned, but despite the press of day-to-day work, the entire staff is taking some time out for training on emergency preparedness, with the help of an expert from the U.S.  The importance of this kind of training was brought home to me while I was in Washington by two unusual events, an earthquake and a hurricane.  Both are rare, and both can be devastating, although this August the Washington metropolitan area suffered relatively few ill effects from the two events.   What struck me, however, was that preparation made a big difference in how people responded. 

When hurricane Irene was approaching, people throughout the southeastern United States used advance warning and past experience to make decisions about evacuating exposed areas and stocking up on essentials.  New York and Boston had advance warning, but little past experience to call upon, and my impression was there was a lot more anxiety about what might happen there than there was in places like North Carolina, where hurricanes are more familiar and plans are detailed and regularly exercised.  When the storm ultimately unleashed severe flooding in the land-locked northern state of Vermont, there was neither experience nor advance warning to mitigate the impact.  

I was at work on the seventh floor of a high rise building in Washington when a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck the area.  I had experienced earthquakes in California, and I assumed a quake was what had occurred, but many of my colleagues from Washington recalled 9/11, and feared that a bomb was responsible.  State Department offices drill for bombs, but not for earthquakes, and people weren’t sure what they should do.  It was clear that this as not something for which they were prepared.

Considering the recent damage and loss of life experienced in Sikkim and Nepal with the earthquake that hit on September 18, I’m grateful that we’re working locally to increase our preparedness.  Emergencies are by definition unexpected, but at the same time, we all know that we will experience them in our lifetimes.  

I’ve lived through blizzards in the U.S., the assassination of a president in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and devastating supply shortages in Zimbabwe.  In every case, there were ways we had to make up our responses as we went along, because we just hadn’t been able to envision all the possibilities in advance.  But preparedness pays off.  For example, in Zimbabwe, the U.S. Embassy had the capacity to store large amounts of petrol and diesel, so when fuel was unavailable for months on end, we were able to keep going.   Without those stocks, we probably would have had to curtail our activities and send some employees home.

I know if you’re in the Consulate applying for a visa or a new passport, it’s inconvenient to be forced to evacuate for an emergency drill.  But if it happens to you one day, I hope you’ll understand and give us feedback on how well we communicate.