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Written by Lindsay Westley   
Published on Tuesday, 02 October 2012 11:15

Jeremy Thal of OneBeatOctober 2, 2012 - Jeremy Thal, co-director of programming for OneBeat, is a horn player, composer and educator who is interested in spreading diplomacy through music. For the upcoming OneBeat show on Thursday, October 4, that means an extended genre-bending jam session with special guests from the Grammy award-winning group eighth blackbird and students from the Curtis Institute.

We caught up with Jeremy while the OneBeat musicians were in D.C. to hear a little more about musical diplomacy, some funky ancient instruments and what it’s like to groove with musicians from five continents and 21 countries:

How would you describe OneBeat, other than as a group of 32 musicians?
It’s a forum for musicians around the world to come together, collaborate and discuss ideas. It’s kind of a musical think tank for socially engaged musicians around the world, in addition to being a place where new music is created and performed.

How does the concept of musical diplomacy work? What is musical diplomacy?
We were just at Howard University this morning for a panel discussion with Howard professors and OneBeat musicians about how music can help us cross barriers of nationality — it was pretty interesting to hear voices from a number of different countries all bouncing ideas off each other about how you talk about cultural diplomacy.

OneBeatCould you give us an example?
Right now we have a street studio — well, actually right now it’s a hallway studio — but anyway, a mobile studio — that travels with us so people can come up and spontaneously create music at the mic or keyboard or drum pads with the OneBeat musicians. Is that diplomacy, or is that a jam session? Well, maybe it’s something in between, but suddenly you’ve got musicians from all over the world having an interaction with American students, and all of these ideas are reverberating in the context of an American university.

Really, I think it’s about the ways you can build bridges between music-lovers and music-makers in different communities and in different cultures. It’s connecting those nodes of creative activity from American cities to places abroad.

OneBeat instrumentWith five continents of musicians represented, are there some interesting instruments on board the tour bus?
There are some really cool instruments — two of my favorites are the gayageum, an ancient stringed instrument from Korea, and this metal banjo-and-leather instrument from Tunisia. It plays a bass line and has a really nice buzz to it, and honestly, I’m not even quite sure how to spell it off the top of my head.

How will the show come together in Philadelphia? You’ve got classically trained musicians from the Curtis Institute, eighth blackbird and OneBeat … How does that work?
That’s all part of the challenge! In the case like the show in Philadelphia, we love to encourage folks to jam, but there’s also an element of composed music, too. Some of the musicians are classically trained, some not. Everyone has been working in advance to put together some piece, but it’ll definitely be a mix of an old-school classical approach with notes on a page and some improv.

OneBeat is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by Bang on a Can’s Found Sound Nation. OneBeat builds on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vision of “smart power” diplomacy. It embraces the use of a full range of diplomatic tools, including music, to bring people, especially youth, together for greater understanding.



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