On International Experiences

This summer two profound experiences shook me out of any complacency I might have felt in looking at the world around me. The first was the CMS International Conference in Berlin this June. My role as President did not compel me to go; I wanted to go. The attractions? A multicultural theme; the location in Berlin—crossroads for East and West, a city in the midst of dramatic changes; and the potential for dialogue with colleagues from all over. The conference did not disappoint. In addition to the stimulating papers, performances, and presentations, the Berlin experience was emotionally shaking for me. As some of you already know, I originally came to the U.S. as a refugee from the communist dictatorship in my native country, Cuba. Since then, I have traveled widely through Europe, always managing to avoid stepping into any area under communist rule, fearing both my safety and the potential for my emotional upheaval under the shadow of repression. Now it was "safe" to see Berlin. The truth is that the past does not disappear, but the present permits changes toward a new future. Very real are the signs of the past against the dramatic changes of the present: the fragments remaining of the Berlin Wall; the gloomy, boarded-up housing for the many KGB and Soviet residents that used to reside in Potsdam, steps away from Frederick the Great's beautiful Sans Souci; the contrasts between the steel and glass of West Berlin against the classic (though long-decaying) Prussian architecture of East Berlin.

Some experiences powerfully made me appreciate the power that resides in each of us humans to effect change, or, at the very least, to support change while patiently waiting for time's help. It was a delight to interact with our colleagues from the former East-they are enjoying their new opportunity to engage in dialogue with us as much as we are enjoying the reciprocal situation. I joined the masses of people constantly passing through the Brandenburg gate by car or foot, marveling at the still-new ability to pass freely, without being detained or questioned . . . surely a triumph for all humankind. Furthermore, during the conference, the artist Christo was a few blocks away, beginning his well-publicized draping of the Reichstag, as masses of Berliners and visitors gaped in awe at this symbolic burial of the past and rebirth into the future.

Ten days after returning home, while still digesting the lessons of Berlin, I had to travel to the opposite side of the world—Korea—to perform and record with the Seoul Philharmonic. Never having traveled to the Far East, nor attempted to function any place where I could not at least read the street signs, I felt relief when my hosts facilitated everything with the utmost grace and warmth. Yet, I took every opportunity to better understand a culture so different from that of my background. Beyond the language differences, we have different world views and ways of interacting with each other; however, my personal encounter with this different culture, on its own turf, made me newly aware of the similarities we share and made me hunger for more dialogue, more new foods, more new customs.

There was a time when I was suspicious of being influenced by anything that suggested tradition or permanence, but some time ago I seem to have developed an appreciation for the comfort of a stable environment, be it physical (home) or psychological (interaction with the world beyond me). However, the two experiences of this summer proved to me that, while it is good to have a love of and appreciation for stability it is periodically necessary to allow ourselves to be shaken from complacency by encounters with new ideas, new environments. The value of stability is that it provides us with an anchor from which to rethink issues and reevaluate priorities and values.

I now look forward to similar professional/personal opportunities to learn and to question my presumptions during the forthcoming CMS Annual Meeting in Portland. I sincerely hope many of you will join me there. Challenge yourself: learn about new ideas and new systems; share your professional concerns; enjoy an encounter with the different cultures of the Pacific Northwest through the exciting demonstrations that will be offered during the meeting. We can all benefit from periodic interactions with new stimuli. I look forward to seeing you there.


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Last modified on Tuesday, 19/11/2013

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