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AAFSW’s Musical Program for Valentine’s Day

Monday, February 11, 2019 — Department of State

Because of Valentine’s Day, many consider February to be the most romantic month of the year. With that sentiment in mind, The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) presented a wonderful Valentine’s Day musical program to celebrate love, peace, and friendship on February 11 in the Burns Auditorium at the George Marshall Center of the State Department in Washington, DC.

AAFSW Program Chair Sheila Switzer introduced the two guest presenters—violinist/pianist Rafael Javadov, Founder and Artistic Director of the Ethno Musical Orchestra and playwright/director Edgar Farr Russell III, whose work has been produced on National Public Radio and the stage. He is also a former President of The Washington DC Chapter of The National Society of Arts and Letters.

Russell opened the program with “Thoughtful Words about Love” and also read a selection of poems from different countries and spanning a number of centuries. He began with words from 19th century English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who revealed a great truth when he wrote:

All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love,
And feed his sacred flame.

Russell continued with three diverse individuals from the 20th century– Fred Rogers of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” fame; author and activist Helen Keller; and French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery who, through his character The Fox, concisely summed up the magic of love to The Little Prince and for all of us: “It is only with the heart that one sees clearly– What is essential is invisible to the eye!”

Russell then shared a translation of the beautiful Russian song “The Snowball Bush Is Blooming,” which tells the story of a young woman who is too shy to declare her love for a young man.

He next offered heartening words from author James Freeman Clarke who proclaimed:   “The only solid thing in this vast universe is love.”

Passion is an important part of romantic love as demonstrated when Russell recited from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese.” Sonnet #38 is about receiving the first kiss from a beloved.

Russell showed that love can inspire many great gifts to humanity by reading from the writing of American Civil War veteran and orator Robert Ingersoll:  “Love is the only bow on Life’s dark cloud.  It is the morning and the evening star.  It shines upon the babe and sheds its radiance on the quiet tomb.  It is the mother of art, inspirer of poet, patriot and philosopher.  It is the air and light of every heart, builder of every home, kindler of every fire on every hearth. It was the first to dream of immortality.  It fills the world with melody, for music is the voice of Love. Love is the magician– the enchanter that changes worthless things to joy, and makes royal kings and queens of common clay.  It is the perfume of that wondrous flower– the heart– and without that sacred passion, that divine swoon, we are less than beasts; but with it, earth is heaven…”

With spring still seeming far away, Russell shared words that he hoped would refresh and renew us as well as remind us that love may be experienced at any age. These thoughts came from an uplifting essay by poet Samuel Ullman, which he entitled “Youth”:

“Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.

You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair. In the central place of your heart is an evergreen tree; its name is Love.

So long as it flourishes you are young.  When it dies you are old.  In the central place of your heart is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, grandeur, courage, and power from the earth, from mankind, and from the Infinite so long are you young…”

Ullman went on to add that “wireless stations both receive messages and transmit them. What are we transmitting to those around us?”

In closing his heartfelt presentation, Russell reminded us to take time to relax and enjoy Valentine’s Day– or as Shakespeare put it so beautifully in The Taming of the Shrew Act One; Scene Two: “Come…sit by my side, and let the world slip; we shall ne’er be younger.”

World renowned violinist Rafael Javadov continued the program with a wonderfully upbeat and exciting jazz infusion instrumental. Rafael’s music reflects his amazing voyage through life. Rafael Javadov was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. He studied in Ukraine and Russia (after his studies at the Moscow Conservatory, Mr. Javadov went on to graduate from the Glinka State Music College of the Ukraine and the Rostov-Don Conservatory in Russia, earning his master degree in Violin, he became the Concertmaster of the North Pole Navy Band in Russia, and he toured in Ukraine, Russia, and Germany) and came to the United States in 1995. Rafael has served as the Music Director of the Kol Haruach Klezmer Band and he has performed with many of the Washington D.C. regional symphonies, including the Delaware Symphony, Richmond Symphony, Alexandria Symphony, Arlington Symphony, Philly Pops, Baltimore Symphony, Maryland Symphony, National Philharmonic and the Doc Scantlin Imperial Palms Orchestra. During a lively international musical presentation which fused European, African and Latin notions in an eclectic blend of gypsy folk ballads steeped in Romanian sounding chords tinged with funky Latin rhythms, Rafael Javadov urged the audience  to get up and dance– which it did with great enthusiasm! Mr. Javadov concluded his performance taking requests from the audience which included arrangements of Russian folk themes and romances, Mediterranean folk music, Gypsy, Jewish, and American classics as well as classical music favorites.

Ms. Switzer then thanked the two presenters and the audience for attending. Following this, President of the AAFSW, Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, joined Ms. Switzer and other dignitaries on stage with Mr. Javadov and Mr. Russell, bringing to a close a most delightful program!

Contributed by Presenter Edgar Russell III
Friend of AAFSW

Edited by Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen
AAFSW President