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A Musical Trip Around the World

On Saturday, September 23, 2017, the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) and the AAFSW Fun For Funds Fundraising Events Committee presented a wonderful musical event, kindly sponsored by DACOR, an organization of Foreign Affairs Professionals, which was hosted at the DACOR-Bacon House, a historic and elegant mansion in the heart of Washington, DC.

Many AAFSW members and guests enjoyed a “Musical Trip Around the World” featuring Deborah Miller, lyric soprano and AAFSW Membership Chair, and Jennifer Heemstra, pianist and 2016 AAFSW SOSA winner.

Deborah Miller is an experienced, adept, and versatile artist whose repertoire spans five centuries of classical music. She holds a Master of Music degree in vocal performance from the University of Texas, and in addition has studied voice in Europe and in New York. She has performed over twenty leading opera roles (including Aida, Violetta, Mimi, Fiordiligi, Rosalinda, Pamina, Donna Elvira, Nedda, and the world premiere of Phaedra in “Hippolytus”). She has sung hundreds of concerts and oratorios in Italy, Germany, France, Spain, England, New Zealand, New York, California, Texas, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, and was sponsored by the US Information Service on a recital tour of several islands in the Caribbean. She has won prizes in many international singing competitions both in the United States and in Italy. On September 11, 2010 she appeared with the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra in the multicultural concert “Ode to Freedom.” She frequently performs for senior centers and community organizations. She is married to Ambassador Terry Miller, and they have three children, all of them professional musicians. She is the reigning Ms. Senior Virginia USA, and won 2nd runner-up in the national Senior USA Pageant in Las Vegas last May.

Jennifer Heemstra, professional pianist and entrepreneur, received the College of Music Distinguished Alumni Award from Michigan State University this May. In December 2014, she founded the Kolkata Classics trust which provides health services for trafficked women, educates children from the slums to the elite and exposes the citizens of Kolkata to high quality classical music. She has put on 62 concerts and performed for and worked with over 60,000 adults and children. For her work, she was presented with the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad in 2016. Recently Heemstra founded an American NGO/501(c)(3), the Pitch Pipe Foundation, which sends musicians abroad to drive social change. Initially focusing on Trafficking in Persons in South Asia, Heemstra plans for the foundation to expand to every corner of the globe. Before moving to India, Heemstra was a lecturer and staff accompanist at Case Western Reserve University and frequently concertized with members of the Cleveland Orchestra. Heemstra earned her Master of Music from The Cleveland Institute of Music and a Bachelor of Music from Michigan State University.

The September 23, 2017 AAFSW fundraising event showcased songs from many countries, including Italy, Spain, Ireland, Norway, Germany, France, Czech Republic, Ghana, India, Korea, the Philippines, Tahiti/USA, the U.K., and North Africa, sung by Ms. Miller in the original language. Ms. Miller and Ms. Heemstra explained why they chose each particular song and some of the stories behind the lyrics. Ms. Miller expanded on the idea that “every song is a love song,” with examples such as romantic love, love for a culture, love for children, love for community, love for a land itself, love for guests and strangers, and even love for drama.

The Musical Trip Around the World started with a song from Italy: “Io son l’umile ancella”: “I am but a humble handmaiden of The Creative Genius.” The Spanish song praised the unique multicultural flair of the region of Granada. The song from Ireland claims Ireland was “a little bit of Heaven that fell into the ocean” while the song from Norway addressed separation from loved ones. The German song “Von Ewiger Liebe” compared the strength of iron and steel to everlasting love. “Notre Amour” was the French song that described a lighter version of eternal love: charming, sacred, and infinite like the path of the setting sun over the sea. The music from the Czech Republic dealt with impossible love: a river nymph in love with a human.

One of the highlights of the evening was the song from the Akan tribe of Ghana, “Sansa Kroma,” which reminds Akan children that the whole village is their family. The audience participated in a musical dialogue with the singer, using simple traditional instruments! The song from the region of Northern Africa (Arabia) captured the “otherness” in its music and its lyrics expressed the deep hospitality of the region. “When I Bring to You Colored Toys” is based on a Nobel Prize-winning poem from India, translated into English. “Arirang” is a very ancient song from Korea, which expresses going through a mountain path as a metaphor for the hardships of life. The Philippines were celebrated with “Pakiusap,” a Tagalog romantic ballad: “Open your window and have mercy; I promise my heart for eternity.” From the one act opera “Trouble in Tahiti,” the American song “Island Magic” expresses all the drama of love as the singer recounts the details of “a terrible awful movie.” The Musical Trip Around the World ended with a song representing Great Britain: “If I Ruled the World,” from the musical Pickwick.

AAFSW is grateful to DACOR for sponsoring this AAFSW Fundraising event and to all our guests for supporting AAFSW and for enjoying this musical trip around the world with all of us at the beautiful DACOR-Bacon House. Many thanks go to the AAFSW Program Chair, Sheila Switzer, the AAFSW Scholarship Chair, Sherry Barndollar Rock, and the AAFSW Office Manager, Barbara Reioux, for all their work with organizing this amazing event. Lastly, the AAFSW Fun For Funds Fundraising Events Committee would especially like to thank our very talented performers, Ms. Deborah Miller and Ms. Jennifer Heemstra, for such a wonderful fundraising event, benefiting AAFSW, which was made possible by their gracious and gratis participation in this highly enjoyable musical evening full of melody, delicious food, and great company!

Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, AAFSW President
AAFSW Fun For Funds Fundraising Events Committee Chair