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Can Music Soothe a Troubled World?

In a time when much of the world is growing wary of American unilateralism, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has put $57 million in the next federal budget to win new friends through overseas exchange programs.

Roberta Rust performs at a lecture recital in Brazil.

Roberta Rust performs at a lecture recital in Brazil as part of the 1985-86 Artistic Ambassador tour.
Credit: Courtesy of Robert Schadler
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Artistic Ambassador Robert Roux after an overseas performance.

Autograph seekers envelope Artistic Ambassador Robert Roux after he performed at the Cagliari Conservatory of Music in Sardinia. Five hundred people attended the concert, which was part of the 1984-85 tour.
Credit: Courtesy of Robert Schadler
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And since some of the money is targeted for musical exchanges, two old hands from the U.S. Information Agency are at work on the Public Diplomacy Initiative for Classical Music. Dr. John Robilette and Robert Schadler are essentially trying to revive the USIA's Artistic Ambassador Program of the 1980s.

Robilette, a classical pianist, started the original program and saw it succeed in 63 countries. American classical musicians were sent overseas as cultural ambassadors after auditions were held in all 50 states. The new initiative also will help bring young foreign artists to the United States following a worldwide music competition.

Schadler, a former senior adviser at the USIA, now serves as president of the non-profit Committee for Western Civilization, which organizes cross-cultural and artistic events. Robilette's initiative is a project sponsored by the Committee.

Acclaimed classical pianist Byron Janis is to head an advisory board composed of prominent artists and cultural patrons. The board would identify gifted but little-known young artists and help competition winners further their careers with a series of six major fee-paying concerts before American audiences.

The board also will seek out talented American musicians and help them find a stage abroad. And some young musicians who show great talent but require further seasoning will have opportunities to enter a U.S. degree program or study privately with a master musician.

Music is an international language, reaching countless human hearts. Janis knows this well. At 35, he went to the former Soviet Union for a month-long tour. Foreign correspondent Osgood Caruthers described a Janis concert in a Nov. 3, 1960 article in The New York Times: "The ovations accorded to Janis have surpassed those for the other American artists... Men and women in the audience tonight wept as Mr. Janis played Rachmaninoff and they broke down all reserve when they heard for the first time in a live performance of George Gershwin’s Concerto F with an orchestra."

In his late 40s, Janis developed psoriatic arthritis, a crippling disease which prevented him from recording for 34 years. But in 1997, still battling the disease, Janis returned to play live concerts despite painfully swollen fingers. His album -- Byron Janis Plays Chopin -- won the critics' choice category in NPR’s Performance Today Awards. And Janis became the national spokesman for the Arthritis Foundation.

Janis is already lending his prestige to the recruiting of music schools and conservatories as he builds support for the new initiative. Several institutes have already agreed signed on, including Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.

In Depth

audio Listen to Performance Today's recent Byron Janis interview on his 75th birthday (3/24/2003).

Other Resources

Read a review of a Dr. John Robillette recital that took place in London on June 10, 2001.