Phil. Harmonic.

Phil. Harmonic.

Phil. Harmonic.

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
March 10 2008 9:24 PM

Phil. Harmonic.

Speaking of Korea...

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

The New York Philharmonic traveled to North Korea recently on a goodwill tour. I heard about this online, but it was my friend Bob from XPDA who put up a link to where you can watch the video of the entire concert online.

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First, let me say that I think this is extraordinary, and fantastic. It's arguable that the governments of both countries have a large streak of insanity running through them. Ours refuses to talk to enemies, a dangerous stance based on bad assertions, and theirs is run by Kim Jong Il, a barking-mad megalomaniac who was skewered in "Team America" as the only sane person in the whole movie.

But I am a huge fan of goodwill missions like this. If their leader doesn't show up (and he didn't), to heck with him. Revolutions rarely start from the top down.

And if there is better music in the world to inspire freedom than Dvorak's "New World Symphony", I haven't heard it.

Listen for yourself. It starts at the fourth track of the video. The video and sound quality are fantastic.

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What is it about music? Sure, different cultures have different styles, even entirely different bases of music. And yet it all appeals to me. When I hear Khatchaturian's ballet "Gayne", some part of my blood comes alive, some long-last Slavic gene. It makes my body sing. I can feel it literally inside me, a tightening just below my sternum, a catch in my breath. I have no idea what it is, or exactly what causes it, but it's a feeling we could all use, every day.

Watching the people of North Korea listening to our musical emissaries, I got that feeling again. The music was a part of it (I love Dvorak's Ninth) but it was also the knowledge that this was a group reaching out, trying to make friends, trying -- and succeeding -- to show that there are commonalities with all of us.

I spend a lot of time on this blog railing about those who would divide us, and get accused sometimes of doing that myself. I hope that most of you see that what I do is different: I am trying to stop those who divide. Ironically, that does encourage division, but only between those who, like me, want a world where no one tries to legislate their personal beliefs on everyone else, and those who would.

Sometimes, maybe, I don't make enough effort to encourage a positive aspect of all this -- though I try to whenever I write about the wonder of science and astronomy.

So let this concert be an example for all of us. I don't know anything about the people who sat in the audience of that concert. Maybe they are North Korean officials who truly hate the U.S., or they are rich elite who are just being self-indulgent.

But at one point, as the camera panned across the audience, it showed a young Korean woman who, ever so slightly, was swaying to the music, and I swear that twice in those few scant seconds, her mouth twitched upward in a subtle smile.

That concert, and this post, is for her.