Next morning, after our midnight visit to Times Square, we were set to leave the hotel at 08:30, but our flight was cancelled!   Cathy, our chaperone from the American Friends, received word from the airport.  We did a quick “about-face” cancelled the tickets and went to Penn Station to take the train to Washington.

When we stepped out of Union Station 4 hours later, we were greeted by a view of the Capitol Building and Washington’s cherry trees in full bloom.  Unfortunately, there was no time for sight-seeing, we were only 2 hours from concert time at the American University; guests of the department for Israeli affairs.

The concert at the Katzen Arts Center was completely full. A question-and-answer period at the end of the concert was moved to the lobby and members of the ensemble were mobbed by concert-goers, each one with an interesting question.  All the issues were on the table, Arab identity, the occupation of the territories, politics of the Middle East and the Palestinian question.  The contact with the audience, in fact, provoked a long, soul-searching dialogue among the ensemble members which continued until 2 in the morning at a 24 hour diner.

We returned to the American University (after nearly losing Alfred, Bishara, Sami and Ramsis at Macy’s) for a noon master-class.   The difference between East and West was demonstrated; instruments, notation, scales and improvisation. The stage was then opened for questions from the students: “How has playing with Eastern musicians affected your playing the orchestra?” “Do we feel that playing together actually has an effect on the people’s understanding of the conflict?”

Undoubtedly, the climax of the 4 days was the evening concert at the home of the Israeli Ambassador.  Ambassador Michael Oren and his wife Sally opened their home for the American Friends and guests.  Among the audience were the ambassadors of Egypt and Sweden and the congressman from Los Angeles.  Even though the Ambassador was exhausted from attending to President Simon Peres during his 3 day trip to Washington, after the concert and dinner, he initiated a “jam” session with the ensemble.  Playing first the “boran”, an Irish drum, and later “the spoons”, Ambassador Oren led the impromptu concert in his den.

Members of the SheshBesh, Yossi, Peter, Saida, Ramsis, Alfred, Bishara and Sami want to thank Cathy, who was our chaperone, Suzanne at AFIPO, Laura at AU, Bill, who provided basses in each city, the people who opened their homes for events; the Patterson’s, Dr. Haseltine, Ambassador Oren; the American Friends who underwrote the tour and all the people who made the trip possible.

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