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State Department's Musical Diplomacy Reaches Israel and the Middle East

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The U.S. Department of State and the Association of American Voices is facilitating a unique musical program called American Music Abroad. The program works to implement Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's vision of "smart power" diplomacy which, in this case, is done through the tool of music.

American Music Abroad features U.S. musicians who play exclusively Americana music to audiences around the world. Building on the historical legacy of the Department of State's Jazz Ambassadors, who first traveled around the world in the 1950s, this year's program has featured a series of month-long multi-country exchange programs.

In October, the American quartet known as The Boston Boys from Boston, Massachusetts traveled to Morocco, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Cypress to share their music and engage in cross-cultural communication.

In Israel, The Boston Boys performed in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where the group also held a musical workshop for Israeli high school students. Playing everything from bluegrass, folk and jazz to modern pop, the quartet had a whirlwind five-week musical tour performing their music live and teaching youth across five countries.

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Photo Credit: Agudat Hastudentim, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

"It's basically a dream come true," Duncan Wickel, a graduate of Boston's Berklee College of Music, told me. "We always dreamed about being musicians as kids and this experience goes way beyond our expectations."

For Wickel, 23, who plays both the fiddle and violin, it was his first trip to the Middle East. "What is special about this program is the educational aspect -- holding musical workshops and connecting with people who understand the language of music, even if they don't understand English," he said.

"In addition, we get to experience the world and visit countries that we wouldn't necessarily go to for vacation," Wickel added.

"As musical ambassadors, we get to connect with people," said Eric Robertson, 26, who plays the mandolin and is also a graduate of Boston's Berklee College of Music.

"This has been a great opportunity for us to bond with people who aren't familiar with American music or have never even experienced a live American concert. Some of the Israeli kids today, for example, had never seen a mandolin so it was fun explaining my instrument to them." Robertson said.

"We are getting a lot more followers on our Facebook page thanks to this trip," said Josh Hari, who plays bass. "It's amazing to see that we have a growing fan base in the Middle East now, from as far away as Egypt and Morocco," added drummer Nicholas Falk.

In Jerusalem, the American Center and the United States Consulate hosted the The Boston Boys, who performed at several venues including Hebrew University, where more than 700 college students of all backgrounds -- Jewish, Muslim and Christian -- came to view the performance.

"This is great music," said Harel, a recent graduate of Hebrew University. "I'd come to hear the Boston Boys perform here again."