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In modern Western society, at least over the past century, success has largely been measured by a person's social and economic standing. The more money you had, or the better your career was going, the more successful you were considered.
However, speaking with songwriter Alan Roy Scott can certainly make one question such definitions of success. Scott, a top Hollywood songwriter and music producer who has been working in the music business for over 20 years, just completed a five-day visit to Israel to work on a project that he hopes will bring together Israeli and Arab artists.
Scott's career began with Screen Gems-EMI Music and with a division of Motown, where he was involved with Smokey Robinson, The Temptations and Stevie Wonder. Among the many artists who have recorded his songs are Celine Dion, Luther Vandross, Cyndi Lauper, Gloria Estefan, Roberta Flack, The Neville Brothers, The Pointer Sisters, Rick Springfield and Johnny Mathis, and his music has appeared on the soundtracks of The First Wives Club, Top Gun, Coming to America, The Karate Kid, Part II, Fame (the TV show), Rags to Riches, Santa Barbara, As the World Turns and Beverly Hills 90210, among others.
He was invited by the American Embassy to present workshops on songwriting for Jewish and Arab audiences in Israel. The program included the Rimon and Hed music schools, Al-Mashghal Center in Haifa, the Massar School in Nazareth, the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa, the Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem and the Levontin 7 Club in Tel Aviv.
In the course of his workshops and lectures, Scott listened to local music, and also discussed some of the principles of making music that sells. He stressed how important it was to understand but not copy elements that had worked in other people's music; instead, he suggested, one should find one's own voice.
Scott has certainly found his own voice, in more ways than one. Amid his tips on songwriting, he implored his listeners to use their music for a greater cause. At the Rimon school in Ramat Hasharon, he told an ambitious young audience that while it was okay to want to earn a living making music, they should keep in mind that their musical talents were a gift.
"What are you going to do in this world with your music?" he challenged them.
Scott speaks from experience. Having looked fame and fortune straight in the eye, he instinctively wanted to add meaning to it all. This need was in no small way influenced by his personal background. Scott grew up in a home where his father, too, had combined material success with do-good activities - and lots of good music.
"My father is an unsung hero," Scott told Metro last week. "He's my inspiration for most of what I doâ€¦ He was a white man who was running an automobile dealership in a black neighborhood in the south of Chicago in that very racially [sensitive] time [the 1960s]â€¦ All his customers and almost all his employees were in the black community."
Scott recalled how "my father was a bridge between the white and black communities in his timeâ€¦ a direct go-between [for black groups, including the Blackstone Rangers and the Panthers] and the white politics, the daily machine of the era. And he could deal with both communities, and he brought them together."
Scott's father had a popular radio show called Jubilee Showcase, "where all the local artists from the neighborhood - Chaka Khan, the Norfleet Brothers, all these gospel groups - would come and sing on this radio show, which he hosted in his [car dealership] showroom. Then it became a TV show."
As a result, Scott grew up heavily influenced both by the great music talents he knew in person, and by his father's efforts to bridge gaps between the white and black communities.
In time, Scott started his own cooperative activities. He founded Music Bridges (http://www.musicbridges.com/events.html), an event-oriented organization dedicated to developing international collaborative music projects. This means bringing together artists from two or more countries, including a few very famous artists and some lesser-known figures. The musicians are placed in a comfortable retreat setting for several days, where they make music in small, intimate, mixed teams, moving beyond cultural and often political differences. These events culminate in a final evening where the artists present their collaborative music fruits to each other. The resulting music is sometimes included in subsequent albums they record.
The first Music Bridges event was conducted in Soviet Moscow in 1988, and included musicians such as Cyndi Lauper and Michael Bolton. An album of the best songs from the project was released on Epic Records worldwide, featuring performances by Earth, Wind & Fire, Roberta Flack, Lauper, Anne Murray and other top artists. Other events took place in Cuba, Ireland, Indonesia, Romania and, most recently, Germany. The proceeds go to charity, and the participating artists are not paid.
"It's presented as something of value, [and] as something wonderful for them," Scott told Metro, noting that the celebrities "get an experience that many artists have told me is one of the best weeks of their life. Because it's not about their record or their tour, it's about them coming to have an experimentâ€¦ It's about you coming and being willing to see what happens when you write with people you've never met, in these situations that have unknown language and culture for youâ€¦ They get back to the purity of having fun... and also they make new friends."
During his Israel visit, Scott conducted meetings to advance the Music Bridges event he hopes to run here in 2010. Speaking with music teachers in the "American Corner" at the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa, Scott explained: "The goal here would be to use music in a symbolic way [that shows that despite] all the problems like politics and other things - it doesn't change the world, but it just helps to bring things together for a minute. So in this particular case, it will be a project that would bring together international celebrities and artists to collaborate in a three-way collaboration of songwriting, with Israeli artists and also an equal amount of people from Israeli Arab [circles]."
Scott also discussed his plan to implement a long-awaited youth component of the program, and to use the Israeli-Arab event as a springboard for ongoing cooperative activity.
"A new, important dimension from here on is to include youth, children," he said. "At the same time that I'm working in a retreat fashion with adults, I'm gonna be having a parallel experience with youth... with the idea that there will also be some crossover mentoringâ€¦ and then at the endâ€¦ the final concert will show the outcome of both."
He added that "even if we don't have a full children's parallel project, the goal from here [onward] is to leave behind ongoing things that last beyond it," such as having "quarterly summits and [bringing] back one celebrity as a follow-up."
Scott says the idea is to hold an initial event that promotes awareness and "that then leads to [a] sustainable outcome."
As far as timetables are concerned, Scott said that "as of this moment, with the momentum that's being built, I'm calling it [for] the fall of 2010, basically giving me a year. And if it becomes the spring of 2011, that's okay. The only concern, of course, here [in Israel], you don't know, at any minute, that can all change."
Participants have not felt patronized by the Americans, Scott said.
"I don't mean to sound like some hippie leader from the '60s, but I just literally create an environment where it's just really about being open and giving, and that brings out the best in people," he explained.
"Yes, maybe I'm a dreamer; yes, maybe I have big ideas," he said. "But I've already moved the mountain a little bit a couple of times, and that gives me the confidence to believe that it's possible."
Scott admitted that the Israeli event was "a very ambitious project," but noted that "I've dealt [with these kinds of challenges] on a smaller scale with Cuba and the United Statesâ€¦ I was able to bring 128 people there, and I had government permission to do soâ€¦ so I know these things can happen."