There is nothing hotter than a power couple! And in Kuwait we have our very own: Richard and Harriet Bushman. It’s hard to put a label on either of them. Richard, who has a fine ear for music, is a producer of operas, musical performances and is also a talent scout; and lovely Harriet is not only a supremely talented musician and pianist but also an entrepreneur. I am not just in awe of this power couple, but I had the chance to ask them a few questions about what makes them tick (apart from the obvious reasons of course).
Your work seems to be closely knitted with philanthropic efforts. How do you weave business and charity together?
Harriet: I started my Agapanthus business a few years ago, designing and selling luxury silk apparel. I used the income to help women in Kuwait prisons return to their own countries, get an education and go back to a normal life supporting their families at home. Since then, I have raised money for victims of the typhoon in the Philippines, the earthquake in Nepal, and war refugees arriving in Sweden – as well as much smaller cases based on individual need. In all cases, I donate only where I personally know every link in the chain that delivers the funds and the services to the beneficiaries, to be sure that there are no overheads or extra costs.
Richard: This year we are also raising money for opera performance in Kuwait, which is an expensive business, and one that is funded entirely through private donations. The government helps us in several very valuable ways, but not with direct cash contributions, so we depend on the generosity of those who donate and support our fundraising events.
How did the Ahmadi Music Group come to life?
H+R: The group was started by KOC in the 1950’s for their expatriate employees; that’s why it is still called Ahmadi, even though we have not rehearsed or performed there for many years. When we arrived in Kuwait in 2006, the director was leaving the country and asked us to take over. We immediately felt that the group had way more potential than was being shown, and have tried since that time to elevate it from a community singing group to a high-level opera company, but without sacrificing the fun and friendship that the members enjoy. Now, every year is a mix of very complex difficult music and some relaxing fun music. Everyone is welcome to join; there is no need to try out.
What’s a day in the life for you as a power couple?
Richard: We teach music to children after school; about half of them are Kuwaiti and the other half expats. In the mornings, Harriet is usually composing, practicing piano or rehearsing. I have many administrative jobs related to music production, such as fundraising, reserving theatres, translating scripts, and planning schedules, as well as learning upcoming concert music to conduct.
Can you tell us how music can change a person’s life?
H+R: Music can change a person’s life in every possible way that a life can change – emotionally, intellectually, socially. When we sit down to play music with people, we know that even if they are from a completely different part of the world, they have spent 25 years learning to play this music, in the same way that we have, and that gives us a special shared bond. Even our little students, many just six or seven years old, are very interested in what the other students are doing, because of the powerful experience they are sharing. When we have a student concert, and the young violinists line up to play a piece together, it is thrilling for them to see how their hard work, practiced day after day alone at home, contributes to this exciting whole.
School and university admissions departments love classical music students, because there is no way to fake it. Nothing can replace the discipline and dedication that show up in a student who shows achievement in music.
Finally, what’s your vision for the rest of the year?
Harriet: As always, there are a lot of plans. We will have a very fun ABBA sing-along concert in May, and then we will do a charity fund-raising concert featuring the Elgar Piano Quintet in early June before everyone goes away for the summer. Right now, I am writing music for a new show called The Blue Box, by a young Syrian writer, which is about Syrian children. The production will tour to the Edinburgh festival. It will be a crossover between western classical and Arabic music. In a similar vein, I am also writing and arranging music for a new show by Hooda Shawa about Freya Stark. And we are already planning for concerts and performances in the fall.
You can find more information regarding Harriet Bushman on her website www.harrietbushmanmusic.com or on Instagram @harrietbushman. You can also follow Richard Bushman on www.ahmadimusicgroup.com. com for future events and concert.