By Farrell Harwood
While serving as a first-tour consular officer in Guangzhou, China, Bradley Geer found himself quite literally conducting person-to-person diplomacy, employing a skill he had not used for 10 years: choral conducting. A locally employed staff member in the Community Liaison Office initially invited Geer to sing with the Guangzhou Baroque Orchestra. When COVID-19-related lockdowns unexpectedly grounded the orchestra’s conductor in Macau in late September 2021, the group needed someone to run rehearsals and conduct an upcoming performance. Geer jumped in and “saved the performance,” said the local staff member.
Geer has two degrees in music and began his career teaching choral music. Individuals often wonder how Geer’s background in music connects with the Foreign Service.
“I was surprised when I first learned the Department [of State] actively welcomes people with diverse educational backgrounds and work histories,” Geer said, adding he now better understands how a diversity of experience can help foster person-to-person diplomacy. “Hobby diplomacy” has the advantage of being organic, of connecting people in natural settings over mutual interests.
Of the choral performance, Geer said, “I wasn’t there as a diplomat. We were simply a group of musicians performing together during a tough time.”
As restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic begin to ease in some places, diplomats and their family members—with their varied backgrounds and array of talents—are uniquely positioned to find ways to reengage with local communities. These engagements not only reflect positively upon the United States, but also further the critical work of person-to-person diplomacy.
Farrell Harwood is the community liaison office coordinator at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou.