The question posed to Kyle Dillingham could have seemed complicated.
Instead the Oklahoma City resident answered it the same way he addresses many things in life: with music.
The question came when Dillingham & Horseshoe Road auditioned last year in St. Louis for the American Music Abroad program. The band was selected from a few hundred groups nationwide for the 2013 program.
The 35-day world tour begins March 11 in Washington, D.C., and continues to South Korea, Taiwan, Myanmar and Russia. Dillingham, fiddle and vocals, is joined by Peter Markes, guitar and vocals, and Brent Saulsbury, upright bass and vocals.
At a point during the auditions, Dillingham was asked to imagine he was going to be somewhere in the Middle East and was sent to a classroom of students who are learning to play music and don't speak English.
“They asked, ‘What are you going to do?'” the 34-year-old said. “I said, ‘Well, the very first thing I would do is I would just try to make a connection, I would try to play just a little bit of music that they might be familiar with.'”
Dillingham picked up the violin and played “Nassam Alayna Al Hawa” by the Lebanese singer Fairouz.
“I said this will mean something to these kids and it will be a point of connection that they can then enter into seeing who we are and what we're going to do in a different light,” he said.
American Voices administers the American Music Abroad program on behalf of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
“It's a touring program intended to take American artists of all different kinds overseas and exposing particularly the more rural audiences of those countries,” Dillingham said, “to American music, American culture and hopefully American goodwill and promoting good relations among our countries.”
Enid to Thailand
The Enid native has often been told it appears as though the violin is just part of his 6-foot-2, 150-pound frame.
Dillingham picked it up when he was 9 and by age 17 was on the Grand Ole Opry stage in Nashville, Tenn.
In 2011, Dillingham and Horseshoe Road were winners of the International Acoustic Music Award in the country/bluegrass category.
“For me playing is very sacred, and it's a very intimate thing,” he said. “And what happens, I think, is that people receive it that way and I think that a lot of people feel very close to me because of my music. I can play without showing you who I am, but it's no fun.”
Playing for the world
Guthrie master fiddler Byron Berline, a three-time national fiddle champion, has his own experience playing internationally. He was asked why Dillingham is a good fit for taking music to other nations.
“He's very entertaining and people love entertainment,” Berline said. “He's had experience doing it and he puts on a good show.”
As Dillingham alluded to in his American Music Abroad audition and interview, he wants to let his music speak languages even if he can't.
So far, Dillingham has traveled to more than 30 nations. He's been a featured performer for the king of Malaysia. In the United States, he has performed for the Japanese, Thai, Romanian, and Saudi Arabian ambassadors.
He is employed part-time at the University of Central Oklahoma as an ambassador-in-residence.
His primary involvement is in their Centre for Global Competency, a joint venture between the Division of Student Affairs and the Office of Academic Affairs.
Dillingham's role is in the area of musical diplomacy.
“I was hired by the university to do just that,” he said, “use my music to try to help students connect with the international communities within our community, but also to help develop overseas partnerships. These allow for exchange opportunities for the American students studying at UCO.”
In 2009, Dillingham traveled to Thailand where he performed in the musical, “Phra Lor.”
Desire to share
How does Dillingham explain his desire to share music wherever and with whomever he possibly can?
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Dillingham said. “I think when you see somebody and you see them equal to yourself and as important as anybody you'll meet, then you have a chance to enter into something meaningful. This is my way to do that.”