Group hopes N. Korea concert spurs understanding

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By GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Humanitarians trying to organize an unprecedented U.S. visit by North Korea's national orchestra hope to strike a chord of reconciliation between the two enemy nations, but they still face plenty of hurdles before a single note is played on American soil.

Global Resource Services, an Atlanta-based humanitarian group, is working to bring the North Korean National Symphony Orchestra to the U.S. this spring for an 18-day visit that would kick off in Atlanta and end in a rousing finale in New York.

The group has brought 40 delegations from North Korea to the U.S. over the last 15 years but none have faced as many diplomatic, security or logistical roadblocks as this proposal. It involves flying 164 North Korean musicians, journalists and officials here for a series of concerts, training sessions and public appearances, all captured by a behind-the-scenes documentary.

The plans are far from complete. Organizers are still working to raise $3 million to pay for the trip and to get clearance from both governments for the journey. They also must secure visas from the U.S. State Department. Officials there declined to comment about the effort

Still, the nonprofit's leaders are optimistic the full orchestra could touch down in the U.S. this spring.

"We're still working on our plans," said Robert Springs, the group's president. "And we're trying to leave the door open and to work as closely as possible with authorities so we're ready when the time is right."

Springs has plenty of experience with navigating the challenges involving the two nations, which remain enemy states after a three-year war that ended in a truce in 1953. His group has sent three musical groups to North Korea, including the Christian rock group Casting Crowns. It is also preparing to send a 150-member Georgia-based chorus and orchestra to North Korea in a few weeks.

Springs first started working to bring the national orchestra to the U.S. in 2010. He was finalizing preparations for a February visit when it was put on hold after the death of North Korea leader Kim Jong Il in December. He said cultural exchanges are an important part of humanitarian work that also includes delivering food, digging new freshwater wells and training physicians.

"We committed to this project because we believe it could be a catalyst for change and a sustainable change to help lead us on a road to reconciliation," he said. "This could be the tipping point of that event."

He released a video on Thursday of interviews with several North Korean orchestra members who said they were excited by the prospect of sharing their music with Americans.

"This tour can be a wonderful opportunity to lead the emotions of our people and the Americans in several good directions that include peace, friendship, mutual understanding and respect," said Jang Ryong Sik, the orchestra's chief conductor, through a translator.

"What we would like to do if we go to the U.S. is to share with the American people our heart and soul, what we think and what we are proud of."

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Online:

GRS website about North Korean National Symphony Orchestra project: http://www.dprknsotour.org/

YouTube video of North Korean National Symphony Orchestra: http://www.youtube.com/user/BeyondCharity?feature=watch

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