Category Archives: citizen diplomacy

An Invitation to Question: How Can Music Education Become a More Dialogical Space?

Is music an expression of our reality or the creation of our reality? Where does technique meet possibility and where does learning meet technique? How can multiple truths and multiple perspectives exist in the same co-created space, and how can we express these multiple truths and perspectives with and through music? These are a few of the questions that were explored in this year’s Improvisation Class during the Cultures in Harmony-Atlas Music Festival.   The festival, held in Tunisia in the small town of Beni Mtir near the mountainous border with Algeria, seeks to implement Track II Diplomacy in the form of cultural diplomacy between Americans and the West, and Tunisians and the MENA region.

Credit: Ny No

Credit: Ny No

The name “Improvisation Class” is merely a label for the class to exist within the structure of a mainly classical music summer camp for Tunisian youth. When exploring and redefining the possibility of musical creation and interaction, no clear title seems to exist. Similar to the lack of label, the way in which the class co-created musically through a dialogical process of learning and sharing is generally unheard of in what is considered classical music education and pedagogy. I believe what we co-created challenges how music education is overwhelming taught and calls to question what could be. In the words of the late education philosopher Maxine Greene, “Imagination has to do with possibilities; never settle with what is!”

I suspect one of the greatest challenges music education faces today (or even yesterday as a violist myself who grew up completely immersed in a classical music education regimen) in our ever globalizing world is exactly what Maxine Greene speaks of: the imagination of possibilities. So often, we musicians are trained rather than taught. Our musical goals focus on digesting, and external benchmarks instead of creating. And so often, the flow of knowledge is merely from teacher to music student without even the consideration of how the music student can and should add to the flow of knowledge and understanding. This translates beyond the space of learning, but even to who is considered a musical creator versus a musical vessel. In the current music education environment in the classical music world, young musicians are often expected to follow this one-way hierarchy of teacher-knows-all and student-knows-none-until-told. This issue is not exclusive to the classical music world; its traces can be found in the teaching of other music genres, such as jazz, and inadvertently, continues to marginalize and undermine music genres, such as hip hop and rap, in music education. [1]

Now for those musicians and music educators getting ready to run for it after these last sentences, don’t go anywhere just yet! Join me for a moment in questioning not what music education is, but rather what it could be. I believe there are possibilities in which a youth musician achieves musical greatness, and musical creator. And in this process it is not only the responsibility of the musician or music educator, but as well the youth musician. How does a music educator create this type of dialogical space with her or his students? What are the benefits of doing so in the first place? And finally, why question our current system of musical learning by asking what could be? Elements of our Improvisation Class can perhaps shed light on these very questions. Of course, all learning should be contextual to each space of learning, which suggests adopted ideas and concepts from here must be contextualized to their new settings, too.

Our Improvisation Class consisted of around 25 youth musicians from the ages of nine to 19 all with various levels of experience, whether on the violin, piano, guitar, voice, sax, darbuka, and accordion. I sought to provide a certain structure that enabled a few key elements that could lead to the possibilities of musical greatness and musical creator through our dialogical space, where knowledge, understanding, and skills were transferable to outside musical and non-musical spaces. Whereas the process of sharing musical knowledge and understanding should be a two-way street, I believe musician and music educator is responsible for providing the initial structure in which creativity can thrive.

1. All ideas are welcome within our fundamental social agreement of listening, respect, and responsibility to our peers, our creations, and ourselves.

We all have a natural desire to feel appreciated. When we feel appreciated, we are more willing to confront vulnerability positively as moments of growth and self-transformation (see Brené Brown’s TED Talk: The Power of Vulnerability). In providing structure in which creativity can flourish, I wanted to welcome everyone into a setting where youth musicians felt safe or at least safer in sharing their ideas, feelings, and emotions musically and verbally. In our entire group we all agreed, including myself as a facilitator-participant, to listen, respect, and be responsible to each other, our creations, and ourselves.

2. Every youth musician has valid experiences, and has gained understanding and knowledge through these experiences, in which to teach and share with the group.

In harmony with challenging what education philosopher Paulo Freire termed the “banking concept” where students are looked upon as empty vessels awaiting for their teacher to fill their mind with knowledge, our Improvisation Class was a problem-posing (Freire, 2000) space in which peer learning flourished and youth musicians built upon previous musical and social experiences. Progressive education philosopher John Dewey speaks of experiences as a continuum of quality doing and undergoing (Dewey, 2007), which builds knowledge and understanding, ultimately leading to personal growth and openness to further growth through continuous doing and undergoing (Dewey, 2007). The first day of our class began with a spontaneous jam session that morphed from the original beats of my rhythm sticks on the chairs in our circle to saxophone solos flowing on top of violin, viola, percussion, guitar, and piano. In other words, youth musicians’ previous musical knowledge and experiences were acknowledged and respected straight from the beginning.

3. The invitation is there. I am not the absolute teacher; they are not the absolute students. We each have differing responsibilities and roles to play in the space we build together, which contributes in a unique way to the dialogue and music we co-create.

Credit: Ny No

Credit: Ny No

In setting up the space where peer learning could flourish, I chose to implant opportunities of teaching, learning, leadership, and teamwork amongst the youth musicians. I might have overseen the spark of certain conversations and musical ideas, though ultimately, each youth musician had the freedom to take the conversation and musical dialogue where she or he wanted. The most important factor in enabling this location of possibility was each youth musicians’ agreement to enter our social agreement where each person’s freedom was dependent on the other’s. As Alfred Schütz describes in Making Music Together: A Study in Social Relationships, “Each of them [musician] has, therefore, to take into account what the other has to execute in simultaneity. He/She has not only to interpret her/his own part, which as such remains necessarily fragmentary, but he/she has also to anticipate the other player’s interpretation of his/her – the other’s – part and, even more, the other’s anticipations of his/her own execution. Either’s freedom of interpreting composer’s thought is restrained by the freedom granted to the other.” (Schütz, 1951, p. 94-95)

These three elements of structure created the possibility for the youth musicians to be:

  1. Loyal to the local/known; Openness to the new/unknown (see education philosopher David Hansen’s Cosmopolitanism and Education)
  2. Self-express through multi-modal means, putting youth musicians constructively on-edge from the start
  3. Co-creating a space equally belonging to each one of us in “withness”

In planting the initial structure of the Improvisation Class, I was able to put our adventure on pathways to discover deeper societal issues, with and through musical co-creation, that were taboo in Tunisian society and across multiple societies. A big element of the class was the focus on certain social/environmental/political issues that were self chosen by each youth musician, and then grouping together youth musicians interested in overlapping issues, such as privilege and war, peace, and justice to work together to explore those topics further musically and with dialogue in their new, micro community. This also presented the opportunity for each community of youth musicians to establish their very own social agreement for their group, describing how they would create and share with each other. The results of each community’s focus on their various topics led to authentic music making with the purpose of learning, both musically and socially, all as equals with various responsibilities. To push this concept even further, each exercise surrounding these topics included elements of individual teaching, learning, leadership, and teamwork, in addition to group teaching, learning, leadership, and teamwork. Here are a few of the exercises that combined all of these elements:

  • Musical Sensitivity Line, where youth musicians stood in a line in front of the rest of the class, and first created a number of free-flowing stories verbally as individuals and then as a team, and then musical compositions as individuals and then as a team.
Music Sensitivity Line

Credit: Ny No

  • Human DJ, the co-creation of a human soundtrack where one youth musician is the DJ and determines the sounds and rhythms of each youth musician in the group. Then, the DJ rejoins the circle and a new DJ from the group takes the stage.
Human DJ

Credit: Ny No

  • Teaching of a new musical idea by each member in each community, and then the entire community choosing at least two newly learned musical ideas to teach to the other two communities, and vice versa.
  • Choosing any two new musical ideas from any community, whether your own or another’s, to create a cumulative composition for the final concert

Some community’s cumulative musical co-creations were a reflection or statement based upon their specific issue, whereas others did not mirror their issue. However, every group nonetheless underwent a spherical, deepening process of building knowledge and understanding based upon past experiences and new experiences through multi-modal means to co-create what did not exist before. This process is on the pathway of musical creator and musical greatness.

In summation, it is crucial that we, musicians and music educators, question whether we are co-creating with our students spaces of learning and teaching that foster the imagination of possibilities. There is so much more to describe about our Improvisation Class’s six sessions together, yet not enough room or enough words. Each day could have it’s entirely own reflection. What is clear is how our Improvisation Class was youth-centered with horizontal learning, and inclusive and participatory practices supporting peer learning, authentic music making and learning, and critical thinking of deeper issues in our societies and the role we, and especially youth, can play in making music that impacts our world. I believe these transferable skills will translate beyond our Improvisation Class’s special space, and into less safe spaces in everyday life.

Credit: Ny No

Credit: Ny No

And finally, is this a negation or replacement of the current classical music structure? No, it’s not. Replacing one ideology with another never solves the root issues at hand. In John Dewey’s Experience and Education, he does not advocate for traditional education to be completed replaced by progressive education without thought and deep investigation of the meaning behind both. “For in spite of itself any movement that thinks and acts in terms of an ‘ism’ becomes so involved in reaction against other ‘isms’ that it is unwittingly controlled by them. For it then forms its principles by reaction against them instead of by a comprehensive, constructive survey of actual needs, problems, and possibilities.” (Dewey, 2007, p.6) I invite you all to be the stranger in the development of new educational spaces that constructively question what music education has been and what it could be, and finally, to invite our youth musicians to do the same.

[1] For more on this, please read David A. Williams and Randall Allsup.

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APA Citation: Gottesman, S. (2014, October 19). An Invitation to Question: How Can Music Education Become a More Dialogical Space?. Retrieved from: https://musicintervention.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/an-invitation-to-question-how-can-music-education-become-a-more-dialogical-space/

REFERENCES

1. Brown, B. (TED Talk). (2010, June). The Power of Vulnerability. Podcast retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability

2. Dewey, J. (2005).  Art as experience (pp.45-55). Penguin.

3. Dewey, J. (2007). Experience and education. Simon and Schuster. 

4. Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum.

5. Greene, Maxine. “Inaugural Maxine Greene Lecture.” 2013 Preemptive Education Conference. Teachers College, New York. 26 Sept. 2013. Speech.

6. Hansen, D. (2010). Cosmopolitanism and education: A view from the ground.The Teachers College Record, 112(1).

7. Schütz, Alfred. “Making music together: A study in social relationship.” Social Research (1951): 76-97.

Music Education Programs on Tour I: Afghanistan National Institute of Music

Earlier this year, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra toured the US, and then the Afghanistan National Institute of Music did as well throughout February, and finally, Heartbeat‘s Israeli and Palestinian youth wrapped up their debut tour a few weeks ago. What an exciting time for cross-cultural music education programs, which aim to teach additional skills with and through music such as peacebuilding, coexistence, coresistence, solidarity, nonviolent communication, etc., to be seen and heard. There is an obvious desire to connect with these types of youth programs, which inspire hope, empower communities, and produce social change.

West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

Afghanistan National Institute of Music Carnegie Hall Performance

Afghanistan National Institute of Music Carnegie Hall Performance

Heartbeat Performs at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC

Heartbeat Performs at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC

To review the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM)’s achievements on their tour, please take a look below. In addition, please visit ANIM’s Anthology of Afghan Songs for, so far violin and viola, with many more instruments on the way!

The Embassy of Afghanistan, Washington DC Article

Boston Globe Article

New York Times Concert Review

Wall Street Journal Article

BBC Video 2

BBC Video 1

ABC Radio National

Reuters Article

France 24 (Agence France-Presse 2)

Wall Street Journal Slideshow

New York Times Article

Washington Post Article

Khaama Press Article

Agence France-Presse 1

The Frontier Post Article

January 2013:

The World Bank News & Views

UNAMA Article

Scotsman Article

TIME NewsFeed

Brownbook Article & Slideshow

Tolo News

Al Jazeera Report

NBC News – World News

Arab News Article

Stars and Stripes Article

Associated Press Article & Slideshow

Carnegie Hall Blog

A Bird’s Eye View: Welcome to Class!

 
The purpose of this blog series, “A Bird’s Eye View,” is to give a periphery overlook into my classes at Teachers College, Columbia University. The majority of topics will derive from class assignments, specifically this semester from the course Creativity and Problem Solving in Music Education. Besides sharing experiences in learning in exposing a process of learning, I hope that beneficial insight from the classroom will seep into these posts for you- the reader.
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Earlier this week, I began my graduate school studies at Teachers College, Columbia University pursuing a MA in International Educational Development with a focus on peace education. A say what? Yes, a MA in International Educational Development with a focus on peace education. Don’t worry, many others already pointed out that the title is long and semi-baffling. Before you ask the next question, let me take a step back and then elaborate further.

Comparative education is described by comparative education academic I.L. Kandel (1933) as the study of “general education, elementary and secondary, in the light of the forces- political, social, and cultural-which determine the character of national systems of education” (qtd. in Bajaj, 118). Now place comparative education into an international context where all of the above is researched at a global level, with the added intent of producing international content and programs that reflect research and theories that also foster intercultural understanding by bringing “together students, teachers, and scholars from different nations to learn about and from each other” (Epstein, 918). This, my friends, is international education development.  Both comparative education and international education intersect with peace education. All three of these terms are connected to relatively new, expanding fields reacting to current events and meeting the needs of our current globalizing world.

The study of international educational development can entail many focuses. Mine will center on how the creative process of music is used as a tool for social activism to empower youth and transform conflict.

Our first class discussion in Creativity and Problem Solving in Music Education revolved around the usual topics of “what is music?” and “who is a musician,” yet in a much more fascinating way ushered by inspiration of John Cage amidst his centennial. John Cage, best well known for his piece 4’33”, was a controversial modern composer and innovator who pushed the ideas of music and sound, performance, and purpose.

Of course we in class were given the chance to experiment in the making of all sorts of creative music/sound/noise with whatever we found in the classroom. Not going to lie, it was actually empowering at times and fun! I started with my Starbucks coffee cup, and then moved to a drum stick and blinds. That’s right, I was playing the blinds.

The reflective portion of the assignment was to divulge into what is considered beautiful music/sound and, when we perceive music/sound as ugly, why is that so? Two great readings, which are included (Greene – I still wonder at how unaware I was (2000) & Sheehy – Children Sound) for your curiosity as well, were utilized to supplement our writing. Many of my peers spoke about the sounds they heard in New York City or the performing we did in class. For whatever reason my reflective piece took on a whole different edge. I’m sure if John Cage read it, he would understand. “It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else. Here we are now.” (Artificeofeternity, 2009)

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“It’s obvious this page not for any of you, and its more obvious we don’t want to deal with any one of you at any level. stop telling us your stories you are not the case owners, we are the case owner . so stop telling us your stories to gain our sympathize. And how you asking for equality, I will come to your place and steal your house and then when we rise the case at the court I will ask them to divide your house for two halves between you and me, is this equal for you?”      –Commentator A from Facebook, retrieved from online article in 972 Magazine

Here it is again tonight. I can see and hear the “angry barking,” though the only thing in front of me is text from an online magazine on my laptop screen. From there, I take a big, deep sigh. The feeling of my pulse as the palms of my hands rest on my temples is pronounced enough at this point, that I as well hear the thumping. All of a sudden what is gray, separates to black and white. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is screaming at me once again.

Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs and this is nothing against them! I use the word “barking” and in fact, “angry barking,” because that is what commentary becomes on the Internet when discussing controversial topics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (or perhaps, it’s the oh-so-regular topics discussed by controversial people). Amazingly, the “angry barking” is about whether or not a group of Israelis should be allowed to join their Palestinian counterparts in attending a concert this week in Amman, Jordan of a well-known music ensemble from Beirut, Lebanon, in light of historical events/historical stories/historical hearsay. This sentiment, the rejection of developing “normal” relations with Israelis and recognizing the establishment of the State of Israel, is known as anti-normalization. Though I do not personally know the people involved in the “angry barking,” I hear in my mind the escalation of their oscillating timbres as they duke it out virtually with one another. This reality, coupled with the sound effects, is the mind-game we enter when involved, connected, or a part of this conflict. It is not beautiful. And yet this very experience, of only small stature of many that affect Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, Christians, concerned peoples, etc., leads to the question: how do we overcome from here and find what is beautiful in the not beautiful?

A month ago, I participated in an Expressive Arts Educators Course at the Seeds of Peace International Camp in Portland, Maine. Seeds of Peace, to simply cut and paste from their website, “inspires and equips new generations of leaders from regions of conflict with the relationships, understanding, and skills needed to advance lasting peace.” (Seeds of Peace) Though Seeds of Peace programming is usually for youth, their various educators’ courses are for leaders and educators who are involved with reconciliation activities at the grassroots level, producing curriculum for these programs, or administrators in the school systems. At the Expressive Arts Educators Course, 35 artists (from visual art and theatre to music and spoken word) and/or educators represented of eight countries came together for two weeks to undergo a deeper understanding of the power of the arts to transform conflict and empower youth. Besides instructional class time, we all were placed in “home-groups” to discuss topics and reflect within a smaller, intimate setting, underwent group physical activities, and prepared a performance for the end of the course that encompassed what was discovered in deepening our understanding of each others’ narratives through our various art forms.

While reading the two articles for class after the “angry barking” episode, I began to reflect further on my time at Seeds of Peace. An incredible amount of the lessons in both of these articles are exactly what the organizers of the course were trying to construct for us through creatively exploring, learning, and sharing our narratives within and through our art forms. All of the participants at the camp were adults of varying ages. Don’t let that trick you into thinking we all acted maturely and intelligently no matter the situation. There were tough times, including several verbal explosions between members of different ethnicities (Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Cyprus, the U.S., India, and Pakistan were all represented). Even one member left mid-camp in tears; the rest of the group in shock of loosing what they had thought was a safe space. What did our facilitators use to rebuild the safe space that was shattered and assist us all in finding the ways in which we were able to express ourselves again? They had us reconnect, deeper through art, opening the space wider for our “inner-kiddo,” similarly as to what Sheehy describes, to feel safe enough to appear and interact with “the other.” Also, the final performance served as a team-building activity where we took artistic risks together and possessed a responsibility to each other to succeed.

In essence, we had discovered a freedom of some sort. With our imaginations vivaciously leading the way to our creativity unrestricted, we became more than just our labels, not just to the joyous audience present, but perhaps most importantly to ourselves. It was beautiful! If anything, the line Maxine Greene quotes of Sartre “”at the heart of the aesthetic imperative we discern the moral imperative” because “the work of art, from whichever side you approach it” (1949, pp. 62-63) is an act of confidence in the freedom of human begins. We feel that freedom here—to interpret, to reflect, and (now and then) change our lives”” resonates with the successful outcome, artistically and communally, of the final performance (Greene & qtd. in Greene, 198). We had surpassed our “angry barking” episode leading to the possibility of a shared future. Like the quote of Emily Dickinson in Greene’s essay: “The Possible’s slow fuse is lit/ By the Imagination.” (Greene & qtd. in Greene, 198).

Within the thread of my camp reflection, I call to mind the various texts I’ve read as of late in preparation for the awesome event of graduate school. The writings of Paulo Freire jumped off the page for me, as well various others like John Paul Lederach’s The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Now that I am here, I’ve read for another class several chapters of the Encyclopedia of Peace Education, which deconstructs all of the various terms and meanings in peace education, such as human rights education, global citizen education, structural violence, etc., and Galtung’s article on cultural violence.

Here is where I find myself at a current crossroad.

For as much as we may feel the essence of freedom through the exploration of art in all of its imagination and expressiveness, what about the structural violence on the outside which continues to keep the system afresh of top-dog in power marginalizing the underdog through lack of services and opportunities, fragmenting a population further beyond its repression of identity and culture? How do we encounter or counter this structural violence, which can be or lead to direct violence, through the arts and even more specifically, through music education? We at camp did surpass an ugly point through music and the arts in America, but what will happen now as we’ve returned to our respective countries with the “angry barking” of the media and the extremists? Can it last? Will we be able to expand upon what we learned from skills to our relationships with each other?

I leave you with these questions, which also I ask myself while searching for how to confront these issues, prepare curriculum and programming for the Israeli and Palestinian youth music non-profit Heartbeat, and keep updated on the events and issues in Israel/Palestine: What does it mean to sing about freedom and experience freedom through music, when beholden to structural violence and societal pressures like anti-normalization? What role can music education play in confronting structural violence? What do you think?

*Here’s a link to the music of Mashrou’ Leila, the music group performing in Amman, if you want to take a listen! (http://mashrou3leila.com/?album=el-hal-romancy)

I attempt to cite all of the sources used in my writings and research as correctly as possible, so please adopt the same policy toward the works presented here and as well my own writings by citing this blog’s findings correctly. This blog is meant for sharing, not plagiarism. Thank you for your respect.

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References

1. Al-Bream, Ruba (2012, September 9). Jordanians for the Cultural Boycott of the Zionist Entity. [Msg 20]. Message posted to Facebook Page

2. Artificeofeternity. (2009, August 1). John Cage: “Mushroom Haiku” and “At the Middle” [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNzVQ8wRCB0

3. Bajaj, Monisha (Eds.). (2008). Encyclopedia of Peace Education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.

4. Epstein, E. H. (1994). Comparative and International Education: Overview and Historical Development.In T. Husén & T. N. Postlethwaite (Eds.), The International Encyclopedia of Education (2nded. pp. 918-923). New York: Pergamon.

5. joelyhberg. (2010, December 15). John Cage’s 4’33” [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTEFKFiXSx4

6. Seeds of Peace (www.seedsofpeace.org)

7. spncr525. (2009, May 11). John Cage- Water Walk [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63HoYXUeUTA

Bibliography

1.  Bajaj, Monisha (Eds.). (2008). Encyclopedia of Peace Education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.

2. Galtung, Johan. (1990). Cultural Violence. Journal of Peace Research, 27 (3), 291-305. http://jpr.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/27/3/291

3. Greene, M. (1978) Toward Wide-Awakeness: An Argument for the Arts and Humanities in Education, from Landscapes of Learning. New York: Teachers College Press., pp. 161-167

4. Epstein, E. H. (1994). Comparative and International Education: Overview and Historical Development.In T. Husén & T. N. Postlethwaite (Eds.), The International Encyclopedia of Education (2nded. pp. 918-923). New York: Pergamon.

5. Sheehy, E. (1952) “Children and Sound” from There’s Music in Children. New York: Holt Publishing. 1-13

Meet the Challenge: Amplify a Community with Music

Meet the challenge. Amplify a community with music. Join GOOD March 15-29 by voting for the musical arts proposal with the potential to affect the most social change in a community.

GOOD is a multifaceted social change think-tank that simply “gives a damn.” Don’t worry, those are their words, not mine. According to their mission statement, “GOOD is a collaboration of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits pushing the world forward. Since 2006 we’ve been making a magazine, videos, and events for people who give a damn.” (GOOD) Their bedrock supports four platforms: News, The Magazine, Finder, Maker.

Recently, the GOOD Maker platform opened its gates to proposals of how the musical arts can improve and amazingly, do good, in a community. All submissions must be received by March 15 noontime. With 3 hours left and counting, 95 ideas are already posted awaiting your vote come the afternoon of March 15. Of course like any great idea, funding is necessary to implement the inspiration into action. GOOD is offering a $2,500 award to the proposal that accrues the most votes.

What is special about this modest initiative? Why the focus on music and the community? And where do the two intertwine to foster social change?

To start, GOOD in its marketing and social media savvy understands the “how-to” in presenting innovative concepts. By giving equal opportunity to every community member in proposing their dream concept, GOOD is placing the transformation of a neighborhood in the hands of its members. This furthers grassroots activism at the local level, and yet increases awareness at the national level. In fact, this is the type of enthralling, entrepreneurial platform needed in the arts. Though GOOD’s offering is modest, every penny counts in the music non-profit sector where the first budget cuts usually occur.

Now, why the focus on music and community? The linking factor comes down to communication. There are two definitions of the word communication. In its most familiar form, communication is understood as the sending and receiving of ideas over a distance in space. You send a Facebook message to your friend with a link to The GOOD Fund Challenge: Make Music. Your friend receives the Facebook message and responds in a Facebook message with the link to the proposal he or she will vote for. This is a “transmission view” of communication.

Another definition of communication is a much older version than the latter. In this definition, communication is defined not by the action of sending and receiving information in space, but rather the sharing of a communal act. This “ritual view” of communication is where music and community meet. Individuals communicate through the medium of music in the self-expression of their multiple narratives. As the audience responds to the extension of this message, the sender and receiver are sharing values and moments of meaningful “sound” together.

The sheer potency of this connection is intoxicating and at times life altering. Bolstering a community through the medium of music to improve or support a particular project has the potential of ultimately fostering social change. The remaining question is the rate of its effectiveness, which depends on two factors: the inclusiveness of the musical act and sustainability of the proposal.

Inclusiveness of the musical act refers to centering on overarching ideas that people can relate to and yield a parcel of ownership. This concept is based in protest music subculture. The purpose of protest music and collective singing is to build and empower social movements while framing the discourse to include as many constituents in the movement as possible. This tactic has surfaced as a component during the Civil Rights Movement in America, the New Song Movement in Latin America, and most recently during the Arab Spring Movement.

“This Little Light of Mine” Down on Wall Street, Zuccotti Park 10-29-2011

The Best of the Syrian Revolution, Homs, Syria 11-19-2011

“Collective singing reinforces feelings of belonging to a larger community, something larger than themselves and empowers activists to believe that they can ultimately affect change.” (Brooks 65)  The GOOD: Make Music proposals are not necessarily meant to protest a certain issue. The purpose is to mobilize a community to support a particular neighborhood or grassroots project.

Inspiration fostered by social activism does not only come from the initial act, but from its continued cultivation of relationships within a community. Without a sustainable project, initial community support may dwindle in face of stagnant amounts of change and lack of interactive, transformative elements. After all, empowerment does not occur over night even in the most promising of interventions.

Voting for the best suited GOOD: Make Music proposal will not be an easy choice. In arriving to a decision, keep in mind how well the project you choose can foster social change in a community, which constituents will be empowered, and if the overall proposal is sustainable. By voting for a particular proposal, you amplify a cause. Perhaps you will contribute to a child’s excitement in strumming the first chord on his or her own instrument, to an open-mic/jam session in a city park or theatre space, to music interventions in healthcare or inter-religious relations, etc. Meet the challenge. Amplify a community with music.

FYI: Luckily for us, we do not need to bother with nationally televised debates to make this vote!

I attempt to cite all of the sources used in my writings and research as correctly as possible, so please adopt the same policy toward the works presented here and as well my own writings by citing this blog’s findings correctly. This blog is meant for sharing, not plagiarism. Thank you for your respect.

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1. Brooks, Jeneve R. “”Peace, Salaam, Shalom”: Functions of Collective Singing in U.S. Peace Activism.” Music & Arts in Action 2.2 (2010): 56-71. Music & Arts in Action. University of Exeter, 2010. Web. 7 Oct. 2011. <http://musicandartsinaction.net/index.php/maia/article/view/antiwarsongs&gt;.

2. Carey, James. Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. New York: Routledge, 1989.

3. “What Is Good.” GOOD. GOOD Worldwide, LLC. Web. 12 Mar. 2012. <http://www.good.is/company&gt;.

One Beat, With the Right to Many Narratives

“Art is not an option, it’s a right. That is what I’m working to change here” (El Nabawi).

Quoted in a recent article in thedailynewsegypt.com, Tony Kaldas, Egyptian singer and 2012 nominee for Music Prize in Time for Peace Music & Film Festival, begs into question the bounds of art as a societal change agent through the self-expression of narratives. At what point does the self-expression of the individual chafe against the status quo of the familiar in a community or government, and at what point does community or government infringe on the individual’s right to self-expression? How can music play a role in this relationship by serving as a medium of common ground for government, community, and the individual to explore the right to self expression of narrative(s)?

Based upon his artistry intertwined with humanitarian messages, Kaldas received the nomination for his song, “Anta Akhy (You are my brother).”  The song awakens the lyrics of famed poet and philosopher Khalil Gibran with Kaldas’s warm melodies.

Kaldas’s quote is one embedded with the Egyptian cultural scene in mind. By challenging the concept of religious observance utilized in society to construct one politically enforced truth,  the words of Gibran sung with Kaldas’s sweet voice unveil religion bringing those of different faiths closer in the moments of Egypt’s dire stand for justice. Each narrative highlighted in the song describes the varied practices of bowing in the mosque, praying in the church, and kneeling in the temple coalesced into a vision of one communal future.

     You are my brother and I love you.
     Both of us are sons of a single, universal, and sacred Spirit.
     For we are prisoners of the same body, fashioned from the same clay.
     You are my companion on the byways of life.
     You are my brother and I am in love with you brother.
     I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple,
     pray in your church. (Gibran)
 

You may say that Kaldas is an optimist, a little drop of water in a big ocean full of uncontrollable elements. On the other hand, who empowered Kaldas to use the arts to foster transformational change? It is Khalil Gibran in expressing his right to the art of words. Thus, we can see that even a drop of water can produce ripples of change affecting the entire surrounding area. A successful pro-social effect is not stagnant; it must be fluid, connecting many. Music in its multiple forms can serve as a medium for this transformational change.

Let’s take this discussion to the next level. Instead of a singular stream of change, imagine many young musician activists from throughout the world joining in one place to create new music built upon each others’ narratives and shared ideals for a better world?

OneBeat, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs recent partnership initiative with Bang on a Can’s Found Sound Nation, will foster an international music exchange encounter in the U.S. consisting of youth musicians (ages 19-35) from all over the world this September 2012. Lasting a total of 4-weeks, OneBeat will begin with a two-week residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida where the youth musician participants will “write, produce, and perform original music, and develop ways that music can make a positive impact on our local and global communities” (OneBeat). The last two-weeks will consist of a tour along the east coast from Florida to New York City. Besides public concerts, much of the citizen diplomacy element will be instilled by engaging workshops lead by the youth musician participants at cultural community centers along the way.

Sounding like “The Survivor” of all music experiences, sans being voted off the island or perhaps the “Musician Peace Corp” (which might just be the same thing according to some), what is required to make this initiative successful? How will the individual from Kyrgyzstan find his or her right to voice and narrative alongside individuals from Haiti, Hong Kong, Russia, the Czech Republic, Iraq, Panama, Mozambique, amongst  32 other nations? In order for participants to create a pro-social effect in American communities, and yet as well within the communities of their birth country, how and where should the drop of water fall into the big ocean? Advantageous, you ask? Indeed. None the less, success is possible beyond a doubt.

As in any diplomatic venture, creating an environment with a level playing field for each individual to express his or her narrative is crucial. Much like the curriculum of a music intervention program that empowers youth and transforms conflict, the State Department and Found Sound Nation will need to configure into OneBeat an infrastructure that challenges the youth musician participants to push beyond the familiar. The end goal cannot be to simply agree with the status quo, without question or exploration. Searching for the fine lines where dissonance transforms to consonance and consonance transforms to dissonance must be discovered musically and discussed interactively.

Here are 10 suggestions, according to week, to assist OneBeat in producing “a musical journey like no other” (OneBeat). Each suggestion is a summarized statement originating from an in depth curriculum (to access the entire curriculum, please contact me). Though not addressed in the descriptions below, the use of social media is an important facet that should be implemented for PR, networking, and communication.

Week 1

The purpose of the Week 1 is to:

  • Create a safe space for the youth musician participants to learn more about each others’ backgrounds and culture by listening to participants’ narratives.
  • Express personal ambitions, needs, and fears attributing from their narrative.
  • Adopt an interactive process of transforming initiatives that will help the group bond, exchange musical ideas, and converse pertinent social-action issues.

1. Warm Beginnings

Consider all of the possibilities to foster warm beginnings. This might be in the form of icebreakers, eurythmics, group dynamics, jam session, etc. Even one smile is contagious.

2. Partner When Composing the Social Agreement

Every participant must feel comfortable in expressing his or her voice musically and in group dialogue. By agreeing upon a “social contract” written in conjunction with the youth musician participants, every person is included in deciding the retreat’s immediate/long-term goals and methods of engagement. Producing a social agreement is crucial, yet will only prove fruitful if its contents embody the vision of the retreat elaborated by the participants.

3. Explore. Listen. Improvise. Share.

Remember the activity “show- and-tell” from your childhood? Though you may be older, this exercise is without shelf-life. This exercise can provide the perfect opportunity for each participant to introduce their narratives from ethnic and religious allegiances to social issues they care about. In addition, much of this could be discussed in dialogue groups under adherence to the social agreement. I suggest to take this exercise beyond dialogue by including a musical component as well to substantiate the dialogue. This could be in the form of sharing the melodies of one’s culture, the sounds of one’s favorite composer or band, tributes to artists most inspirational, amongst many other creative possibilities. The inclusion of a jam session would also be great.

Week 2

The purpose of Week 2 is to:

  • Build upon the exercises of Week 1.
  • Initiate intensive song writing and rehearsal.
  • Reflect upon the learning experiences thus far to add depth to writing songs and rehearsing.
  • Participate in masterclasses.

4. Adventures in Intensive Song Writing & Rehearsals

There are so many great song writing exercises that provide bonding opportunities, further “out-of-the-box” thinking, and not to mention, are a lot of fun. Once a song is drafted, rehearsing is necessary for accuracy and testing musical ideas. Though musicians may groan at the prospect of rehearsal, it is a repetitive bonding experience that can deepen relationships.

5. Round Table Discussions: Reflections Thus Far of Experience & Its Meaning

Providing time for reflection and group dialogue is essential for such an intensive experience. Participants will need space to digest the new realities they have created, which may be very different from what would usually occur in their birth country. To facilitate this process, I also suggest that each participant consider writing in a small journal to document and express their personal feelings and ideas.

6. Masterclass: Learn From Artists in the Field of Music Intervention & Performance

Masterclasses presume several goals in this case. One aspect is for the youth musician participants to observe well-known artists on stage in the moment. Experiential learning is important in music performance. Secondly, masterclasses provide a great opportunity for performance-practice and feedback from the guest artists and peers. This is also standard music performance teaching, and creates the youth empowerment attribute of putting participants “on edge” to produce an exhilarating outcome in front of their peers.

Week 3 & Week 4

Week 3 and Week 4 both focus on the tour, including public performances and workshops.

7. Grassroots in Action, With the Involvement of “Top-Down” Connectors

The performances and workshops are valuable products of the retreat. In planning, the organizers must strive to make these appearances highly accessible to all communities, and especially those represented amongst the participants. Grassroots, or bottom-up efforts, are meant to invigorate the people by involving them in the act of social change. The rural areas must not be forgotten. None the less, dignitaries, elected governmental officials, and key “top-down” connectors must be involved in a strategic way as well. Ask the question, “Who is our target public(s)?” and from there, set a date and a place for each event, with who to invite in mind.

8. Engage the Audience/Workshop Participants via Interactive Elements

The purpose of the concerts and workshops are not merely for an audience to listen to the presentation and then go home. Both of these community outreach events must be interactive! In other words, the transfer of information should not flow one way, but rather in both directions as in a musical dialogue. Additionally, explain how and why music can be used as a tool for social activism in reference to the newly premiered music written during the retreat, which could add another level of depth to the entire experience. Lastly, include interactive elements, where the audience can join the music-making as well. This might entail requesting audience feedback during the performance, using eurthymics during a workshop to describe a point, utilize a few of the short exercises from the retreat, live-streaming of both productions for watching-parties locally and internationally, etc.

It is also important to consider who is invited to decipher what type of interactive elements are required. For example, specifically invite the music educators of music intervention programs and their students to attend a workshop. Automatically, you know which types of exercises would be helpful for this group and skill level. It might be a good idea to distinguish which exercises are for a beginners group, advanced group, or even at a level the general public can grasp. As a general rule, come prepared with more, than less.

9. Personalize the Message

Though personalizing the message may sound hokey, this is how many audiences will connect with such an unusual project as OneBeat. Similarly to the performed music, bring light to the narratives that exist within the group of youth musician participants. Engender compassion, empathize, and humanize.

10. “Glocal”: Think Globally, Act Locally

After the retreat and tour end, the youth participants may feel like an entire world has been taken away from them as they return to their normal lives. This feeling can be devastating, without suggestion of how to encourage the same creativity and excitement created during OneBeat. Truthfully, the drive for social activism instilled by OneBeat is only part A of the bigger composition. What about part B, C, A1, or leaving the exposition entirely to enter the development? Like in peace education, this type of conflict transformation is successful via long-term goals, rather than short. Luckily, the Internet provides plenty of possibilities to continue the intercultural music exchange, despite borders and time zones. It would be great if OneBeat developed material that addressed the ways the youth participants can continue to share ideas, produce music together from afar, and coordinate local discussions and performances pertaining to their experience with OneBeat. The imparting of one’s narrative interactively through music can go a long way.

Good luck to the many young musicians across the globe auditioning for OneBeat. Remember, even the smallest drop of water will create a ripple effect transforming its surroundings. Every narrative counts; every beat counts. It is your right!

FYI: For more in depth explanation of each suggestion, e-mail me (shoshibee@gmail.com) with your comments, suggestions, and questions any time!

I attempt to cite all of the sources used in my writings and research as correctly as possible, so please adopt the same policy toward the works presented here and as well my own writings by citing this blog’s findings correctly. This blog is meant for sharing, not plagiarism. Thank you for your respect.

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1. El Nabawi, Maha. “For Tony Kaldas, ‘art is not an option, it’s a right'”Thedailynewsegypt.com. International Herald Tribune, 06 Feb. 2012. Web. 08 Feb. 2012. <http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/music/for-tony-kaldas-art-is-not-an-option-its-a-right.html&gt;.

2. Gibran, Khalil. “The Voice of the Poet.” 4umi.com. 4umi.com. Web. 24 Feb. 2012. <http://4umi.com/gibran/vision/5&gt;.

3. U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affiars. “OneBeat.”About. U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affiars. Web. 12 Feb. 2012. <http://1beat.org/&gt;.

Ignite the Light: The Jam Session

Imagine, it’s your first day meeting them. You remember the stories told in your childhood that taught you to never trust them. When passing in the street, you were strangers. While buying from the same grocery store, you were still strangers. From your birth in the same hospitals until this very moment, you were still strangers.

But here as youth, you both are finally in the same room face to face with only instruments and voices of all kinds in hand to distinguish one band member from another. No script is available. A count down of, “a one, a two; a one, two, three” signals it’s time to jump in. Sounds melt and mold together, soon to create a semblance of unified ideas. You improvise a line of music in the jam, and to your surprise, so can they, in fact, quite well. A smile appears on your face as you think to yourself, “Let’s see what else they can do. Let’s see what else we can do.”

Welcome back from the daydream! Though you were about to have the time of your life, alas I bring you back to reality to discuss further the power of: The Jam Session.

There is much significance in utilizing jam sessions as an exercise in music intervention programs. In my opinion, a “jam session” cannot be defined in one way, since every jam session holds its own purpose. A jam session could:

  • explore a certain sound, timbre, or feeling
  • search for the next section of a song
  • test the limits of an already established song
  • practice the technique of improvisation
  • challenge musicians by putting them “on edge” to produce new musical ideas on the spot
  • create a bonding experience to connect individuals

One could say that jamming has a place in the creation of most genres of music at least at some point. One genre in particular that places much importance in jam sessions is none other than jazz.

In late January, the importance of jam sessions was brought to light by the current “The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad” program’s resident musical group while on tour in Zimbabwe. Stated by drummer and band leader, Michael Raynor, of The Dennis Luxion + Michael Raynor Quartet,

“To a large extent, the greatest musicians in this music [jazz] learned how to play simply by playing with other great musicians, getting on the band stage and learning right on the spot, and being in there, the atmosphere, hearing players that maybe already know how to play and then stepping up and trying to play what you have learned so far, right in that setting.” (The Zimbabwean)

The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad program is co-organized by the U.S. Department of State and Jazz at Lincoln Center “to share America’s unique contribution to the world of music and to promote cross-cultural understanding and exchange among nations worldwide.” (The Rhythm Road) Essentially, the U.S. State Department is employing music intervention techniques that empower youth and transform conflict as a diplomatic track.

Interestingly enough, this format of outreach combines several tracks of diplomacy. At the top level, there is Track I Diplomacy: government-to-government interaction. At the grassroots level, there is Track II diplomacy: informal interactions by unofficial actors of civil society. In this case, the U.S. State Department and Zimbabwean government of Track I diplomacy are supporting citizen diplomacy  by using The Dennis Luxion + Michael Raynor Quartet as “cultural ambassadors” of Track II diplomacy.

Why did The Dennis Luxion + Michael Raynor Quartet choose jam sessions, besides the inherent importance of jam sessions in jazz, for their workshops with Zimbabwean youth? What are the benefits of using jam sessions in a music intervention setting?

For a music intervention program to succeed, the youth participants must be “put on edge” to deliver an accountable product in front of their peers and family. This is why much emphasis is placed on the importance of providing frequent performance opportunities, besides the essential purpose of performance in music. Not only must youth participants feel challenged by the responsibility of producing an exhilarating outcome when placed in front of peers and family, but as well consider what is required to plan that success. Am I improving in my daily practicing? How can I implement the instruction from my teachers? Do I feel good about the sound I’m producing? What can I do to improve my ensemble while playing/singing/rapping? How do I feel about my fellow musicians? These questions must be identified and asked. Sometimes the answers are not fully discovered until the performance.

This is where jam sessions can serve the benefits of in-the-moment, interactive music making. In the same fashion as a performance, jam sessions will put youth participants “on edge” to produce an accountable product on the spot, while flexing their creativity.When applied in a setting of conflict transformation, the results are of high-potential  with the ability to ignite further engagement and reconciliation. Many youth involved in peace education who have participated in a jam session identify the experience as memorable, enlivening, meaningful, and of course, a whole lot of fun! They speak of an energy created immediately upon playing music together, and the surprise of how easy it is to musically interact with the “other”. By the end of the jam session, the conflict’s uneven plain dividing society is muted in comparison to an established space of equality. Subsequently, an individual is not initially recognized with the prescribed title of ‘Type A’ or ‘Type B’, but rather entrusted with the same inalienable humanistic needs for security and prosperity.

Want to know more about the Dennis Luxion + Michael Raynor Quartet and their travels? Check out their blog: http://michaelraynor.net/dlmr4/
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1. “Commonly Used Terms.” Search for Common Ground. Search for Common Ground. Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://www.sfcg.org/resources/resources_terms.html&gt;.

2. “Letter from Jazz at Lincoln Center.” The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad. Jazz at Lincoln Center. Web. 02 Feb. 2012. <http://jalc.org/theroad/about_letterfromjalc.asp&gt;.

3. Staff Reporter. “Jam Sessions a Big Part of Jazz Education: U.S. Jazz Quartet.” The Zimbabwean. Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwea, 30 Jan. 2012. Web. 31 Jan. 2012. <http://www.thezimbabwean.co.uk/entertainment/music-and-dance/55912/jam-sessions-a-big-part.html?utm_source=thezim&utm_medium=homepage&utm_campaign=latestarticles&gt;.