Music ed and stepping stones

These days, people typically seem to associate me with the stuff I find myself talking about all the time: interfaith activism, the Middle East, global events, human rights, religious tolerance and understanding in America. They are often surprised to find out that my actual diploma suggests a very different set of interests. The conversation usually goes something like this:

"I love that piece you wrote about [insert interfaith/global events issue here]!"

"Thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it."

"So what did you study in college again? Global studies? Poli sci?"

"I have a B.A. in music, with a minor in French."

"Wait, what? I had no idea you were a musician."

But if you had talked to me a few years back, I doubt that the fact that I majored in music at university would have been a surprise in the least. Indeed, it's safe to say that I didn't think about much else. I was the biggest choir nerd you'd ever seen. I walked around humming whole tone scales and analyzed Bach chorales in my sleep (at least, according to my freshman year roommate). It wasn't until a little ways into my junior year that I finally realized that, passionate as I was (and still am) about music education, it just wasn't where I ultimately wanted to end up as a career. I didn't feel I had the patience or skills set to do it full time. Admitting this to myself was difficult, but eventually it just had to happen.

Music geeks like me have often said that music is basically our significant other. I'm ashamed to say, then, that I cheated. I started seeing other classes. My music coursework was basically already finished, so I decided next to simply dive into as many electives as I could get my hands on. That turned into a French minor, a transformative semester of conflict transformation studies, and a year of Arabic that ended with me heading to Jordan for intensive language study.

It was also during this time that I discovered, fell for and officially became a member of the Baha'i faith -- one of those times when you "discover" that what you always believed already had a name and an amazing community behind it. A chance meeting with Eboo Patel at an interfaith event turned into me applying and being accepted as a community ambassador at his organization, the Interfaith Youth Core. I made new friends in many circles. I got addicted to social media and socially conscious hip-hop. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I began to really understand that loving people means getting to know them, caring for them, maybe even fighting for them, all of them, even if they don't "look" or "act" like you.

These days I spend my time writing for an editorial firm, being a writing advisor at my alma mater, and occasionally contemplating how my random and haphazard background led me to become whatever I am these days. And it's recently occurred to me that, on second thought, maybe it's not so haphazard after all.

It's often said that the first step towards the oppression of a group of people is to demean their culture. Make them appear as "other" as possible, and suddenly doing terrible things to them doesn't seem so unreasonable.

Conversely, then, I would posit that the first step towards uplifting humanity is to cultivate appreciation for its many cultures. Music is one of the easiest and most effective ways to do this. Long before "moral courage" and "social justice" became terms I now find myself using in ordinary conversation, I remember listening and connecting to world music: raags from India, South African gospel choirs, Latin American grooves and the unique scales and rhythms of the Middle East. I sang songs in other languages in choir and weirded out numerous roommates with my "eclectic" musical tastes. Feeling a little more connected to a culture besides my own through their music made me that much more curious to get to know them more, to try to see things as they do, to care about the issues that affect them. I know it might sound a bit orientalist, but I was doing my best to be authentic about it. It wasn't about appropriating anything, just appreciating.

At any rate, this is to say that my musical education was an absolutely pivotal stepping stone to becoming someone who cares about people outside her obvious or immediate community. At least in my own experience, this was an essential part of learning to be a global citizen, to love the rest of the world as much as I love my own backyard. It helps put a human face, expose a human soul beyond the statistics of "other"s that bombard us daily.

So here's to music's power to make us smile, lift us up and help us remember our common humanity. And though I ultimately decided not to become a music educator myself, I know I would never have become the person I am without the support and guidance of music teachers who taught me to embrace cultures besides my own, to appreciate, to create and to care.

Now if only I could explain all this on my resume... maybe my music major would help me get some more employment! :)


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