Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Community Resulting From Singing from Birth?

People walking around, the city lit up at night, and not a dodgy neighborhood in the entire city. These were my observations of Georgia at 4 am. People always ask if I feel safe traveling alone and honestly most of the time I feel safer wherever I am than home. Statistically, Georgia is one of the seven safest countries in the world-no crime, no slums, only the occasional peddler or homeless person sleeping harmlessly.
I have no data to support this but I'd like to posit the following: could it be the neurological effects of singing, bonding together as a community, have resulted, at least in part, in such a safe place? It may seem a stretch but according to Berkeley researchers, health researchers, and Oxford researchers (to name a few!), they have shown singing synchronizes heart beats, that it produces oxytocin-the same hormone that bonds a mother to a child or released during sex between two partners, and dopamine-the hormone that gives us pleasure and happiness. It bonds people together-as a community-and research shows that nothing brings people closer together than singing! Why it's such a powerful tool for us development practitioners! Could it be Georgians feel an obligation to be kind toward one another, to follow the Golden Rule, because it's a fellow human that they've sung with? Is it perhaps so safe because of their singing?

Repeatedly, during the conference, Georgians explained how fascinated they were by us doing music for social goals (the simplest definition of community music) and how they could bring that idea to Georgia. How they could develop curriculum, have social outcomes, etc. While this is all fine and dandy, I'd like to question if Georgians actually are the ones being more proactive? That singing for the sake of singing has resulted in not needing community music programs because of its natural ability to unite, to strengthen, to build camaraderie? What social outcome would they want to achieve? Most of the outcomes our programs achieve have already been achieved in Georgia. We want to keep kids off the streets, we want to lower x rate, we want to bring different communities together, already done in Georgia!

Georgians break into song without taking pitch, ever. They just sing three part harmonies in tune. After seeing elementary-aged youth do this, despite being the only one on a part, or being one on a part against 19 others on another (stay tuned for video!),  I asked them, how do you teach this? They just laughed and told me Georgians learn this in the birth canal, it's part of their blood. I suppose it's no different than most Latinx being able to dance-it's part of their DNA.

After a 2.5 hour choir rehearsal with the Georgian maestro telling us to do this, that, and the other thing, I realized how exhausting this type of singing was! And yet, they do it at all times of day-even in the bars at 2 am or walking home at 4 am! Georgian drinking songs are actually quite sacred with references to wine and eternity! Georgia is also the birthplace of wine and one of the oldest Christian nations. The toasting tradition called tamadá, also has Christian roots. I saw churches from the 13th century! And Georgia is known for their hospitality. If you think of the origins of singing, whether from an evolutionary perspective or the church, it brought people together, to connect, and express feelings of gratitude, glory, laud, and honor, and perhaps could be the activity on the logic model that resulted in these outcomes, even if they were unintended.

I still am curious how a song is taught in the Georgian classroom, but until then, I'd like to suggest that we follow their lead! Once again, other countries have so much to teach us! Let's have our babies learn singing in their birth canal and perhaps, just maybe, we'd have a more peaceful and connected world.

On another note, I am proud to say my research will be published in the proceedings of the ISME conference :) Yahoo! #zarathescholar

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Heart Massage

That is how a new friend described Ialoni, the female Georgian choir that sang last night (see my Facebook for a video or go to their website. I think the thing that was most contrasting to what I am used to hearing in polyphonic music was the "oomph" behind the women's voices, particularly the lowest altos who were droning on a D5 (that's VERY low!). The warrior nature of their sound was exquisite and very chesty. This made me think of how outside classical Western music, we're not told to use our head voice. Someone introduced the term "natural voice pedagogue" to me yesterday. All my life I have been a chameleon, including as a musician. How the conductor wants me to sound, wants us to blend, etc. etc. It's come to a point where I don't know which sound I'm supposed to be producing when it is my choice (not all music is empowering-the opposite has been true!) 

Anyway, I digress, to see these women sing with their beautiful natural voices and still receive a standing ovation at the end because they shared their unique and beautiful gift, THAT was empowering. And then they still had some BEAUTIFUL acapella more choral sounding pieces, but that was just one color on their palette. Not to mention the stories that accompanied these songs. The one on my Facebook is about a baby dying and wow the dancing, the symbolism, the sound, everything so gorgeous. 

So often, choral educators use just the primary colors, or a monotone color. What I saw last night was a full palette with clear primary colors as roots, but by the end of the 45 min presentation they had all used their whole palette. What if we broke out of that mold? Painters in Buenos Aires have developed a very trendy style using just neon colors! What if we challenged ourselves to do the equivalent as vocalists, as musicians, as artists? Sure, classical singing has its time and place, but it doesn't have to dominate. I am going to strive to not make it a monotonous color on my palette. I am embracing my inner Georgian and using my natural voice as my primary color--how it should be mixed, I'm still working on that, thanks Dr. Michaels!

This fearless, strong woman presence was also noted in the large Kartlis Deda Mother statue, think the giant Jesus Christ in Rio, but of a woman with a sword in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. She symbolizes the Georgian national character: in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends, and in her right hand is a sword for those who come as enemies. Strong, but still knows how to celebrate, love, and have a good time. This is what we need more of in the world. Keep our armor shells, because without them we'll wittle away with all the political divisiveness going on and we certainly need to continue to fight the good fight, but not without keeping a glass of wine in the other, to cherish life every day and remember to befriend. 

This statue especially had meaning after I had accompanied two Georgians to dinner prior and we went through the Georgian toast process. Essentially, you can make a toast to anything: trees, napkins, women, the potential President, the list goes on. Someone starts the toast and everyone goes around and says something about the topic at hand-and then you drink half the glass of wine and continue to repour until the jug is gone. Ours was intermingled with intense debate, but the nature of it was there. It happened over several hours so I had no problem climbing the hill to the monastery and aforementioned statue after, don't worry :) To drink with this amount of intention and truly cherish everything-from trees to napkins is a lovely practice I hope to carry forth. So here's to serif font that helps you read this and to the beautiful Georgian people who have already taught me so much in 72 hours! Not to mention the actual songs I'm bringing back with me. What are you toasting today?

Here's to Day 2. And no more sleepless nights.

Art cafes and Minivans

Well I've now been here 72 hours and here was my daytrip adventure to Gori.

After an hour minivan ride learning Georgia has no road rules (!!!), I arrived in the town of Gori quite ready for lunch. I used maps me to find a read art cafe. Intrigued I walked there and could not think of a better way to pass the hottest time of day! The grandma made me a special Georgian soup, an iced coffee that tastes like a frappe, and I had my first Georgian salad-cucumber and tomatoes w nuts. I escaped bread-a feat here! Then she turned off the American music and came in very proudly and put on Georgian music. And now I’m reading in the very appropriately named Read Art cafe in ironically Stalin’s birthplace. His museum wasn't much if you don't read Russian-appropriate I suppose. 

But the minivan ride back showed the Georgian people's true character. After getting dropped off at the train station when there was no train in sight, I boarded a minivan bus to go to the minivan marutshka terminal. The van was full except for a fold-up seat, whose seat back went maybe halfway up my back and whose seat cushion was non-existent, essentially it was a rock, for an hour. But no imaginary third lane passings like on the way here or tailgating semis that I swear we were going to hit(I already have already been sideswiped-thank you very much!). And then the girl next to me starts speaking to me in Georgian and I turn to her and she is pinching her nose, her hands covered in blood. She had a bloody nose. Usually, I see someone hand someone a kleenex and the route continues, but in Georgia, you pull over to the side of these crazy highways and the driver and 3-4 women get out offering kleenex, consoling her, making sure the bloody nose is not a life or death situation.

I felt so helpless not being able to say anything, which made me realize this is the first time in 2.5 years I haven't been in a country where I can speak the language (thanks Latin America) and it's been since the beginning of Tanzania in 2010 when I couldn't understand anything because even in Thailand there was always someone who spoke English! But here they talk to you as if you speak fluently. Google translate has certainly been our friend because not only is it a new language, but another alphabet-cyrillic! 

Good thing there are sulfur baths to wash away all your worries (and dead skin!).

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thesis process and music reflection continued

I wish I could have a more creative title, but the thesis has suppressed my creative writing so forgive the lack of creativity!

It's always interesting to read your thoughts-even a month ago. I am seriously a new person now that this thesis is behind me and as of this morning I PASSED!!! So I'm now Master Zanussi :) That process taught me so much. How I can truly be present in every moment and frankly, who my true friends are, who I miss seeing, and frankly, who I don't. It also was wonderful to know those hours didn't go to waste as they're already resulting in one international conference (if not two) come 2018. I don't say this to be boastful, but rather to show that hard work almost always pays off. There's not really a secret to doing something except working really hard. I had a nonprofit breakfast with Kate Barr, CEO of now Propel Nonprofits who essentially said just that and I couldn't agree more. There's no magical skill or technique I do except to keep doing, even when it gets rough. Now that I'm behind it, I can say there were multiple moments this fall where I truthfully felt I couldn't do it, that I truthfully was doomed (optimistic I know). But here we are, on the other side. The "secret"? Faith, determination, and persistence.

I wanted to respond to my last post and how my thoughts on choir and being a musician continue to evolve. I'm singing with a professional chamber group this week and the director truly knows his stuff! He not only can tell you every single word, but how the music aligns with the text, and then we get to do that!!! After doing a paper that talked about how important context is, it's been wonderful to walk the walk and not just writing about/observing it, but fully experiencing it! I've been writing about the impact music has on people without having that presence in my life so this week has been such a wonderful reignition how important that is for me! The project I'm singing with is definitely not community music, but the musical excellence has been such a necessity and refresher of my musical soul I haven't had for years. I've sang concerts, but this time I am so excited and want everyone and their mom and aunt and nephew to come see because we've worked hard and the music is so rarely performed I want people to learn about it!!

But are we focusing on community? No, but it's still rewarding. I think what I'm realizing is, in contrast to my last post, I don't know if it has to be an either/or. Sometimes I think I'd like to do projects like this one where we focus on the musical excellence and sometimes I'd really like to focus on the community aspect. But I think the difference I'm realizing is that a musician DOES NOT have to choose between the two! In music schools we're only taught the former and I am striving to find a balance between both (with my professional 100% focused on the latter). So I AM still a musician, and even a classical one at that, at times, but I don't have to stay in that box-I can be a classical musician who is meticulous with notes, rhythms, phrasing, diction, dynamics, AND I can be a potluck jamming improv musician AND I can be a musician that focuses on building community, inclusion, social goals, etc. etc. Only I can define what musicianship means for me!

Community with a Capital "C"

Another thing I've struggled with this month (I'm not even going to try to hide it with a word like navigate or grapple) is my identity as a musician. Ever since coming back to MN, I haven't felt like an authentic musician and the more I think about it, even in college, I resented having to go into rehearse/practice when it was a beautiful, sunny day. It felt like a constraint of freedom and for what purpose-to make music together, to perform, to be disciplined after I have been disciplined all day and then some, most nights. Now that a potential physical ailment is again occurring as a barrier to my vocal development, perhaps this is a sign that I really should accept the opportunity to close this chapter and open a new one. To be artful and creative in other ways like dance-the activity that makes me smile regardless of my stress level. Sure, I could do vocal therapy or voice lessons, but is that really how I want to spend my free time, perfecting something that only needs perfecting according to someone's definition? My voice is my voice and that will never change-even if that means I'm no longer a classical musician-I can accept that. That was never my goal. My goal was to make Art with a capital A and for a long time I thought that meant you had to be proficient in music literacy and ear training. Now,  I want to make Art with a capital A and Community with a C. One of my staff said something at staff training over a month ago that has really stuck with me. Do we want to be an intentional community that communes by singing or a singing group that implies a community? I'll be fully transparent. None of my closest friends have ever been musicians, have ever been from that so-called community. What music ensemble experiences have consisted of for me is a lot of "you're not good enough," "your schedule doesn't allow you to do x so you can't do y", "you need to switch studios [for the fourth time in four years]", "we're not going to make music to accommodate others," "your voice doesn't blend," "your voice," etc. etc. etc. Is this really how I want to fill my free time? The wholehearted answer is NO! Does this mean I can't be a "musician"? Absolutely not! Just not in the way I have done for so long-but with the closing of a chapter, comes an opening, and I'm excited to see what that is come 2018. I've debated community choirs that only learn music by ear, that sing for the message, even some church choirs (though I don't think I want that regular commitment). I'm done trying to be humble, prideful, or hide my feelings regarding this. Classical musician out-until I want to/if I want to-then that can be there for me-but I have to understand the tremendous work, discipline, patience, and time that would require. And at this point, that's not what I need.

I need activities that let me be me, embrace me wholeheartedly, accept and love me for who I am, unconditionally. That build community with a C-women's circles, non-technique dancing, running without a timer, hiking without a mission. Unplanned time is certainly a goal of mine for 2018, but for now I am officially closing up shop as a classical musician and just as I acknowledge in my thesis,  am accepting my limitations, now both physical, mental, and frankly spiritual at this point. I'm done denying myself because I don't fit someone else's standards. That's not transformative or life-giving. Quite the opposite. Of course I will go support others and when I am accepted as I am, join. But I'm done desiring to be on the stage as an audience member, of saying if only I would practice, etc. etc. I chose a different path and that is more than okay.  My path is to create Community through Music. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

New Moon, New Me

Well, my intention was to journal after being back a month, but obviously that didn't help. Frankly, I've had zero time to process since I've landed. The first week back was definitely a transition, quite emotional, and a whirlwind. Since then, it's been non-stop at work with challenges, unknowns, new projects and staff, and yes, some celebrations! It hasn't been easy-whoever said the hard work goes away after the first two years is completely false, at least according to my own experience. Maybe founders experience the same feeling mothers do after childbirth where they forget the extreme pain (or stress) that was required to birth the baby (or organization), but this year has felt like the hardest yet. Trying to find traction beyond our comfort zone of wonderful, but small circle of supporters, it's required boldness, something I've certainly grappled with in the past. But now, I'm not afraid to be bold, I know what needs to be done, and thanks to my music training from way back when, it instilled a discipline and persistence in me, that is immutable. I won't claim I'm indefatigable because it hasn't been without breakdowns, tears, doubt, and hard conversations, but I feel like we're almost out the other side and as the Lady Gaga song goes, "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger."

The Judd Fellowship presentation went EXTREMELY well! I felt extremely supported by the various people who came: donors, family, friends, neighbors, classmates, mentors, and advisers. It was the first time in a long while I felt like I truly excelled at something and was 100% proud of the result. Never mind my poster somehow got crinkled and the fonts were too small on the poster, I owned my speech with passion, belief, and enthusiasm and stole the crowd. I commanded the room with my presence and was bold. Something I struggle to do as a musician, a student in class, a nonprofit director, a friend, and a daughter. There are very few things I feel wholly true and the argument I make in my thesis is one of those-music can transform lives by developing character skills. This isn't meant to be a recap of my thesis so I'll leave it there, but that presentation proved to myself I can be bold when it's the right fit.

See here for my poster and some pics! If only the paper could go as well. I continue to receive significant critique for revision of my now seven chapter thesis. The good news is most of it is drafted, the bad news is I have significant work to do with transitions, flow, not to mention citations. But I finally have a date-Nov 6-to turn the final draft into my advisor. So these next three weeks will be hard, but the end is in sight and with that I can do anything. So with that, here are my affirmations for the new moon.

Affirmations for the New Moon
I do vow I will continue to care for myself taking one night off a week, not sacrificing sleep or exercise, meditation, or reflection such as this, though a lot more of it has been internal. But as this new moon comes in Libra, the sign of balance, I will accept that the imbalance I will feel the next three weeks is only temporary. That relationships will still be there after T-Day and acknowledge the challenge and hard work that it is! I will not sabotage myself for mistakes, limitations, or other self-criticisms. I will only practice self-love and name when I am not showing that to myself. And for these next three weeks, I will put myself first, whether that be a mental health day, a day to work remotely, or cancelling non-obligatory volunteer activities. I will not apologize for putting myself first, for tears that are shed, or for saying no. I will persist and not give up. Sí se puede!!!

I am not going to share this post on social media, but for those of you who are reading, this is for accountability and a reference point for me come Nov 3 of the full moon and the last weekend I will have the draft in hand!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Amazonian Adventures

The Amazon was really hard to put into words or pictures, because it was about the experience more than anything. I saw some awesome pink dolphins, but walking in the middle of the jungle with nothing but a flashlight and a machete, or coming back to your mosquito netted hammock to find a tarantula on the netting, or catching a fish with nothing but nylon and a cricket, these were the experiences. And more than the experiences, I had the opportunity to stay with an indigenous community. I learned there are 35 million people living in the Amazon basin with only 3.5 million indigenous people, only 10%! I saw them preparing coca leaves, drying cassava, making the largest tortilla I've ever seen. Their houses were simple, made from wood, with hammocks, or maybe a bed, and an open fire for cooking. Very much reminded me of the Maasai in Tanzania, but in the middle of a jungle! My guide was absolutely incredible! A Couchsurfing friend who connected me with various indigenous communities. I introduced a kid to his first carrot and played cards by candlelight. The bathroom was a toilet basin, but one you had to pour water down to flush, and the shower was tributaries of the Amazon river! One day (see Facebook) we did a mud spa in the river, which I also learned helps keep the bugs away! The only time I dare be in a bikini in mosquito territory! They also had two potions against bugs: one was a pill that translates as Thiamin that you took daily and helped you sweat something that repelled bugs and the other was a soap you put onto wet skin and then didn't wash off. I still got plenty of bugs and can't imagine going during the wet season when it's mosquito season, but they helped somewhat :) Of course the indigenous people used nothing!

The guide for the community and jungle walks had some INCREDIBLE stories. I won't try to recount them detail per detail because I won't do them justice and I learned the power of oral storytelling. Whenever it rained, or we were tired and needed a break from trekking, someone would tell a story or start singing a song or doing something to interact with one another. No phones, tvs, etc. etc. Though at the community I stayed they did manage to have on demand tv in one of the houses. I learned so much from them and when I say I'm on life 7, Jairo must be on life 27! He's been tracked by pirates (just last year!), forced to go with the guerrilla, lost in a jungle for 4 days, not eating for 9 days, survival stories you only read about or see in the movies. He said them so casually. One of my favorite things is the stories would be told in pieces. He would start telling one and then we would be interrupted by cooking or something and then Eliceo (my CS friend) would say "Y entonces (and then?)" and he would continue. I learned the best woods for building a house are quinilla and X. I learned when it's a clear night as it was when we camped in the jungle that many animals don't appear because being nocturnal they think it's daylight. I learned some differences between grey and pink dolphins (pink dolphins have more of a scalar fin and much longer noses to fish out of orifices, in addition to being a different color, of course!) and some theories as to why they're pink (something to do with helping them regulate circulation as they exercise). But in addition, I learned the stories of these people. My CS friend studied tourism in Texas, grew up in the jungle, and being indigenous himself, tries to support those communities, which I was happy to do. I HIGHLY recommend him, Colombian Remote Adventures, if anyone is interested. It was so much more than seeing the flora and fauna of the land. It was about truly conociendo the people. It's really amazing how traveling works. You end up being with people for five days that you've never met before and getting along swimmingly almost always!

Fortunately, I was in charge of the menu, and you can bet we had at least one fresh vegetable at each meal, not to mention fresh fish, and no rice or bread!! And pineapple and coconut right out of the jungle! We definitely ate wel! and it is a trip I will remember for a long time. It was equal parts adventure, culture-sharing, and experience. Transport there is old wooden boats that they then put a motor on that reverberates off the river banks. We were sporting high rubber boots, equally good for mosquitoes as mud/water, and machetes. The things you never thought you'd do...

I arrived to Puerto Narino, which is still quite remote, but a village with hostels and a real shower. Sleeping in a hammock was so easy, and it almost felt weird to sleep in a bed after 5 nights in a hammock. If anyone has debated trying hammock camping, I highly recommend it! Of course our guide slept on the jungle floor on a tarp but with the tarantulas, ants, beetles, flies, etc.etc. etc Insects like I've never seen on anything left out to dry so I can only imagine what sleeping on the ground would be like! I also got quite accustomed to going to bed before 10 and getting up with the rooster! Doubt it will last, but one can hope right? (Perhaps that's why I was able to get up at 4 today so easily!). It was a vacation unlike any other and I'm incredibly grateful for the experience, though definitely not for everyone (if you need a toilet, shower, or don't like bugs, don't do it).

I left this morning after spending yesterday buying regalitos and giving mini-workshops to youth who made me feel like a celebrity wanting my signature and bombarding me with questions after working with me for less than <30 minutes. It also reaffirmed my choral expertise, which I am going to work on owning more, even when other choral professionals are present. I'm saying this publicly so you can hold me accountable and to be fully transparent. I helped notes become phrases, I helped phrases become stories, and I helped the youth go from singing words on a page to thinking about what they were singing. This site (I'll leave the name out) had the least amount of social focus and thus questions that required thinking didn't go over well. It was much more a teacher/student atmosphere and go figure was run by a formal orchestra and selected the "best voices of the school." I did bring back a really fun piece for CMC though and the kids made it worthwhile!

Perhaps it was the two hours of sleep, or the reflecting, but on the plane, I began to cry, weep. I've never cried for leaving a country before, only the people. But I really started to realize how much I was going to miss not just the people, but the place, the atmosphere, the $2 lunches, the familial feeling everywhere with everyone, the food (though I did try to bring some of my favorites back), But I know I"ll be back. I've never been so certain of returning to a country before. I want to bring that familial feeling to our country and extend it to foreigners, especially in these times. I want others to feel just as welcome in MN as I felt in Colombia, where after a night I already feel like they're family, where they want to help in any way they can to ensure my trip is the best. I want to change Minnesotan culture to be a warm, welcoming place, including to a MInnesotan's house. So if I can ever help you to know MN better or host you, PLEASE tell me! I will gladly do so.

All in all, I am far more impressed by Colombia than any other country I have visited in regards to community music programs. The social aspect has been far more apparent and consistent. I'll say more once I've analyzed the surveys fully, but there are definitely trends across all programs and the level of self-determination is significant. I couldn't have picked a better country if I tried and really had very few negative parts of my travels. I didn't get sick except for a stomachache yesterday, I didn't ever get frustrated with cultural differences, I was able to fully embrace my blonde hair and womanhood (the brunette thing failed miserably!), and I truly have a part of me in Colombia now.

As I return back, please bear with me. Reverse cultural shock is almost always more difficult and I am trying to do what I do when I go somewhere-have no expectations and just let what I feel happen and process accordingly. I feel incredibly blessed to have had this opportunity and will be forever grateful for being a Judd Fellow and receiving C Charles Jackson Foundation funds to make this trip possible. Thanks to all who followed me and if anyone has any questions, I am more than happy to answer. And if you want to travel to Colombia, here's my list:

1) 4 days in Bogota area: 1 day: Gold Museum, Candelaria, and the parks if you want; one day Zipaquira and Laguna Guatavita; one day Villa de Gleyvi (Didn't make it here, but it's on the list for next time), and one day of travel (there's a lot of traffic!)
2) Medellin: Electric stairs in San Javier, Grafitti tour. Parque Arvi, the Ciclovia for biking, but it's just a great city to explore!
3) Salento (3 days): Valle de Cocora 1 day, hot springs 1.5 hours from Pereira (didn't make it here, next time!), and one day just giving yourself a retreat in the beauty
4) Santa Marta: 4 days. 2 days Tayrona National Park-but book your tix ahead of time online and your mirador hammock too! One night Palomino, one day Minca (didn't make it to either this trip either) and if the Lost City Hike is of interest, this is the place to do that too! You could also take a bus and go to Cartagena, but I didn't make it there
5) Cali: Dance. Eat. Repeat. If you're not a huge dancer, it's not a must see, but I really enjoyed it. Popoayan was a cute city for a night too.
6) Amazon: 4 days Leticia->Puerto Narino and go to parks nearby. Keep in mind now is the dry season, less bugs, but less water so fewer animals.

Well there ya go folks! Just landed!