In the News

Daily News-Tribune (October 25, 2006)

Diverse vibes

by Christopher Rocchio

WALTHAM -- Even with MP3 players and satellite radio, it’s a safe bet few if any of the city’s middle school students had ever heard the sounds of a baglama or kamancheh.

As a part of a Brandeis University program using music to celebrate diversity, and Kennedy and McDevitt seventh-graders recently heard two artists perform on the exotic instruments.

"We want to help people know about different cultures both within and outside the US beyond what just pops up in the news," said Judith Eissenberg, a member of Brandeis’ music department as well as founder and director of MusicUnitesUS. "Music is a culture’s narrative voice that can be expressed directly to us without being translated by a western view."

Kayhan Kalhor, who is from Iran, played the kamancheh, or spiked fiddle, an ancient bowing instrument that features four strings and a small hollowed belly made of walnut or mulberry wood. Erdal Erzincan, who is from Turkey, played the baglama, a pear-shaped plucked lute that comes in various sizes with a varying number of strings.

Kalhor and Erzincan played several songs for the students, and Kalhor also explained the background of both the music and instruments.

"The music is not written down, so we learn the songs, memorize them and then improvise," said Kalhor. "(Erzincan) listens to me, and I listen to him, and that’s the best way to do it if you want to perform with different cultures."

Before the performance, Eissenberg asked the students what current news they may have heard about Iran or Turkey. The most common response associated nuclear testing with Iran, and none of the students even took a guess at current Turkish happenings.

"MusicUnitesUS helps to open up conversation about many things that a culture has to offer," said Eissenberg. "We don’t want cultural expression to be on the margins of important discussions, but rather at the core of them."

MusicUnitesUS also provided a lesson plan to social studies teachers in city middle schools. Shipley Salewski, a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, has written the project’s lesson plan for the past two years. This year, she worked closely with Barbara Cardarelli, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Kennedy.

"I write the lesson plan as a building block and introduce it to the teachers, but they’re the ones that breathe life into it," said Salewski.

Salewski said the school system has been very receptive to the project.

"Brandeis doesn’t just invite us to participate in MusicUnitesUS. There’s quite a preparation process with a lot of time and work," said Cardarelli.

After several meetings, Cardarelli said Salewski put together a three-day lesson plan that included numerous visual and musical components. Cardarelli said the lesson plan generated a variety of questions, including how life for Middle Eastern teenagers may be different from that of American teens.

"There was a lot of brainstorming that had the students applying what they’ve learned in social studies class," she said. "We’re really trying to show the cultural aspect of it all."

Once students completed the lesson plan and attended last week’s performance, Cardarelli said they were impressed with the project, including how interactive it was.

"We prepared the students so they would really understand what they were seeing and hearing at the performance," she said.

Both Erzincan and Kalhor are at Brandeis as part of the Intercultural Residency Series, and Eissenberg said the university has embraced that as well as MusicUnitesUS.

"Waltham Public Schools is a crucial partner in this project," she said. "The students are looking at culture for a better understanding of other people, but it also helps them reflect back on who they are and what their role is in the world."

Original at: