Judith Eissenberg, Director, MusicUnitesUS
As an educator, I acknowledge the importance of global competence, a phrase used to point to the ability “not only to contribute to knowledge, but also to comprehend, analyze, and evaluate its meaning in the context of an increasingly globalized world” (as defined in the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC) report, A Call to Leadership: The Presidential Role in Internationalizing the University).
To work toward the goal of competence, students need to reach outside his/her own cultural comfort zone and be able and willing to work collaboratively with colleagues from diverse traditions. Along with the technical skills and expertise necessary to function in any particular field, a student needs to increase his/her capacity to be flexible and adaptable to the different approaches to problem solving that a necessarily interdependent global society offers. This capacity is something I think of as cultural competency.
A person who has a good measure of cultural competence will have had enough experience with a diversity of worldviews, cultures, and traditions that he/she will be able to flourish in a diverse, multicultural community and can therefore be a tolerant and productive citizen. That person is someone who has the tools to think not only critically but empathetically about international issues that have implications locally as well as globally. How does one acquire cultural competency?
The public school social studies curriculum shoulders a huge responsibility in terms of cultural competency. Learning about our own communities, our individual origins, and our national heritage is only the beginning. Exploring with a critical and empathetic lens the diverse cultures within and beyond our own experience moves us closer to understanding and appreciating the myriad of worldviews, values, traditions, and histories that coexist in the world. Only a cross-cultural exchange of ideas and resources will lead toward solutions to the problems of poverty, war, environmental degradation, illiteracy, resource depletion, intolerance, and so on. Our deepening understanding of these issues and their complexities enables us to understand the sources of conflict that threaten future coexistence. Finding commonalities and appreciating multiple perspectives can perhaps point the way toward creative and lasting solutions.
It is my belief that the arts, and in particular, music can partner with the social studies classroom, providing a visceral entry into a deeper understanding of diverse cultures. Tapping into empathy, art ignites the ethical imagination and invites expressive interaction on many levels, from the intellectual to the creative.
Music, especially live performance, is a key to understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures. With oral traditions that go back to the beginnings of civilization:
Music activates our cultural memories.
Music is an authentic and critical voice, recording, reflecting, communicating, and sharing the many worldviews and life stories that make up humankind’s traditions.
Music reveals the complex pathways of history, as melodies and styles from one culture are found woven into the songs and harmonies of another.
Music articulates values and aesthetics, whether they are found in classic structures, complex harmonies, or a simple melody.
Music inspires, teaches, challenges, and witnesses, encouraging us to be creative and to look beyond the superficial.
Music ‘sings’ of the diversity of the many cultures of the world from the past to the present. It can be a profound entry into a deeper exploration of the multiculturalism we embrace and are also challenged by.
My goals for this program are to deepen appreciation of diverse cultures through music. I hope that in linking the social studies curriculum (where students learn about world cultures through geography, history, and current events) with music performed by accomplished artists from around the world, that students come away with a richer and broader experience. I hope that the students think about what is common across cultures as well as what is different. I hope that in exploring different cultures, students explore various issues that come up for all people: the challenges people face, value systems, ideas of justice, and so on. I also hope that the students sense through music the common human qualities of wanting to communicate, of wanting to create, of taking risks, of working together with a mutual goal, and a search and appreciation for beauty, in the many forms that can take. Each visiting musician is highly trained in his/her tradition, and through the virtuosity and expressivity of the performance communicates something of what is valued and what is beautiful in that tradition. In this way, the music works as a cultural ambassador for diversity, extending what students learn in the classroom and over the media.
Over the years, I hope to explore as many cultures as possible. My objective for each program is for students to become more open to and informed about the culture represented. From the first moment, when students see a real human being, not just a news report, I hope the process begins. As the musicians play, the students experience the artists’ desire to speak to them through the music. The natural ingredients of a musical performance are a good set-up for learning that some things are shared across culture, while others are unique to specific cultures. Children come expecting to listen, and in a good sense, be entertained. They watch, they listen, they respond.
Music as an expressive medium is a common thread going through all the performances. At the same time, each tradition brings something unique to the complex tapestry of societies and cultures that make up the ‘global village.’ There is a wonderful “I want to talk with you, share what is beautiful about my culture, spend time with you” feeling that the musicians offer. And the experience of going to hear great performers on a concert stage is in itself valuable; many of these students are going to a world music concert for the first time. These musicians are professionals, and their discipline, dedication and artistry is profound.