A familiar statement made by choir members is, “we never sing in English!” True, good choirs rarely sing in English, but that is not the simple reason behind the variety of the languages in our music. Recently, as I skimmed through the global studies courses, I realized that concert choir is actually a global studies credit. In a list full of history classes and philosophy courses, choir stuck out like a sore thumb. Why is choir a “global course?”
An explanation that came into my mind first was that “we sing in many languages, so we learn about cultures.” Indeed, choir is way beyond the surface level. This year, as requested by many students, the concert choir decided to delve into the Arab world through pieces such as “Lamma Bada Yatathanna.” Although it is a difficult song musically, rhythmically, and linguistically, the choir spent a multitude of class periods exploring the language and learning about the nuances in Arab culture.
We also explored the world of Hindu music. Following the chamber singers’ lead with “Jai Ho!”, the choir decided to explore a few pieces from Indian movies, which we found, as a class, to be some of the most exciting and enthralling cultural entities that we have touched upon. The energy we discovered and the difference in tone we learned change our perception of music from the typical, classical western style of choral music.
“Music is global,” stated Susan Chrzanowski, our choir director, “Every culture, every country has music. In many languages, there is not even a different word between ‘music’ and ‘musician.’”
After sifting through our repertoire, we began to realize that music not only applies to our modern culture, but also transpires through history. As we understand perspectives of different countries and cultures by learning the tone and time periods of our music pieces, we gain more insight into both historic developments and prevalent issues in the current world. For instance, two years ago, our school theme was sustainability, and interestingly enough, we sang an African song pertaining to the praise of water and the appreciation of rain. Working on that African piece allowed us to feel our innate reverence towards nature in the vivid melody, percussions and rhythm.
Music doesn’t only apply to our worldwide perspective; we connect as a community when we explore music in different cultures. “When we sing non-English pieces in choir, we are usually fortunate to have someone in the community who speaks the language or who knows the music from somewhere,” Lily Liu ’17, a current junior explained, “Learning music from countries or cultures that other community members belong to certainly allows me to connect with them on a deeper level, understand and taste their cultural origin.”
Like Lily said, music helps us understand each other on a deeper, more personal level. This spring, the chamber singers are working on a Tamil piece named “Balleilakka” from the movie “Sivaji”; fortunately, Preethi Kannan ’17, a current junior who speaks Hindi, is helping us with the lyrics. To our surprise, Preethi looked absolutely ecstatic. “I know that song! I’ve seen that movie so many times,” she laughed, “I think my mom has a video of me dancing to that video when I was younger!” Without the exploration of that movie, we would never have had the insight to Preethi’s culture and language. Choir brings us closer to our community and helps us appreciate the cultures of others. We see the world from others’ eyes as we delve deeper into their lives and understand their perspectives. Having understood the magic of music, I now understand why choir is a global course, and it may be one of the most enriching ones I have taken.