On Teaching


TO BE MULTICULTURAL by  Nick Page written in Wexford, Irelland, 1/04
Tell the stories.   Without the stories and the meaning, the songs are simply pretty sounds.   It is the stories that help us connect to the depth and beauty of cultures.   What does a song mean?   Why is it sung?   When?   Where?   When we tell the stories, we create empathy for the songs and their cultures.   We create an emotional understanding that can last much longer than an intellectual understanding.   Don’t worry if you don’t have the exact story behind a song.  For example if you were singing a sea chanty, you would simply need to be prepared to tell the story of life on the sea.
Know your resources – print media, videos and recordings, and the enormous amount available on the web.   There are more multicultural resources now than ever before.   It can be overwhelming, but if you know where to look, you’re halfway there.
Resources can be real people as well.   Find people in your community who could come in and talk to your students about their cultures and their histories.   What you are studying will come alive – connections will be made to other times and other places.
All music is multicultural.   You can not remove culture from music.   Culture defines what each style of music is about.   The differences between a Bach fugue and a Dagbamba rhythm will be primarily cultural.
Be authentic, but also be yourself.   Know that the people most likely to be totally authentic are the original people of the culture you are celebrating.   You can never match their level of authenticity, but you should come as close as you can by listening to the music and sharing in the stories behind the music.   Know that whenever one culture sings the music of another culture, something new and beautiful is created.   This is why it is important to be yourself.   The music of every culture on earth has been changed by the music of other cultures.   When each of us make the same explorations, our music is changed.
Honor the cultures.   We sometimes worry so much about offending people of other cultures that we avoid their music completely.   But publishers are working hard to make our lives easier by providing the stories, recordings and everything else we need to honor the cultures.   Sometimes all we need to do is to say “thank you.”   “We thank the Hmong people of Cambodia for giving us so many rich songs.   We honor them today by singing their songs and telling their stories.”   You might add, “If I make an error, I hope you will correct me, so that I may fully honor this culture in the future.”   We must be unashamed about learning from any mistakes we make.
Celebrate our differences.   Our differences aren’t only in our languages or the instruments we play.    Our differences are in the reasons why we sing and the reasons why we dance or create great sounds with our ensembles. The western concept of music as performance is only one way we humans make music.   Some of us make music because music is alive and our music is a dialogue with a living spirit.   Some of us make music to help the crops grow.  Some of us make music to diagnose or cure illness.  Some of us make music because it connects us with each other.   Some of us make music to give praise in worship.   Some of us just love a good beat to dance to.  There is not one kind of blooming flower, but thousands.   Diversity is central to the wonder of life.   Celebrate the differences.
Celebrate our common humanity.   Ultimately, the power of multiculturalism is in the many commonalties we all share through music – from the resonance of sound itself, to the beauty of human expression and the wonder of shared experiences.   A mother holding her child and singing a lullaby; this is a universal song of love.   These emotions are universal.   A group moving to a powerful pulse; this physical reaction is the same within us all.   It may only be hearts beating in unison or it may be the exuberance of communal dancing.
Let the compassion arise.   The sun gives us light.   The sky gives us air to breath.  The earth gives us soil for planting and energy for fuel.   The generosity of the earth is unending.   When we make music, we are enacting the same generosity.  We give to each other through our songs.   Every culture in the world does this whether they know it or not.
Be fearless in your exploration.   I met a wonderful Native American who was talking about his Uncle.   He said, “My uncle is a very wealthy man; he knows many songs.”   The more we explore other cultures, the wealthier we become.    Be fearless in your love of music.   Be fearless in your love of humanity.   Let your fearlessness give birth to great wealth and wisdom.