We have just one world, but we live in different ones

I'm going to use this entry to talk a wee bit more about what I’ve been doing “musically” in camp so far. As a first note, it’s been a learning curve from day one. I’d had some previous experience in running music workshops and playing music with people with whom I don’t share a language. However, I was not completely prepared for the challenge of, for example, attempting to control a class of children of all ages and coax them into playing music or singing as a unified group. I honestly don’t know if anything can fully prepare one for this experience, but I’d argue there’s definitely something to be gained from the “learning by doing” approach in this case.

In terms of my weekly musical schedule, so far I’ve been doing two mornings of children’s music workshops, a children’s choir group, and a ‘Women’s Choir’. I’m planning on doing more groups with adults over the coming weeks, fitting this around my other responsibilities such as teaching English. What I have been able to contribute so far has been hugely enjoyable. In terms of the children’s music workshops, 'We Are Here' have kindly been donated a selection of music-teaching tools by a lovely charity called the ‘Shropshire Music Society’. The main instrument that they provided is, believe it or not, the infamous “penny whistle”, a staple musical instrument in the vast majority of Scottish primary schools. We have a stash of the wee instruments, along with a vast array of beautiful fabric cases in which they are kept. In order to gain possession of this much-coveted prize, children have to prove their dedication to their musical training by mastering both the differences between a crotchet, minim and semi-breve, as well as learning a basic “do re mi” scale. We hold two music mornings a week where kids can come and learn the basics, and then when they reach a certain level they have a (very informal) “test”, after which they are allowed their very own penny whistle, complete with a case of their choosing. It’s been really heart-warming to see how this instrument, which, to be honest, wasn’t seen as the coolest when I was growing up, has become something that kids are really proud to own, and even more proud to play. It's also created a good learning environment because kids are motivated to come and learn, without there being undue pressure.

With the Women’s Choir, I’ve found that the more successful songs have been ones with a simple and catchy melody. We’ve got a few songs under our belts now, beginning with the very simple ‘Oh when the saints’, which we even managed to do in a “round”, causing a huge amount of hilarity. I’ve also altered some lyrics from songs that the women might have heard already – for example by changing Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’ to the rather more uplifting ‘With Women, No Cry’. Last week we even attempted the chorus of ‘500 Miles’ by the Proclaimers, the most popular part of which was most definitely the call-and-response “Da Da Da”. This made me realise that for a lot of the women it might be easier if we did some songs which weren’t in any language at all, but rather just used phonetics and sounds that are fun to sing. I’m hoping to develop this idea over the coming weeks, and also to start more creative workshops where we might start to write our own songs with lyrics from different languages.

I’m actually writing this post from the small town of Ede, around an hour outside of Amsterdam. I’ve been here all week participating in a training course run by an incredible charity called ‘Musicians without Borders’. I signed up to the course basically on a whim a few months ago and I could not be more grateful that I’ve ended up here. The course and the people on it have not only helped me to develop my own ideas about music and its relationship to empathy and healing, but have also introduced me to completely new ideas about how to use music for community work. We’ve done workshops on nonviolence, trauma, singing, movement, percussion, and many other themes. I could (and probably will at some point) spend a whole diary entry talking about the workshops in more detail and the things that we gained as participants. However, for now, I’ll focus in on what is perhaps the idea that resonates with me most at the end of such a powerful week. Throughout the week, my mind has been continually glancing back to my experiences in Nea Kavala and relating the workshops to what I've seen there so far. What I’ve found to be in common between the two is the phenomenon in which, through making music together, the individual participant and the whole group somehow exist simultaneously, with neither cancelling out the other. Human beings have a pervasive habit of creating “binaries” in situations, where we describe things as being either “this” or “that”. In this way, we often describe experiences, whether they be teaching experiences or otherwise, as being about the individual or about the group. However, this understanding is quite narrow, not least because the group simply cannot exist without the individual, and individual identities are often composed of qualities gained from being in the group. In the context of music-making, the song is made up of single voices which can be picked out individually, and yet a chord is struck up between everyone that is truly shared. In this way, music becomes a force for generating empathy, as individuals become connected with each other in their shared experience.

Perhaps a better explanation can be found in the title of this entry. On my way to the Netherlands I listened to a podcast about ‘Brothers in Arms’ by Dire Straits and the various memories and interpretations that people associate with the song. When listening I was struck by a line that I’ve heard many times before, but that I now saw in a new light: “And we have just one world, but we live in different ones”. Particularly in light of this week, I feel that this line represents that notion the individual mind and the whole community existing simultaneously. Perhaps music can help to bridge the divide between the individual and the whole; or even help us to realise that there is no divide after all.