We tried to describe what different instruments looked like and we realized that what we needed was a live concert. There was great concern among the prison administration that the violin was a dangerous instrument. The strings could be turned into a weapon. Emails and phone calls went back and forth for months.
It was shockingly easy to forget, in the midst of the classroom environment, that the majority of the students were serving life sentences for committing horrendous acts. I reminded myself that my goal was to share the joys and mysteries of music making, to try to understand their need for creative expression, and in turn, gain insight into my own personal and artistic motivations.
Imagine a class where every student feels it is a privilege to learn, yearns to participate and be heard, and absorbs all of the material with passionate curiosity. Within the nightmare of incarceration flourished the dream of education, an unabashed, provocative insight into musical meaning and expression.
We mostly listen to recorded music, and we likely hear it alone—in a car, through headphones, maybe through a set of speakers at home. This kind of listening space is simultaneously ephemeral—in that it is fundamentally malleable—and monumental—in that its infinite repeatability aspires to cultural permanence.
The unlikely collisions between the two musical cultures I inhabit bring up so many questions for me about musical perception: What do people from one musical culture hear in the music of another culture? How much of our aesthetic association with specific music comes from repetition and reinforcement within our musical culture, and how much is simply hard-wired into us as humans?