Diane Phoenix-Neal (left), assistant professor of music at James Madison University, and Joan Griffing, chair of the music department at Eastern Mennonite University, are part of the Musica Harmonia ensemble traveling to Puerto Rico in early October. (Photo by Nikki Fox/Daily News-Record)

Musical Mends: musicians perform amid countries’ repairing relations

Valley musicians in Musica Harmonica are headed to San Juan, Puerto Rico, in October to further encourage the intersectionality of music in the Americas. The group, composed of a violist from James Madison University, a violinist from Eastern Mennonite University, a cellist from Wyoming and a clarinetist, is performing at the Decolonizing Music Conference at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music.

The conference is a meeting place for music professionals and organizations from the Americas, where they focus on musical artists making a cultural and social impact in their communities.

Musica Harmonia’s half-hour performance revolves around three spiritual pieces that continue the group’s mission of promoting peace and cultural awareness through musical collaboration. Two of the pieces are based on poetry [written by Professor Marti Eads] inspired by EMU alumna and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee’s memoir about her organizing women to stand up to a dictator in Liberia.

The third piece, “The Human One,” composed by EMU professor Ryan Keebaugh, is a representation of God coming to Earth to live among man within the human experience.

Musica Harmonia commissioned the pieces and built a symbiotic relationship with the composers they worked with, according to Joan Griffing, violinist and EMU Music Department chair.

“A lot of it is about trying to use music as a tool in peacebuilding, so that’s why we commissioned certain pieces,” Griffing said. “We really enjoy the collaborative nature of working with living composers, especially when it comes to addressing issues related to our time.”

At conferences like Decolonizing Music and with Cuba and the United States renewing ties, one can expect further mixing of musical genres. Griffing is sure that the improved relations will be a prominent emphaisis at the conference because it’s on people’s minds.

“Arts are a great way for people to connect with one another and to cross boundaries,” she said. “I’m sure that will be interesting to see, especially since travel is made more possible.”

This text was excerpted with permission from a Sept. 17 Daily News-Record article.