Maggie Garber McClary, center, performs with the EMU Chamber Singers at The Music Room in Orange, Virginia, during the group's spring break tour. McClary is the first graduate of the music and peacebuilding program at EMU. (Photo by Macson McGuigan/EMU)

Senior Maggie Garber McClary set to become first music and peacebuilding grad

After her first two semesters at EMU, Maggie Garber McClary, who was then undecided in her major, had an idea for a program that would combine the two areas she loved studying most.

“I found that I really enjoyed both my music classes and my peacebuilding classes,” McClary said. “So, I approached [EMU Music Professor] Benjamin Bergey and asked him, ‘What would it look like to pair them?’”

Her question couldn’t have come at a better time.

“He told me, ‘This is crazy, but there’s this major I’ve been working on,’” McClary recalled from her conversation with Bergey. “It was this moment of total serendipity.”

In 2019, Bergey began developing the music and peacebuilding program, a passion project of his, following his dissertation work on the topic. He had been seeking approval to add the major when McClary approached him with her idea. The first-of-its-kind major, available only at EMU, trains students to creatively transform conflict by using music to build common ground, facilitate healing and create a space of storytelling. It was formally added to EMU’s list of programs in 2021. Learn more about the music and peacebuilding program by visiting

Now, McClary, a senior, is set to become the first graduate of the program. Three other EMU students, junior Reah Clymer and sophomores Eli Stoll and Miriam Rhodes, are following her lead as music and peacebuilding majors. Bergey said McClary is “a wonderful first graduate as she exemplifies the ethos of the program.”

“Maggie is deeply empathetic, seeking to listen and care well for others,” he said. “She cares about justice at any level of life, and she infuses music into all she does.”

McClary said it means a lot to her knowing she’s able to set a good example for others to follow.

“One of the hardest things about being the first major is that I didn’t know what it would look like,” she said. “Peacebuilding is such a broad umbrella that encompasses so many things, and music is the same. I feel like I’ve been holding out my arms and soaking in as much as I can.”

Maggie Garber McClary sings “Put Your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Rae at the Student Union on April 1.

Her path to music and peacebuilding

Feeling burnt out in high school, the Broadway, Virginia, native had been planning to take a gap year after graduating in 2020. She visited EMU during Honors Weekend and said coming here to study “just felt right.”

“I thought, ‘You know what, maybe a gap year is not for me,’” she said, “and I turned around and decided to come to EMU instead.”

McClary grew up with music all around her. She learned to play the piano at a young age, performing hymn melodies at Grace Mennonite Fellowship Church, and then mastered the guitar. At Broadway High School, she was part of the auditioned choirs, participated in musicals during each of her four years, and competed in the marching band and color guard.

As she sharpened her musical abilities, she was becoming more active in peace and justice causes. McClary participated in the March for Our Lives (2018) in Washington, D.C., to oppose gun violence, attended Mennonite Convention and was one of the first members of the Virginia Mennonite Youth Council.

As a student at EMU, McClary has been active in events with Mennonite Action, a grassroots movement committed to public actions to bring about a lasting peace in Israel and Palestine. She took part in a recent march and hymn-sing outside City Hall in Harrisonburg, calling on city leaders to support a cease-fire.

“That’s music and peacebuilding in action,” she said about the event held in February. 

McClary, who spent her intercultural in Peru, is also a member of the Chamber Singers, an auditioned touring choir that uses music to build connection and community. She said one of the most valuable skills she’s learned in music and peacebuilding is constant self-evaluation. She asks herself: “What is my perspective? Who am I talking to? What is the context and the history? What am I trying to do?”

“I’ve become better at moving through the world by examining myself and asking these questions,” McClary said. “They can be hard questions sometimes, but I feel like I’ve grown so much by doing that.”

EMU students Afton Rhodes-Lehman, Will Blosser and Maggie Garber McClary perform music at a “Musical Haven” space in the Student Union on April 1.

Moving forward

For her senior capstone project, McClary hosted a “Musical Haven” space in the Student Union. From 1 to 4 p.m. on April 1, students, musicians and anyone else could join her in playing one of the many instruments available. Music could be made with singing bowls, gourd rattles, a mandolin, two guitars and a cajon drum. 

“Music is powerful as a healing tool,” said McClary, who presented on her capstone on April 10. “It can be emotional, social and even physical healing. I fell in love with this idea of using music to heal and promote well-being in peoples’ lives. … The semester was wrapping up, so there’s greater stress among students. I think it was valuable to have this space.”

After graduating in May, McClary plans to work one last summer at Kenbrook Bible Camp in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, with her husband. Other than that, her future plans are wide open. But, before she leaves EMU, she’s been working on a duet from the musical Little Women with friend and fellow music and peacebuilding major Clymer.

“It’s all about saying goodbye,” McClary said. “It’ll be cathartic … a good way to feel those feelings and then let them go.”

She said she would like to see the music and peacebuilding program grow to eventually host regular events, bring in guest speakers and become a greater part of campus life. Donors can support the program by contributing at

Looking back, she isn’t sure what she would’ve studied had the major not been an option.

“Honestly, if I didn’t major in music and peacebuilding, I might’ve dropped out,” she said. “I’m not really sure. I think it was a special time for the major to come together.”

Join the Discussion on “Senior Maggie Garber McClary set to become first music and peacebuilding grad

  1. Congratulations, Maggie! I went through a similar struggle – much later in life – when I returned to school. I was accepted into seminary and after one semester, felt like something important was missing. I ended up transferring to Antioch University in Yellow Springs, OH, in the Individualized Masters Program, where I was able to create my own program, combining my love of street performing, community organizing and ministry. My individualized MA was in “Transformational Theater.”
    All the very best to you as you go forward and spread peace and music to everyone you encounter!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *