17. Music and Peacebuilding

In this episode, Dr. Benjamin Bergey speaks about peacebuilding through music, and how working with intercultural youth ensembles inspired him to enter the field.

Bergey teaches music theory and conducting at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). The university recently announced a new concentration in music and peacebuilding, which Bergey developed. He also conducts the EMU choirs and orchestra, conducts the Rapidan Orchestra in Orange County, and served as the music editor for Voices Togethera new Mennonitehymnal.

Bergey told Kamau that he’s always been drawn to leading ensembles, since his early days in church – “bringing people together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.” 

In 2010, during his cross-cultural semester in the Middle East while an undergraduate at EMU, Bergey interviewed Palestinians and Israelis about the role of music as a tool of both protest and community-building. He was particularly inspired by two organizations that brought young Arab and Jewish musicians together to build common ground. 

“From a peacebuilding standpoint, we know how dialogue and empathy are those kinds of crucial components in transforming conflict,” he said. The Jerusalem Youth Chorus brought the kids together to sing, create their own songs, and take music classes. The Polyphony Foundation did much the same, but with instrumental orchestra activities. Both organizations also facilitate dialogue between the students.

[This podcast was recorded before escalation of the current conflict in Israel/Palestine.]

Bergey recalled watching an Arab and a Jewish student sharing a violin stand, struggling together through a particular passage of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21.”

“It’s these youth coming together in ways that otherwise doesn’t happen …. it doesn’t happen organically, right, in just normal day-to-day living,” Bergey explained. “Studies show that music making together can … help overcome perceptions of dissimilarity and to work towards accepting others’ differences.”

Organizations like these that work in high-conflict areas aim to bring people together in a safe environment.

“That takes a lot of intentionality, a lot of careful planning and facilitation, where they can share experiences, bring themselves to feel like they can tell stories and make music,” Bergey said. “Because really it’s a vulnerable act, especially singing.” 

Bergey went on to write his doctoral dissertation on music and peacebuilding, and trained with Musicians Without Borders in 2018. With a slogan of “War Divides, Music Connects,” the Netherlands-based nonprofit works around the world with artists, social activists and communities on conflict. 

Bergey sees immense potential in this field, even for everyday group settings, in which activities like drum circles, group breathing exercises, or collaborative songwriting can help people become grounded within themselves and build trust with one another.

“This really is an exercise in mindfulness, honestly. It’s important for us to both listen and feel what’s happening within ourselves, but also be able to listen and, dare I say, empathize with those around us,” said Bergey.


Guest

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Dr. Benjamin Bergey

Dr. Benjamin Bergey is assistant professor of music at EMU, where he directs the choirs and orchestra, and teaches courses on music theory and conducting. He is an active musician who currently conducts the Rapidan Orchestra in Orange, VA. He completed his doctorate and masters at James Madison University in Orchestral Conducting.
 
Additionally, Bergey is a prominent music leader in the Mennonite Church, currently serving as Director of Music at Harrisonburg Mennonite Church, and notably as Music Editor for Voices Together, the new hymnal for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, as well as compiler and editor for the hymnal’s Accompaniment Edition. He regularly leads worship and resourcing events at assemblies, workshops, and conferences, and is the music planner for the 2022 Mennonite World Conference Assembly music and songbook. 
 
His doctoral research focused on how ensemble music is a tool in peacebuilding by bringing diverse people together for building empathy and dialogue, using two groups in Israel and Palestine as examples. He has written several articles on music and peacebuilding and has started a new interdisciplinary major at EMU called Music and Peacebuilding.
 
Bergey is married to his wife, Kate, who together have two children, and they love to garden, bike, and hike.


Transcript

Benjamin:
Early on, this happened a lot actually in church. And, you know, I was, I was very involved in leading music in church and being a part of choir and that kind of thing. And this, uh, it’s really a beautiful and sacred privilege to help to connect the congregation into song and how that connects with worship. Um, but then in 2010 I did a cross-cultural through EMU to the middle East. And, um, we were supposed to do a, uh, research project of some sort. And I chose to do some interviews with folks around how music was used in and around the conflict in Israel and Palestine, you know, so music as protest or building community, telling stories, bringing people together, advocacy, you know, whatever. I was just really interested in how was music being used? And so that started this interest in learning more about music’s role in peace building or within conflict and community and those kinds of things.

Patience:
Hi, everybody, happy Wednesday to you. Welcome back to peacebuilder, a conflict transformation podcast by the center for justice and peace building. My name is Patience Kamau and our guest in this episode is

Benjamin:
Benjamin Bergey, assistant professor of music at EMU and advisor of the music and peacebuilding major as well as director of music at Harrisonburg Mennonite church.

Patience:
Dr. Benjamin Bergey is assistant professor of music here at Eastern Mennonite university, where he conducts the choirs and orchestra and teaches courses on music theory and conducting, and also conducts the rapid and orchestra in orange County, Virginia. He completed his master’s and doctoral education in orchestra conducting at James Madison university. Additionally, Bergey is a prominent music leader in the Mennonite church, currently serving as director of music at Harrisonburg Mennonite church and notably as music editor for Voices Together. The new hymnal for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, as well as compiler and editor for the hymnals accompaniment edition. He regularly leads worship and resources events at assemblies workshops and conferences, and is the music planner for the 2022 Mennonite Conference assembly music and song book, his doctoral research focused on how ensemble music as a tool in peacebuilding can bring diverse people together for building empathy and dialogue, using two groups in Israel and Palestine as examples, he has written several articles on music and peacebuilding and have started a new interdisciplinary major here at EMU called music and peacebuilding. Bergey is married to Kate who together have two children. They love to garden, bike and hike.

Theme Music:
[Theme music plays]

Patience:
But you telling us how you, your journey to EMU you graduated for, um, from EMU, your undergraduate.

Benjamin:
That’s right.

Patience:
How did you get here?

Benjamin:
Yeah, so I’m originally from Southeastern Pennsylvania. Um, but uh, many family members actually came to EMU. And so I was already sort of familiar with the campus. I’m the youngest of three. Um, my older brothers had, um, gone here. And so, um, but that actually wasn’t the biggest straw. Um, in fact, I actually thought that would be a deterrent. Um, and, uh, so I was looking at a number of different schools and particularly interested in music and at that point, um, pre-med but really one of the biggest draws uh, was, um, some of the professors here and in particular, wanting to study with Ken Nafziger in, um, church music and conducting, and some of that kind of thing. So, uh, in the end, that was some of the biggest draw and, um, the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley. And I haven’t left ever since coming down and now it’s been, Oh, uh, 15 years. So

Patience:
How does it feel to be teaching in the program in which you said Ken Nafziger was part of the reason you came, he’s now retired and you’re somewhat slipping right in there into maybe not necessarily his shoes, but an area where he filled for many, many years. How does that feel to you?

Benjamin:
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s truly, um, a joy and an honor to be back here. Something I was really looking for after, after the doctorate was to be at a place not just to sort of climb the ladder of universities or something, but really to be at a faith-based institution, one where I felt missionally aligned to that kind of thing. And so honestly, EMU is like sort of the optimal place to look for. And right around that time, there was a position open and, um, it really couldn’t have worked out better as quite quite a godsend to, to sort of have that alignment of time. The department has changed, um, in terms of sort of the structure of, of faculty and how many, so it is quite a different position and it’s actually quite, quite a great fit for my gifts and things. So, um, it’s really an honor.

Patience:
That’s fantastic. How has the department changed since you were a student to now you being a faculty member in the department?

Benjamin:
Uh, well, just sort of this, the, um, full-time equivalence of how many faculty are there and, um, some of the course offerings, even, you know, adding different majors just in terms of that makeup. And it always changes depending on the giftings of each faculty member, you know, so yeah, that’s, that’s part of it.

Patience:
I was looking at your bio here and you’re talking about one of your projects being, working with, uh, a new hymnal for the Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church, Canada, Voices Together. Um, what does that entail being, uh, the music editor for that?

Benjamin:
Uh, well, fortunately now it’s just, um, enjoying use of it and helping others figure out how to use it. So it’s, it’s a very, uh, joyful time and, and one that’s a little less intensive than it was during the actual construction of it. Um, but it was about a four year project. Um, and our role was to listen to the broader church, um, pull in lots of research. You know, we, we looked at over 10,000 songs and about double that in worship resources. And, um, then went through the process of figuring out a balance of things. How do we resource our diverse denominations and how do we then represent that on the page? And, um, so a lot of balancing work, a lot of research. And then, and then, uh, a lot of prayerful consideration about what ends up being there because it’s, it’s, it’s quite a project in a lot of ways, but it was, it was, uh, a huge, um, uh, privilege to be a part of that service to the, uh, to the denomination.

Patience:
So your involvement here. So after you graduated from EMU, then you earned your masters from James Madison University in orchestra conducting, how did you choose that program? It’s just a neighbor, neighboring college right here.

Benjamin:
Yeah. Um, well I, growing up, I really always loved, um, ensemble, directing choirs and orchestra, and I, you know, I’d sit in my bedroom as a middleschooler with a score and a Baton with a conducting a CD. So I’ve always sort of had this affinity toward, um, leading a group in music. And, um, there’s not really undergraduate programs for that. So you generally just do some sort of music major for your undergrad, and then you go onto graduate school to do that specific thing. So then I was just looking at schools and as, as the selection process went on, um, JMU has a really great music school and, and good assistantships, and we were sort of starting to be settled here in the Valley. And so it’s just sort of made sense and it worked out really well and actually it worked out even better than I thought it could. And so, yeah, it, it was very good. Yeah.

Patience:
What’s an ensemble and, or chamber music. So the terminology, what, what is the difference? What are they, what is that?

Benjamin:
Yeah, so ensemble just sort of a broad term for a group of musicians coming together and play music, so that can refer to choir, band, orchestra, that kind of thing, um, you know, derive from the French, meaning just together. So chamber music, um, is generally sort of refers to a smaller group of things. So it could be as small as a trio, quartet, just a few people. Um, and sometimes even like a chamber group, like a small group of singers or a chamber ensemble of string players, and maybe it’s 10 or 12 or something like that. So it generally sort of has a smaller connotation to it.

Patience:
So the podcast is called peacebuilder and you are part and parcel of the introduction of a new major with an EMU undergraduate program called music and peacebuilding. Can you talk about that? You’re smiling, even as I mentioned it, I think it’s, it seems it’s something you are excited and proud to be part of, uh, what does music and peacebuilding, and it was part of what you studied for your doctorate,

Benjamin:
Right? Yeah. Yeah. I’m smiling because I’m very excited about it. Um, it’s really a new thing in, in higher education, um, to have a major specifically focused on this and really our goal here is to attract students who have interest in music as well as peacebuilding. And so EMU is a good place to test this kind of a program and develop it. And, you know, I would say many in, in the peacebuilding world and, and probably quite a few of your listeners are already, um, used to art space, peacebuilding and using the arts as a tool in peacebuilding. Um, but, um, on the music side of things that’s not necessarily talked about in sort of those words. Um, and so even though many ensemble directors or musicians do things because they love coming together with people, they love the empathic side of music making. They want to enact social change. So even though the concepts are there, whether they’re aware of it or not, um, we don’t necessarily have it in the curriculum and it’s not necessarily quite as intentionally, um, taught and facilitated. And so my goal here is, um, to bring those two, I mean, there, there are a lot of art space peacebuilding a lot of arts that can be used n really effective in peacebuilding. Um, my background is in music, so that’s where I’m focusing in, in this and, and also this morning

Patience:
Specific journey to combining music and peacebuilding, how did that come together for you personally?

Benjamin:
Well, I think it, it started even before I had any inkling, um, like I have, as I sort of mentioned, I I’ve been drawn to leading ensembles, which in a lot of ways is, is facilitating, bringing people together to make something, uh, greater than the sum of its parts. If you will, early on, this happened a lot actually in church. And, you know, I was, I was very involved in leading music in church and being a part of choir and that kind of thing, and this, uh, it’s really a beautiful and sacred privilege to help to connect the congregation into song and how that connects with worship. Um, but then in 2010 I did a cross-cultural through EMU to the middle East and, um, we were supposed to do a, uh, research project of some sort. And I chose to do some interviews with folks around how music was used in and around the conflict in Israel and Palestine, you know, music as protest or building community, telling stories, bringing people together, advocacy, you know, whatever. I was just really interested in how was music being used. And so that started this interest in learning more about music’s role in peace building or within conflict and community and those kinds of things. And so then when I got to, um, my doctoral studies, you know, I was told, choose something that you are really interested in passionate about so that you can take it to completio because it’s a big project, right. And so I was like, well, I really want to find something at the intersection of music and peacebuilding. So that was of course much too broad at that stage. And so I just started diving into the literature and, and, you know, trying to see different groups that are, um, working at using music in peacubuilding from an organizational standpoint and found a couple of groups, um, the Jerusalem youth chorus and the polyphony foundation that specifically brought youth together in ensemble music, um, as a means to find common ground and on that sort of relationship, that common ground, they then have professionally facilitated a dialogue. And so that was sort of the key that brought my study together. And I really wanted to look at what, how were they doing that? You know, what kinds of techniques or activities, whatever. And, um, how does that then lead to, uh, dialogue and what can that dialogue, um, do. And, you know, from, from a peacebuilding standpoint, we know how dialogue and empathy and those kinds of, um, crucial components are in transforming conflict. And so, um, yeah, it was just a fascinating, fascinating study. Um, and that, that, you know, as I then sort of wrapped up the dissertation in, in the final chapter on, you know, how could further study or research or those kinds of things, I was like, well, I think there’s a lot that could be done yet in, um, curricular-izing, this work, how can it enter higher education, especially to engage the musicians who may not have thought about their work as peacebuilding, but yet really is. Um, so it’s sort of to tap into that, um, side of things and work on training with that. That’s sort of what led me into EMU. And, you know, I had been meeting with folks about this for a few years now. Um, and now that I, then once I was hired, it’s a little easier to start to work on things like this, because it, you know, you have to, um, really develop, uh, a curriculum and do the paperwork and get approval. And just a few months ago, you know, got that approval. So this is a very, this is a very fresh program that we’re going to start in the fall. So, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Patience:
It’s, it’s, it’s one thing to actually have the theories in mind and to actually then practically make them a reality. Um, that’s that’s, that would be great. Um, some other organizations, you said you worked with are music musicians without borders, what is that? It sounds like doc doctors without borders. Yeah.

Benjamin:
Yeah. That’s I think that’s where they had the inspiration for their name. Yeah. And they’re one of the bigger organizations I would say that is doing this specific kind of thing. Um, I did a training with them back in 2018, um, and they, so yeah, they do a lot of, uh, training work for folks interested in using music, um, and musical related things in peacebuilding work, but they also work a lot around the world helping to develop new programs in their given contexts. So it’s not a sort of one size fits all model, but rather they help train leaders who are already there in the midst of high conflict areas or areas that they’re interested in doing this. And they help them think through what kinds of programs would help to meet the needs that you have in your community and, and then do help with advocacy work and, um, building those structures. But they really let it up to, to the leaders within those contexts and communities. So, um, yeah, it’s some, it’s some really amazing work. Um, and they, they have developed a lot of theories and curriculum that, um, that they then train others and even train trainers to help with. So, um, yeah, I was just actually speaking with, um, one of the staff persons last week about possible collaborations with this program and, and, um, ways that they could be involved or that kind of thing. So I’m really excited about staying in touch with them and, and seeing how they can continue help to help in our contexts as well.

Patience:
Does anything come to mind that very directly impacted you, having been trained with them?

Benjamin:
Yeah, so often when people ask me, you know, like, so what, like, what do you actually do with music in peacebuilding like, other than just singing together or playing music together. And I often then refer to lots of things that I learned during those trainings of, of specific activities that are, that are intentionally crafted and designed and then where you have to facilitate them in a way that reaches the goals around how they were designed. And so, um, that is really, I think a lot of what the sort of nuts and bolts, the nitty gritty of, of what we can do with music and peacebuilding that can transcend just an ensemble, but like when you start a meeting or when you’re at a retreat or when you’re trying to enter some negotiations between two parties, mediation. So, um, yeah, that’s, that’s where the fun stuff happens.

Patience:
Tell us about that? How does that actually happen?
How, how do people actually do that on day to day lives, for example, in meetings and all this sort of stuff?

Benjamin:
Yeah. So one is just a simple sort of breathing exercise. And so like in a group setting, you just could have everybody, everybody close their eyes and just simply breathe in and out. And so I usually say, you know, don’t control it, just bring awareness to the inhales and exhales. And then as the breath turns from the inhale to the exhale, they just snap their fingers, um, and, or clap if they have trouble snapping or whatever. And immediately what happens is there’s this sort of like percussion choir of snaps that represent where the breath is, is turning from inhale to exhale. So it sort of is speed and location of the entire group. And it may not sound that awesome right now, but it really ends up being a really powerful experience for those who are open to it, um, just where you hear how your breath is connected, but yet also a little bit different. And then you can even do a more advanced version where, uh, everyone makes a sound on the exhale and it can be pitched or not. Um, and it sort of turns into basically an improvised song or sound and, and, uh, what you do as the facilitators. You encourage them to feel the sound inside of them while listening to the sounds around them. So this really is an exercise in mindfulness, honestly. Um, it’s, it’s important for us to, to both listen and feel what’s happening within ourselves, but also be able to listen. Um, and, uh, dare I say, empathize with those around us at the same time, right? Another one that is a really simple one that can be done sort of anywhere is, um, like if you’re going around doing introductions, um, and you have each person say their name, uh, but also give a sound or a movement or say their name in a certain way. And everyone then repeats their name with the same tone or inflection or their emotion. And so it just requires us to listen and mimic each other and what happens is, uh, we’re more likely to actually learn the name and it gives a glimpse into how people are feeling or, um, it helps us move and it to the person who is introducing their own name, it’s so incredibly validating to have the entire group say your name and match, uh, the movement and, and these movements, like when you’re, if you’re thinking like, okay, let’s all go around and say your names. You’re not really thinking about moving but movement. Like, I mean, as we know, like fear, trauma, conflict, stress, these kinds of things, they can really root in our body into tension. Right. And so movement helps us loosen up. And so it’s, they’re just really simple activities, but have such profound thought behind them and intentionality around the facilitation that, um, yeah, they can really help to transform a boring meeting.

Patience:
So when you say movement, do you mean physical movement or like musical movement or both?

Benjamin:
Um, it’s sort of up to the person. So, um, so for example, if I’m feeling happy that day and just like I’m awake and whatever, and I say, you know, my name is Benjamin and I put my hands up and sort of like a victory pose. And so everybody does that and they say it the same way and do that. Or, or if, if I’m, you know, just feeling a little down and tired and I sort of put my hands together and rest them on my hands. And you know, my name is Benjamin that that’s saying I’m tired or, you know, whatever, then everybody’s doing that. And meanwhile, they’re just moving there. They’re learning each other’s names. They’re also recognizing how we’re bringing ourselves into that space. And that is, that’s a lot of empathy.

Patience:
Um, uh, drum circles is another one you said, can you talk about that?

Benjamin:
Oh yeah. I mean, there could be a whole podcast on drum circles. Um, yeah. There’s, I mean, there’s, there are a lot of books and research, um, and theories around the yeah the importance of drum circles and how to facilitate, how to lead effective, um, ones. But, uh, yeah, a few things that come to mind. One, it could just be a really cathartic experience. Um, you know, just, you’re all like banging on drums or whatever, you have to make some noise. Um, and it’s quite a workout. Like you can really, you can work up a sweat if you’re, if you get into really into it. Yeah. And you also don’t need to be a percussionist at all to participate. I have done this so many times with people who are like, Oh my goodness, I’ve never, I’ve never done a drum or anything. Like, I don’t even know how to use this thing, whatever you put in it. And they sit there for a while and that’s fine, you know, they’re taught, like you don’t have to do anything. You could just sit here and listen. Um, and then after a while they, you know, they’re like, well, I guess I could, I guess I could just hit it a little bit and then they start getting into it and they realize, well, okay. Yeah, I don’t need to be trained to use this thing. We all have, like, if you have a heartbeat, you have a rhythm. Um, and so, uh, and then, you know, you can pass the sort of focal point around, so you don’t want to be the, as the leader, you don’t want to be the sole focal point. And so you can get other people to do sort of call and response things. You can have just a section of a, of the circle play louder and everybody else play quieter. And it’s sort of like a group solo, but it also helps getting people to listen while they’re still drumming. Yeah. There’s a lot, there’s a lot in it, but it’s, it’s really, um, an effective thing in building, building community, building group cohesion, a common ground. And so, yeah, it’s, it’s, um, something that we will, we will do fairly often. Um, and if listeners here are, you know, ever hear of a drum circle in their area that they want to be a part of or something I really recommend going to go. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Patience:
What’s paper game?

Benjamin:
Oh, this is, this is great. So well, so, so creativity is really an important part. I think about this, um, because music is, so the arts in general, I mean are really creative at its core. And creativity really can open up our mind to lots of different things, which can then make brainstorming or negotiating or dialogue more interesting and effective and that kind of thing. And so the, the paper game, uh, is really a creative activity where each person just gets a piece of paper. And the idea is to find the breadth of noises that one can make with a piece of paper. So crumbling tearing it, rubbing it together or against something, um, you can blow on it, shake it, hit it, you know, so there’s actually a lot you can do with a simple piece of paper in making sounds. And so what you find is there, um, there is a lot. And so the, the rule that you only give basically this role and that is that you either, um, initiate a sound, imitate a sound or observe what is happening. So those are the three things you choose from. Um, and then otherwise there’s no, no other rules. So, so really, it just means you come up with something or you see what someone else does and imitate it, which really basically means everything. But by framing it that way as initiate, observe or imitate, um, it helps the participants to conceptualize what they are doing as a part of the whole, even though it’s a pretty individual thing, they’re just making a sound with paper. Um, and so that way they’re making the sound with the paper, but they’re also thinking about it as a way to lead others, to make that sound. Or if they’re thinking about something to do, they can also be more aware of what others are doing around them and, and try that. And so really it shows that, that the framing and the facilitation is pretty key to these activities, which is true in, in peacebuilding work in general. Right. You know, how we frame things can either foster creativity and safety or hamper it. Um, yeah. So those are some of the most simple activities that, that we do, but they can have such a profound, uh, impact in group dynamics.

Patience:
Yeah. How about writing song together? How does that work?

Benjamin:
Right. So that’s something that some of these groups do, um, that I was researching. And, um, so this can have, you know, the, sky’s the limit really into how it works, but they have found that it’s really, really important to, um, come together and do something new that you created together. And so it’s sort of a more neutral, neutral ground of music. So, you know, they often will share their own songs or share music from their contexts, but that’s not necessarily neutral per se. And so this, this creating a new song together is something that’s a shared experience. And so, um, they would spend a lot, you know, in, in Jerusalem youth course, for example, they would spend, um, a lot more time doing this, but for, for a shorter activity, if you’re in just a group or something, doing something like a silly song where, where the, you know, you’re just coming together to do something quick and funny, uh, is, is pretty easy. And, and that’s where you can have each person help develop a story. The facilitator, the facilitator could even give prompts or questions that you answer, and those answers become parts of the phrases. Um, you could even add a rhyme scheme if you really want, or just, you know, pick a topic and come up with some phrases and then you just start riffing on a melody. And so this is where, you know, doing this with a group that is feeling comfortable enough with each other to, to sort of sing and you just start, um, you just start and, and, and whoever starts feeling like, okay, I think I, I got something and they, they do something. Then someone responds, it’s very much just improvisation. And, and it’s, it’s actually quite related to group improvisation, um, which is another very effective tool for, for already established ensembles or that kind of thing. We just did it last week in, in choir. Um, you just get something started and everybody starts chiming in and you make this really interesting and quite powerful tapestry.

Patience:
Oh, do you have an example now? Now this is just completely out. Whether it works out or not. I’m just thinking if you have it recorded, maybe we can integrate it into this.

Benjamin:
I do, actually. Yeah. So last week I have to let the choir know, but, but yeah, last week we, um, you know, I could just tell we were it’s, it’s that time of the semester where, where, you know, we didn’t get a spring break and, and folks are a little tired. And so I was like, all right, let’s just, uh, somebody have a baseline and somebody just start at baseline. And so they did about a measure to, um, sort of repeated phrase a note, no texts, just, you know, I just repeated the phrase. And then as people started to feel like, okay, I sorta got what that sounds like, and they add something and then a few more chime in and then it starts to grow and everybody’s in, and you’re, you’re simultaneously listening to each other to respond to what you’re hearing, as well as adding your own voice into it. And so it’s, it’s obviously quite a powerful image when you stop and think about it, but it’s also just fun. And afterwards, you know, they’re, they’re clapping and hooting and hollering, and all of a sudden now they have more energy and are feeling a lot better. And that’s, you know, that’s where, that’s why we love what we do.

Transition Music:
[Transition music plays]

Patience:
Let’s talk about overall goals of music and peacebuilding.

Benjamin:
Yeah, these are just some that come to mind at the top of the list. There would be of course, um, others, but, uh, the first is just creating common ground. And so this idea of having a shared experience, a shared music making, um, and others who do incorporate storytelling and just getting to know each other, um, building relationship really is, is part of it. And what it allows also is, is building some social capital, which takes time. Um, but if, you know, you really do need some of that to work at transforming any conflict or that kind of thing. And so that’s, that’s really the role that this music can have. And, um, and sort of along with that in common ground is, is realizing the shared humanity. Like what, what this experience of, you know, I’ve seen some groups of youth from diverse backgrounds, um, sitting together in an orchestra and they’re working on, uh, one thing at one time I saw they were working on Beethoven’s fifth symphony and, uh, violins often share stands. It’s common to have two musicians with one stand and having an Arab and a Jew, uh, sitting together with a shared stand and, you know, just sort of struggling with the same passage of music on their violin and realizing, Oh, like, yeah, we, we both have this same shared experience, this shared humanity. Um, and so that’s so important. It’s so powerful that music can do group music can do, um, in creating common ground. So that’s sort of one thing, the other huge thing that, um, was a big focus of my research too, is, was building empathy and this idea of, of, um, role in music making, but also in peacebuilding, um, and building empathy has done in many ways, um, uh, yeah, starting with just being self-aware. So building self-awareness, um, but also then sharing experiences, sharing narrative experiences, um, to help others understand their context. Um, it’s, uh, it’s built in validation of others and, and so music making can really help with those. Um, and in fact, studies show that music making together can help build, or excuse me, help overcome perceptions of dissimilarity and to accept then to, to work towards accepting other’s differences. Um, and that ties into the common ground part really too, um, and it’s also about building anti-oppressive competencies. So some of the things that the, um, that the Jerusalem youth chorus especially worked toward was, um, being aware of each other’s identities and, and the privileges they’re in, um, who’s included, who’s excluded by doing certain activities or by saying certain things. And by being aware of that by, by recognizing the humanity or others’ experiences, um, in those contexts, in those situations is huge towards building empathy, um, of, of those who otherwise you wouldn’t have known about, or didn’t realize, um, how different the power structures and levels were. Um,

Patience:
I like this line where you said two sides of empathy are emotional contagion that is more feeling spaced and catching the emotions of others and the intellectual side of empathy, putting yourself in another situation intellectually.

Benjamin:
Right. So, yeah, in, in research on empathy, there’s sort of these two components, two sides of a coin, the emotional contagion, um, is, is that part that you sort of catch that emotion. Um, it can be contagious, uh, you know, like when someone’s laughing uncontrollably and you can’t help, but just laugh because they’re like, I have no idea what’s so funny, but I guess I’m going to laugh. Um, and then, uh, the intellectual side is, is really where you’re, where you’re trying to learn and think and put yourself in someone’s shoes and what must, what that must be like. And that’s a bit harder, um, conceptually to teach, but, um, it’s, you gotta practice it to get better at it. So, yeah. And then another goal I would say would, um, uh, especially related to, to the research of where I focus is creating conditions for constructive dialogue. Um, dialogue is huge. It’s so important. And so how do we teach listening? How do we teach listening to understand, uh, you know, we have classes on reading on writing on speech, um, but we don’t really have classes on listening and it’s so important. Um, so it’s not dialogue is not, you know, debate. It’s not waiting until the other, person’s finally done talking so that you can say, uh, so you can say your piece. Um, but it’s really, it’s, it’s understanding it’s finding commonalities. What is, uh, you know, I like to ask what’s really at the root or the heart of what they’re saying, because sometimes it’s not, um, right there on the surface, you have to think, well, what’s sort of behind this, that that is manifesting in what they’re saying and where are maybe their needs not being met, that that is leading to this. And so then that sort of feeds into the, uh, the final goal that I wrote was sort of meeting the needs and breaking cycles of oppression. So, um, and this is some of the work that these organizations are especially doing in high conflict areas. So, you know, bringing people together in the place of safety. And so that takes a lot of intentionality, a lot of careful planning and facilitation, um, where they can share experiences, bring themselves to feel like they can tell stories, make music, um, because really it’s a vulnerable act, especially singing. Um, singing really is a vulnerable act because we are using a part of our body, right. That you don’t really have, uh, you can’t change it very well. Like if you don’t like your voice, there’s only so much you can do. And so if you share your voice with someone and you’re afraid, they don’t like it, that’s a vulnerable thing. Like, it’s, it’s another thing to just play a violin. The violin is external. Yes, you’re using your body to play it and you’re using your gifts to play it. But at the end of the time, you can set it down and it’s no longer a part of you, but you can’t do that with your voice it’s embodied. So it’s really vulnerable. And that’s, that’s why safety is so important. Um, especially, you know, as we talk in music education, and especially in the choral world and, and how you create a classroom culture, and those kinds of things, safety is important toward, um, bringing one’s self to be able to sing or make music. So, and then in, in doing that, then, um, you’re looking at what are the needs of the people here? How are they being met or not, and is anyone hindering the need of another? And so, in a sense by definition, right, this is nonviolence. And, and how does it have the ability then to break those, um, those hindrances of needs or break those cycles?

Patience:
Yeah. As he was saying that I was thinking, I mean, as you say about, you know, the safety that people need to feel and the connection to breath, because when we don’t feel safe, we breathe in a very shallow manner. And the little that I know about music is that it’s a lot about breath control and being able to do that. And so how does that, how do you all bring, um, trauma awareness to such spaces so that people are actually able to work with their breath in a way that they can control it and sing? You know what I mean?

Benjamin:
Yeah. Oh, absolutely. That’s, that’s awesome. Um, so yeah, and, and that is especially, um, huge in the choral world because of the connection of breath and singing, obviously it breath is singing. Um, and so, uh, yeah, warmups often include breathing exercises and being aware of one’s breath and, and the, the, um, you know, where we are taking the breath, is it really shallow and up high? You know, that’s, that’s not as good because you’re not really feeling the breath and your, um, but I’d say the other way that that connects to all music really is that we talk about how can you do it in a way with the least amount of tension. And so, um, because anything you play or sing or do, if there’s tension, it’s not as great technique, um, it will hinder your playing at some point, even if you could at least play a little bit, or you do something for some level.

Patience:
You mean tension in the body?

Benjamin:
Yeah, yeah. In particular tension in your body, physical embodied tension. And so we try to find ways of, you know, cause sometimes like playing a flute or a violin or cello, they’re not necessarily, um, it doesn’t always feel great depending on how you’re moving your body. And so you want to find ways to play that fit with your body to, to release the most amount of tension possible. Um, and so that’s connected, I think a bit too, um, uh, especially the, the tension and breath component that you were talking about in trauma awareness. But also then I would say in, um, how we design and create a classroom culture or an ensemble culture, um, and activities and other things that are around and musicians without borders talks about these in terms of five, um, sort of five key concepts or words, uh, being safety, inclusion, equality, and then creativity and quality. And so those first three safety inclusion and inequality are I think really getting at, um, creating a space where, um, where folks can start to shed some of that and bring, um, bring themselves in a vulnerable way, knowing that, um, at least we’re going to try to be without judgment or where, where folks are on a similar level. And so I would also add them to those five, um, accessibility because, um, traditionally music and just even, um, obtaining instruments, you know, it’s, it’s a, it’s a challenge for many. And so how do we in music education or in bringing people together for me is like, um, create a more accessible world, um, for it. How can they access access it? And then also just diversity in general, how do our students see themselves represented in repertoire? You know, the composers that were being used, the soloists were showing are bringing in guest speakers, guests, uh, you know, things like that. Um, so I would just sort of add those, but all of that, I think relates to, to your question there.

Patience:
Feelings of safety within music. Yeah.

Transition Music:
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Patience:
Let’s cover a bit about this new program at EMU. Um, what are people talk us through? So a student signs up for it, this coming fall, how do they go through it in four years? What do they learn? What do they gain? What do they produce and all that talk us through it.

Benjamin:
So, um, I would be working with them as their advisor. And, um, so generally speaking on the, the, the foundational curriculum that they’d be doing, it’s, it’s an interdisciplinary program. And so they would be having a sort of core set, um, a foundational set of music courses, and then also from peacebuilding and development, but then throughout each year, we’d be setting goals and projects for them to be working on, um, that would be leading toward what they are envisioning for their career or their interests, their post-grad, uh, goals. And because really this can take a lot of forms. It’s not just leading into music education or something. It’s also, um, there are a lot of nonprofits and perhaps adding in more nonprofit management types of things or entrepreneur, uh, business classes, um, psychology, anthropology, sociology. I mean, there’s so much.

Patience:
There’s science, I think you’re having a guest coming to campus soon, right?

Benjamin:
Yes. Yeah. And we’ve had a couple students actually interested in music and neuroscience, and there’s so much fascinating research and things being done in that field. Um, and it’s not unrelated to music and peacebuilding as, as those theories and, you know, how does the brain work? How do people work? Um, and how, how does knowing that influence, um, how we interact then? Um, and so, yeah, so understanding what a student is interested in, in, in that way will help us then, uh, it would help me advise on how to, uh, add electives or do these projects that we do outside of the official courses and things. And also in between at this point, you know, we didn’t add many new courses yet. And so I would add sort of unofficial things like colloquiums and trainings and things like that. I did with musicians without borders and going into the community and trying them out. Like we would be doing that through the, throughout the program. And then that would, um, sort of lead them to in their final year, they would be doing a practicum or an internship anyways, with the peacebuilding and development, uh, sort of program. Exactly. And they would choose something within that to help integrate these techniques and concepts that we’re working on. So there’d be that applied practicum, but then also, um, a senior capstone project. And so that would be the combination of the things that we’ve been working on, especially in more of the unofficial channels along the way, but also like, so what can we do that is, um, within the world of your interests and what you hope to be doing hopefully next year, if you’re a senior, you know, how can we integrate that and give you a great experience in that as well as the portfolio of what you’ve been working on, you know, website development, you know, that sort of self-branding kinds of things. So, um, yeah, it’s a really the ideas for it to be quite tailored because it’s, it’s, it’s a broad thing that can have a lot of reach in different avenues, depending on a student’s passion or vocation.

Patience:
Um, yeah, as we get here toward the end, I am curious for you to speak into the Southern African term “ubuntu,” which is I am because you are, and you have it here as, uh, in relation to ensemble music and how it can help to facilitate better music and better dialogue. You’ve probably touched on this a bit, but you want to talk a little bit more about it?

Benjamin:
Sure. Yeah. In so many words, right. Uh, um, yeah, and I, I love this term and it gets used in a number of, um, places and, um, but it really helps I think to just give one word, um, to, uh, yeah, referring to our shared humanity, our interconnection, um, and you know, it’s, it really is a beautiful thing. And I, and many other ensemble directors in particular really use this concept, um, often without the word. Um, but where we think about ensembles, um, not just as, uh, you know, we come together and everybody tries to add something to it, but really that this is like, we are making one thing, you know, how to, and acquire, how do we try to blend our voices and move together? And same thing with an orchestra and a lot of ways, you know, every person makes up that specific makeup, you know, you won’t ever have that exact type of group the next year or whatever, like that is the, the tapestry of the time. And so every person’s part is important and then it creates something that’s even more beautiful than its individual parts. And so it’s, it’s a lot of, um, you know, it’s that concept building of, uh, that, that is, especially in our context, maybe not as intuitive where it’s, where, you know, we think of ourselves pretty individualistically and how do we, how do we, uh, how do we help to, to shift that paradigm a bit toward this, um, togetherness towards this, when we do something that affects the whole kind of a thing. Um, and so that’s why I really like that. Um, yeah, like a good example is, um, there are some times that, like, if I’m trying to maybe speed something up, like we’re getting a little slow in a, in a piece and I’m trying to help move the group along. And, um, there’s one person who’s like immediately following me getting faster, but the whole rest of the group is together, but just a little bit slower. And so often my phrase is, you know, it’s better to be together than to be right. And, and that, that’s hard for some especially certain personalities. Right. I was like, no, I was with you. I was the right one. And so that’s a good point. You know, that’s usually where I also talk about, you know, let’s look up a little bit more from our music so we can try to stay together, but, but also I would still rather in the end us to have stayed together. And so, um, it’s an interesting, that’s often an interesting sort of learning moment.

Patience:
Um, so Ben, what’s your spiritual resonance of music and how does it influence your meaning-making in life and how you approach life or even just, you know, navigate the ups and downs.

Benjamin:
Yeah. Um, I mean, it’s that, it’s at the core and the foundation of it all, I would say. Um, it’s what, um, it’s some of the first experiences I had was, you know, in, in terms of, um, leading music and, um, the start of some of, um, what I learned about that there can be philosophy behind how we do music and that kind of thing that really happened in the church. Uh, for me, at least, um, around, you know, thinking about what a role of a, of a music leader or worship leader is and how, um, how important that responsibility is of, of, you know, it’s not, we are not the, the, um, the stand in for the people who goes and faces God. We are a, a helpful, um, mechanism to bridge the congregation to God, to help facilitate, um, that experience. And so that’s, uh, that’s been an important image for me. Um, and so really it’s also, it’s still what I do, whether I say it or not in different contexts in ensemble music, it’s, um, I, I have felt called to, um, bring people together to make music and how that those experiences then can help create, uh, people who better understand others or who are willing to understand others or meet new people or do new things. And, um, and yeah, I think that led to, you know, as I was trying to think about what dissertation research, I think that led to like, hmm, I think there might be something here. And so I think all along the way, my spirituality has been a part of guiding me through this and where I have ended up going and how I’m ended up here at EMU and now this program. And so, yeah, it’s, it’s pretty fundamental to what I do.

Transition Music:
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Patience:
All right. Um, I don’t have anything else. Is there anything you would like to cover or talk about that we haven’t covered in this hour?

Benjamin:
So, um, I studied a lot of different groups when I was doing literature review and just interest in, um, groups that are using music in ways that are combined with, you know, facilitated dialogue or other, um, peace building efforts. And there are in fact, quite a lot of groups doing this, which is an awesome thing. Um, but the two in particular that I looked at, um, the Jerusalem youth course and polyphony foundation, uh, both specifically, um, bring youth together, uh, to make music and with an element of professionally facilitated dialogue. So the Jerusalem youth course is based in Jerusalem and they bring on Arab and Jewish youth, Jewish youth together, um, in Jerusalem, so Jerusalem and East Jerusalem. And they sing in a choir, they, during COVID, they’ve made virtual choirs. They, uh, create their own songs and, um, all kinds of things. And then also and, you know, it’s, it’s combined with, um, music classes and those kinds of things, but also they have some, um, professional facilitators on staff who, who go through sessions of dialogue with these youth to help them have conversations, tell stories, tell about themselves and help them understand what is happening in our community in our context, how do we think about this? How do we, how do we have conversations together, um, when they don’t otherwise maybe interact in other situations because they are more separated in their general, uh, communities and contexts. And then, uh, similarly the polyphony foundation is, um, not choral based, but instrumental. So they do, um, orchestra type, uh, activities and things. And they’re a music school in Nazareth, Israel, um, and the founder Nabeel Aboud Ashkar was a part of, uh, early on, um, when the West Eastern Divan orchestra formed. And that was like a, it’s a really quite amazing orchestra, but built up of, of youth from around the world. And especially the middle East who work with a professional concert pianist and conductor, Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said. And so they have amazing conversations and things. So anyways, Nabeel was a part of that and he’s like, wow, this is amazing. How do I bring it to a level that’s more appropriate for community? Bring it back to my hometown Nazareth, where he’s from and improve the quality of the music education there. So they, they, they worked with the, um, the ministry of education to create a music curriculum that was not very well established, uh, before that to, uh, go into the schools and teach music, music, appreciation, give public concerts, and then help build a conservatory in Nazareth and also another, uh, town, a coastal town of Jafa, and then, uh, have an orchestra for these students to play in. And so then they have these seminars, they call them a scholar in residence seminars, where the students from several different towns come together. So Arabs and Jews oftentimes come together and create music together and, uh, have conversations again, professionally facilitated dialogue. Um, and then they have these concerts after these seminars, uh, with these groups and the, um, the surrounding community can come and see it. And that is such a powerful thing because it’s these youth coming together as, uh, in ways that otherwise doesn’t happen.

Patience:
It doesn’t have to be organic.

Benjamin:
It doesn’t happen organically right. In, in just normal sort of day to day living. And they can see this and witness it. And that is a really powerful thing that they can do, not just in the lives of the youth who are experiencing it, but for those who it’s starting to plant some seeds. Um, so yeah, so those were the two groups that I went to Israel research and have, um, learned quite a bit about,

Patience:
And your exposure to this all began by just going on a cross-cultural and EMU cross-cultural to the middle East. Is that how it all began?

Benjamin:
Essentially. Yeah. Um, where, you know, we spent a lot of time trying to learn and hear stories about, about people’s contexts there and, and, uh, and how messy it gets, the more you learn. And, and, um, and so, yeah, I, I had sort of kept this affinity toward, um, wanting to learn more about, uh, how music was used in those contexts and then how people within those contexts are trying to use music to enact positive social change. And one other group, actually that I learned about through my research, but then also reconnected with just a couple of weeks ago is called heartbeat. And they are an organization similar, uh, in a lot of ways, uh, to Jerusalem youth course where they’re bringing youth together, storytelling, making music, having conversations, and they’re based, um, especially in Jerusalem, but also in the U.S. They’re really trying to, um, develop their program, uh, in the United States. And so, uh, I spoke with them a little while ago that one of their staff members, um, had taken some classes with CJP, center for justice and peacebuilding. And, um, and so she sort of knew about the Shenandoah Valley and her name is Miriam Sycus. Um, and so, yeah, we, we talked with the, also the founder of heartbeat and they’re interested in, in sort of writing some pilot programs in the U.S. Um, doing similar work as what they do in Jerusalem, but just in different contexts. And, and so we talked and we’re going to be developing a pilot program, this, uh, hopefully starting this summer, but in the area with, um, high school aged youth, uh, to come together in. Cause I mean, wherever, there are people there are conflict and ability for dialogue. And so, um, you know, uh, they they’re interested in, in not just staying in Jerusalem, but, uh, that, so we’re really excited about that opportunity to, um, pilot, a program here as well, to, to collaborate in that program.

Patience:
So what is musical empathy?

Benjamin:
Yeah. Musical empathy, uh, is, is quite related to general empathy. Um, and it has similar sort of the two sides of a coin that musical empathy, um, you know, the it’s, it’s the understanding of the affective and cognitive components, uh, to empathy, but they’re perceived through the music through the sonic quality of the music. And so this is evidenced through the feature, the feature of music where someone can understand it to be, you know, happy sounding or sad or triumphant. And so music can tap into, uh, parts of the brain that mirror those emotions, and it can even release, uh, dopamine, you know, one of those pleasure hormones, um, and aid in the general empathic response. And so, yeah, it has this, this, the contagious side, the emotional contagion component, as well as the intellectual, um, side where studies even show that, um, it had two groups of children, um, that played games. One was a control group without musical interaction in those games. And one was, um, with musical interaction and the group with musical interaction displayed evidence through their, um, metrics and evaluation of greater emotional empathy, than the control group. Um, and, uh, there’s a quote that I love from, uh, Johann Galton, uh, that says good art is like good peace, always challenging art and peace are both located in the tension between emotions and intellect. And, and he says, this is a false dichotomy. Art like peace has to overcome such false dichotomies by speaking both to the heart and to the brain, to the compassion of the heart and constructions of the brain. And maybe that’s where art and peace really find each other and interconnect most deeply, they both address both human faculties, end quote.

Patience:
Okay. Thank you so much, Ben. This has been such a joy. Thank you for being here and for making the time. It’s great.

Benjamin:
Thank you for the honor and privilege of, of being a part of this it’s it was a lot of fun. It was have a good morning. Alrighty. You as well. All right, bye bye. Bye

Patience:
Dr. Benjamin Bergey’s the author of music and hospitality creating a culture of welcome through music. An article in leader magazine summer 2020. He’s also author of building peace through music, article 11 in the Gill ism review volume four, number two in the fall of 2018. He is also the author of transforming conflict about music also in leader magazine in the summer of 2018. And finally, before we close, some of you may remember that we here at CJP had to postpone our plan 25th anniversary celebrations last summer, due to the COVID pandemic. We invite you to join us to our virtual 25 plus one celebrations on June 4th, fifth, and sixth, Benjamin Bergey will prepare the music for the weekend’s events for more details on all the events and how to register. Please go to emu.edu/cjp/anniversary. We hope you can join us.

Outro music:
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Patience:
All the music you hear on this podcast has been composed by the one and only Luke Mullet. Our audio mixing engineer extratrordinair is Steven Angelo, and I’m the podcast executive producer, audio recording engineer editor, and host patients come out. As you are able, please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast so that other peacebuilders may find it. We’ll be back with a new episode in two weeks. Thanks so much for listening and join us again next time.

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2 comments on “17. Music and Peacebuilding”

  1. Elena Huegel says:

    Today, while listening, I was finally able to paint again… And the subject was very inspiring! YES, we need to give musicians and artists the tools to become aware that they are peacebuilders and healers.

  2. Alice Paker says:

    This is a wonderful new course of study. I'm convinced that music brings people together in a unique way. It can overcome the most stubborn barriers between people, and help them to communicate in a way that is most ideally human..

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