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A preview of the opening letter:
Ensembles and Individuals–Folk Arts Can Connect Us All
This past weekend I had the opportunity to play music with others. After the prolonged time of isolation, to be together in an ensemble proved meaningful. But as many of us have noticed in our schools, museums, and community spaces, being together is also hard for some. It takes time to learn how to be together again. Perhaps clues can be found in our traditions that have bolstered group and community identities across time.
In one wind ensemble in which I was playing as a substitute, I noticed that many musicians were struggling to play well together. They had not rehearsed for a week because of spring break and had only been back together very recently because of COVID restrictions. Rhythm and intonation were stretched in multiple directions, leading to a group feel that was thin and unfocused. The conductor kept pulling out the metronome, looking for an impartial arbiter of the many tempos, if not a magical lasso, to bring us together.
As the rehearsal ended, a group of the trumpets stood off to the side, their stands and the concert music pushed aside. The sound of mariachi soon filled the room. Lively, rhythmic, and joyous–soon other members of the group stopped to listen, clap, and join in the moment and the music. The pitchiness was gone, and tentative entrances were replaced by soaring notes.
I believe that it is no coincidence that our rehearsal and performance just 15 hours later showcased a transformed ensemble. Of course, there were places where we all could grow as musicians, but as a group, we were stronger. That moment of traditional music forged connections that informed subsequent playing.
How can we create more opportunities for students and learners of all ages to strengthen their own cultural identities that connect them in multiple, meaningful ways to their various, diverse folk groups, their cultural communities? And how might these connections strengthen our capacity for connection to each other and the world?
~Lisa Rathje, Executive Director