Season 2: Ep. 4: Collaboration, Belonging, and Dignity in Choral Contexts with Renae Timbie: Compassionate Music Teaching Part 3/3
This podcast explores notions of dignity, home, identity and collaborative music making with Renae Timbie.
As the third and final podcast in a series on Compassionate Music Teaching, Karin Hendricks writes that Renae Timbie has an “instinctual ability to connect deeply with people no matter who they are, and no matter their worldview.”
This podcast enters that conversation with Timbie, exploring her work with multicultural and refugee choirs and the search for home and identity across diverse cultures.
Renae Timbie holds a Doctor of Arts in choral conducting at Ball State University and has worked as the full-time worship director at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Muncie, Indiana and she has worked as visiting instructor of music at the American University in Cairo, Egypt as well as positions at Taylor University, Ball State University, and Boston University. She currently lives with her husband in Greece where she directs a multicultural choir that combines students of many different nationalities. Her teaching and research interests include the relationship of music and culture, music in social justice, and collaborative learning in choral education.
1. This podcast explores Timbie’s search for home and belonging in a childhood that had many homes. How do we cultivate musical spaces of home and belonging for children who are also searching?
2. Timbie frequently uses the metaphor of a bridge in thinking of music and her teaching. What are the metaphors that drive your philosophy of peacebuilding and teaching practice?
3. We often believe that dignity can be given or taken away. How does our approach to dignity change when we, as Donna Hicks notes, believe that dignity is intrinsic and unconditional? What are the core dignity violations that our children face?
4. What role does music play in affirming and enlivening dignity? What teaching practices might best affirm dignity?
5. Timbie is committed to a “subversive” approach to collaboration that challenges our hierarchical models of music education. Where might new practices of collaboration strengthen student voice, creativity, and critical thinking in musical practice? How is this accomplished in large ensembles? In small ensembles?
6. Reflecting on the five music educators with Suzuki that are profiled in this Compassionate music teaching series, what are the compassionate approaches and practices that resonate most with your own teaching practice? What does “compassionate” mean in the context of teaching?
Hendricks, K. S. (2018). Compassionate music teaching: A framework for motivation and engagement in the 21st century. Rowman & Littlefield Press.
Hicks, D. (2013). Dignity: Its essential role in resolving conflict. Yale University Press.
Hicks, D. (2019). Leading with Dignity: How to create a culture that brings out the best in people. Yale University Press.
Shorner-Johnson (2016). The heroic justice of grammatical and stylistic decisions. https://sowingtheseed.org/2016/03/21/the-heroic-justice-of-grammatical-and-stylistic-decisions/
Dr. Donna Hicks on Dignity
Story of the Sonbola Choir
The Danger of a Single Story
TimbiePodcast - 3:29:21, 9.36 PM
Mon, 3/29 9:42PM • 54:40
music, refugee, choir, dignity, students, people, karin, greece, peacebuilding, practices, choral, university, lives, kids, compassionate, performance, culture, thinking, identity, connect
Karin Hendricks, Renae Timbie, Kevin Shorner-Johnson
Renae Timbie 00:01
Music gives us something that we can strive for us. Music gives us something that is outside of our nitty gritty every day. And the things that we think define us. So for a refugee, they are everyday reminded that they have no home that they have to fight to survive. They have to fight for their kids. So every day is a struggle and they have to choose to get up every day and fight for their dignity.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 00:36
You were listening to the music and peacebuilding podcast, a professional development network at music peacebuilding .com, exploring intersections of peace building, sacredness, community, creativity and imagination through research and story.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 00:53
Renae Timbie, holds a doctor of arts and choral conducting at Ball State University, and has worked as the full time worship director at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Muncie, Indiana, and she has worked as visiting instructor of music at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, as well as positions at Taylor University, Ball State University and Boston University. She currently lives with her husband in Greece, where she directs a multicultural choir that combined students of many different nationalities. Her teaching and research interests include the relationship of music and culture, music in social justice, and collaborative learning in choral education. We first turn to commentary from Dr. Karin Hendricks on Renae Timbie.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 01:46
Interviewing Renae Timbie about empathy is like asking a fish about water. She has a keen and instinctual ability to connect deeply with people, no matter who they are, and no matter their worldview. Timbie's sense of empathy, openness and hospitality has propelled her work as a choral director in university, church and community settings. And most recently, in her teaching of Syrian refugee children. She regularly engages students in collaborative group work, even in standard choral rehearsals. She provides choir members with opportunities to engage in small groups to examine and challenge assumed rehearsal and performance practices based on the cultural knowledge they glean together about the repertoire they perform. Then, after students have studied a particular musical culture well enough to situate their performance in context, she provides an opportunity for them to challenge traditional performance approaches, and design new ways to more empathically connect with that particular culture through performance. As a result, she cannot always predict how a performance might end up. However, she can count on it being meaningful.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 03:07
Renae Timbie described herself as growing up as a third culture kid growing up in Egypt is the daughter of missionaries and finishing high school in France. She then moved to Indiana to study music at a small private Christian College, falling in love with conducting in her senior year, Renae then moved to New York City, where she continued to wrestle with notions of identity and home.
Renae Timbie 03:33
Two years, I think off two and a half years off, and I moved to New York City, where I was just working at Starbucks and Rockefeller Center and singing in a gospel choir, which then was, ended up being another part of my education. And realizing within those years as I was processing and saying, okay, what's what am I gonna do music and at the same time processing this, this passion and uncomfortableness about being away from the Middle East. And so, you know, as I was figuring out the music side, I was again figuring out the identity side of really missing the Middle East, and people would come up speakers would come to your university and from Jordan and from Lebanon, and from Egypt, and I would be sobbing. And my, my, the question inside of me, and that I would ask mentors is, is this because it's something I need to pursue? Or is it just because it's home? And so those were, these were the two sides that I was processing as I was finishing University and, and thinking about the world and again, when I went to a private Christian university, it was very out of the world of America. So I felt, you know, I was kind of tucked away in one little corner of America and I felt I hadn't ever fully lived. To understand what means to be an American. You know, so those years in New York City was really great. I saw America in New York City and But by the end of that time, I realized this desire to pursue higher education music in higher education was very strong. And I don't know exactly where it was leading. But I knew I wanted to study more and I needed to study more.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 05:14
Renae began a master's and doctorate at Ball State University, where she credits Karin Hendricks informing ideas about education and teaching and notions of music as a form of communication and connection. As she returned to Egypt, her search for a sense of home continued. Renae also leaned into notions that music might be a bridge to people.
Renae Timbie 05:41
As I was finishing up my doctorate that my coursework is when I came across this job opening a sabbatical replacement position in Cairo at the American University of Cairo. So I kind of put things on hold, and went for a semester. And it was fantastic. I thought, This is what I'm going to do the rest of my life, I speak Arabic, I get to be back in my home country in a new way, as an academic, I was teaching like seven classes or something like that, in the semester, but it was, it was, it was so life giving, it was hard, but it was life, give me that this, this is the combination of the Middle East, academics, music and making a difference. And a big part of that as well was Egypt at that time, this was in 2014, was just coming out of the Arab Spring. So the word revolution was being used every day, several times a day. That's how kind of we were referring to it. SiSi, who's now the president was the temporary president at the time, and when I was there, when he was elected, so everything was very much in flux. People were grieving, everybody knew someone who had been shot or killed. And safety was different than when I had grown up there, the level of safety and comfort that you feel just walking the streets. So during that time, as well, that was, you know, music was such an opportunity to discuss how are we feeling even about revolution? How are we feeling about our grief? What do we do now that we've experienced this thing that's changed really, our lives. And this was mostly with the university students. And it was it was it was really, for me moving I felt like, again, here is music. This is something I, I referenced so much is, music is just a bridge. Music is a way to, to be able to get us to go deeper. And I'm not a psychiatrist and a therapist. But for me, music is a bridge to people. And so it you know, began things working in my mind, I love that place to be in that place as a music educator, that gives you access to people, not just your students, but to your audience in a different way. I finished that time. And then I came back to the United States to finish my doctorate, write my dissertation. And as I finished and I was working full time, as a, as a music director at a church, as I was finishing and applying for jobs and looking at the you know, the jobs in universities, the United States, I was again, feeling that very uncomfortable that I was feeling when I finished my undergrad and thought, Okay, I know I love teaching. I know I love music education, I'm in a good place where, you know, I love being with university students and, and, and shaking things up maybe a little bit every now and then. But I wasn't feeling comfortable as I looked at these jobs. And I thought I just don't think this is for me, academia right now, as I was doing this, a former mentor, my undergraduate choral director, called me, and this was August of 2006 16. And she said, Renee, I just want you to know, I'm taking the university, the the audition, the top choir, the chamber choir, to Greece. And she's done this several times, taking them on a tour, they tour, they sing, but this time, it's a little bit different. We're going to go, we're gonna do tour, but then we're going to also work in refugee camp. And and during that time, we're going to go in and out of the camp. And the goal is to put together a kid's choir that would sing with us at a final concert. And she said, You know, there's a I don't know much about the refugees, but I know they're mostly Syrian, and I even had to look up what language Syrians speak. And she said, I found out it's Arabic. I know you speak Arabic. You're a choral conductor, would you consider coming? So I took about 30 seconds and then I turned around so yep. I think I think this is right. So it was at a really great time. As I was thinking what do I What am I doing with all these things of who I am and and so in March 2017 I came to Greece for the first time with the with this group. And there was also a group of actors as well from the university who came. So it was a little bit of a larger group. And during the week and a half that we were here, we toured around, we sang. But then we also went in and out of this one specific refugee camp, and, and tried to teach them a song, just one song. And
Renae Timbie 10:30
it was a Dona Nobis Pacem arrangement, very simple. But we go in and this was a couple years ago, the situation is a little bit different now in Greece, but the kids are jumping off of buildings, I mean, of the little huts that are there in this in this camp. I mean, there's no sense of order, there's no I mean, just to get them to notice that we want to do something, it's a whole, you know, nother level and, and so we went in, and I again find myself in a place where I have a skill set that is very unique to the situation where I can communicate because I speak Arabic. And I have and I love to teach, and I love to use music. And so it was very difficult. I mean, again, I wasn't used to working with little kids either. But over the week, we slowly got them to figure out how to even just sit, how to copy. You know, my, my mentor, she was on the keyboard, and she has, you know, five or six kids hanging off of her she's trying to, she's trying to play I'm trying to lead. So by the end of that week, we brought these kids out of the camp into a community center where we this the university choir was performing. So but we brought them out and their parents out. And so we had this, you know, the kids don't even really realize what we were doing until they were on this makeshift stage. And there were lights and cameras on them. And they see their parents come in on these chairs to watch them. And all of a sudden, they were very much paying attention. And I just I will always remember this little kid says looks at me goes they're coming to hear us? You know, and it was it was this huge pride that swelled, you know that it was not by any means the most beautiful music you will ever hear. But not only were the kids so proud, but their parents were so proud. They had something where their their kids were just normal kids who had accomplished something. And it was meaningful. And it was they didn't care about the university choir, they don't want to hear them sing. They wanted to hear them sing over and over again. And so for me that I thought, Okay, this is it. This I don't know what this is gonna turn into. And I have no, I still don't really know what it's gonna turn into. But I left there. I talked with the staff here who had hosted us during that time. And, and I said, What would it look like if I came full time.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 12:58
Since that time, Renae has lived in Greece for two years, where she has led a weekly youth choir. That is a combination of nationalities, Greek, American, Syrian, and other nationalities. Renae led this choir in a pre pandemic reality. I want to go to that Dona Nobis Pacem moment and kind of work from there a little bit. So that quote is in Dr. Hendricks book. And at the end of that, quote, you had said, I have it written right here. This is what they're singing, Give us peace as you introduce Dona Nobis Pacem. And then it says, while one of the directors was conducting one of the kids was hanging on her arms that she conducted with her all week. And the kid looked at her and said, You came here for us. It just kind of dawned on her after this whole week of being with her. She asked you came all this way for us here. You did this for us. It says music is the easy avenue that we have to connect with others is just such an easy tool to bring dignity to bring value to another person. Can you talk about value voice and dignity and what you've experienced as a choral conductor about the magic of of music, enlivening? dignity and enlivening voice?
Renae Timbie 14:15
Yeah, I think there's a there's a lot of, there's a lot of things we can say about that. I'll speak specifically, you know, with what what I'm seeing since from that instance, then with refugees, is that music, music gives us something that we can strive for music gives us something that is outside of our nitty gritty, every day that we're working on, it's outside, it can be outside of our to do list, and our problems and, and the things that we think define us. So for a refugee, they are Every day reminded that they have no home, that they have to fight to survive, they have to fight for their kids. And so every day is a struggle, and they have to choose to get up every day, and fight for their dignity, if they choose to do it. And I think, especially again, with refugees, that as they're going through life and and fighting, and when they left their home countries, one thing that they didn't realize that they were going to lose probably was, their dignity was their identity, was their status in their community, was their status being known. And so when they are outside of that, or when any of us when we move, even, and nobody knows us anymore, and we have to rebuild ourselves now may not be to the extreme, of a refugee, who is really struggling to just say, I'm worthy. I'm a person, I'm not just a number. I'm not just someone who you don't understand, and has run away for different reasons and has fought for my life. But for any of us, I think that's something that we don't always, we can't always identify that that's something that is important. And that's an essential part of life, that having someone or something to acknowledge that you have dignity. I don't think we always process that I don't think we always are aware, we think, Okay, I gotta get clothes, I gotta get the essentials, I've got to get school, I need to have a passport, I need to have safety, you know, those things. So when you introduce music to a refugee with that kid, for example, it's this other side of being a human being that I don't think we always immediately think of as being a human being. So if that makes sense. So for music, I think that touches on that and reminds us music is not just, it's not just math. It's not I'm not, I'm not, you know, poking fun at math, but music touches on something deeper, that that is personal, first of all, but it also connects us to the collective, it connects us to a group so it can connect us to the group we grew up with, you know, the the culture that we grew up with, it can connect us to the the, the people that we are now it can remind us of how we grew up. So there's something that's invisible, that when we connect with music, it awakens in us, I believe it awakens in us, I am a person who has feelings, who has memories, who has significance, and music learning and music teaching specifically for the music teacher, that allows you, as the teacher to remind that of the people that you are with, just to remind them to say, your emotional side of who you are matters. The way that what you believe your your, your your value system matters. You haven't been lost in numbers, you're not just another student, you're not just, you know, trying to get through your degree. It says, you This is my way of wanting to connect with you and to remind you that that other part of you is important and needs to grow and needs to be acknowledged as an important part of being human. So for those that little boy going back to the or the I'm sorry, all the kids actually who are
Renae Timbie 18:44
I'm thinking about all these kids now in my mind who who have that their eyes awakened, you know, it was it was literally like this. Oh, what just happened? It's someone wants to listen to me. What? Someone cares about me? That's that that doesn't come across often because especially as a refugee, you're you're dirt you don't what do you have to offer you're just taking stuff from us. And you know, Okay, forget about your what you grew up with. forget forget about you know, your, your, the folklore that you grew up with, or the you know, the TV shows that you want to maintain or your family. listening to you in your heart and being heard and being remembered or being seen as a person individual. Music has allowed that to happen with so many. And again, not just refugees. I can see this too in university students I remember the university students that you're not just part of a non audition choir, that you have to take this class. This is an opportunity for your students to to examine, what do they believe in who they are? What is my voice? Is it valuable? How does it compare? actually to that person's voice i know i'm going in so many different directions i'm sorry but i just think you know music allows us to to sit for me alone allows me to say you know what i love this music and this music makes me come alive and i have something that i can communicate with this music so i can be heard and i'm it's good and right for me to be heard.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 20:31
i feel like there's there's at least two areas i want to reflect with you because i think this is something that have really been processing myself you know i think my very first research study that sent me down this path which i did almost 10 years ago i think was a research study down in Haiti and i had found the school where these these these kids were deciding to to start a band and as a music educator i'm i'm fascinated about when people decide to bring music into the school and why do they make that decision you know all in it was just a fascinating time but i got i got down there and i did i did an analysis of my data for three years i was told my analysis was completely wrong i started over did again it was it was a beautiful mistake because what i started learning in the third year of working on that data was that Haitians were tired of being cast by non governmental organizations as being the desperate helpless hopeless individuals and they they wanted the the recognition of the fullness of the dignity of who they were and some of the Haitians i would ask him what do you do music i said because it's beautiful like why else would you do music and then finally we opened it up and one said because when i put on the uniform and i walk through my through my town it makes my mother proud and and then i did some more research and found that people were sending facebook photos all across haiti and it was a different way of representing themselves to the world as being empowered fully empowered having an enormous sense of voice and somebody who is much more than a person who's in need of a financial gift exactly right
Renae Timbie 22:27
exactly right exactly right i you know i'm thinking of when we've done these winter arts camps with teenagers with youth you know these teenagers we're bringing them out of the camp to come to this conference center in the camp or in the town that surrounds the camp they are clearly refugees from afghanistan syria Iran wherever Pakistan when they come to this camp they're mixed in with the greeks and the americans and the romanians and all that stuff and they're youth again they're not the refugees and and i think even for for me and other stuff that i work with there's a struggle there that we don't want to make them feel like refugees you know but the first time we are i want to i think it's the second which arts camp but we we've we had pushed really hard you know because the concept of choir is so foreign to so many so many of these kids you know they've spent their whole lives just crossing countries you know but when they're with a group of just kids of just youth when we finished that concert there was no official bow they just started storming each other and hugging each other because they were so proud that they had something to offer, you know and and had like you said it has nothing to do with survival it has everything to do with the the they worked hard on something and they had something that they could give rather than begging for something over and over again and and it was something that people applauded it was something that you know I think even if people hadn't applauded they would have been so proud because there was me it gives meaning yeah it gives meaning and we talk about you know again the other aspect of music that i mean it's so basic but music is not just for performance sake but it's for us and so when we allow when we engage in music it allows us to to maybe even a little bit awaken and in to emotion or to what we believe or to the artistic and creative sides of us and so it allows for something else that the refugee kid is not thinking about you know they're on at most they're on video games on their little cell phones all day long and So there's there's this new side of them that they're reminded These feelings are good. And it is beautiful. And it's and it's okay. And it's great that we have something beautiful to offer. And that's and that's a big part of living a full life. To be able to have that voice to be able to feel proud and to have to have that dignity that I have something that this world needs and wants to hear that that isn't that isn't begging. And that isn't ugly. It's actually quite beautiful. And I like it and it feels good to me to you know, for the for the singer for the individual.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 25:43
Dr. Donna Hicks has written one of the most highly respected books on dignity within frameworks of peacebuilding and conflict transformation. Working from the frameworks of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Hicks notes that dignity cannot be given nor taken away. However, dignity can be violated, quote, we feel injuries to our dignity at the core of our being. They are a threat to the very essence of who we are, worse, the perpetrators get away with harming us, and the injuries usually go unattended. And if a child's dignity, quote, is violated more than it is honored, they will live in a constant state of doubt about their worth." When we combine the awe of reverence with dignity, reverence gives us the curiosity and awe to encounter each other as constellations of values, experiences, beliefs, actions and imaginations. Each star drawn to the next by the compassionate love of our mutuality. In holding each other transfixed, in a gaze, we might sense the awe of unconditional dignity.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 27:15
The second thing that I've been pushing my own students because I teach a course on ethnomusicology, and because of my peacebuilding heart, I always try to open the semester with a with a class on ethics, and the ethics of how we represent the other and how we listen to the other, learn about the other all those things. And one of the one of the projects I have my students do is, is take a look at grammar and style, because it's a writing intensive course. And what are the ethical dilemmas that we get into with grammar and style in writing? And I've often had my students work on the justice of nouns. This word refugee that we have in the English language, what does it mean to be identified solely by the worst moment in your life, like that, that's what that noun refugee does. It no longer identifies you as a father or a mother or Syrian and you're just refugee? And when does a person get to become a singer? When do they get to take that as a noun? I think that's that's one of the things that I think about a lot. And I also hear some parallels like with your own struggle for noun. Am I an Egyptian? Or I'm in America, yeah. That that struggle for the identity of the noun of who you are.
Renae Timbie 28:30
And I think, now for me personally, because as a TCK and as a struggle as my own identity, I think, every so often, I have to remind myself, these labels or these, yeah, these labels, they don't have to fit their kit. First of all, they can be temporary. But also, those are not the things that I that give me dignity, they're actually great things there. I mean, there's hard things about them, I can take the best of being Egyptian I can take the best of being an American, and I can be I take the best that I've now married a Syrian, I can take the best of adding Syrian into my family. So I but I'm also a musician, you know, I'm also I still have a doctorate. I also I love to decorate my house, you know those things. But I'm also a daughter, and I'm a sister and I'm an aunt, and those are just parts of who we are. So, you know, part of it is a refugee and I think my husband is a refugee, and he you know that that is a part of our story. So, it is a part of how we see the world, it is part of our individual culture. The problem becomes when we are only identified or we only identify ourselves as that. So for me, I every now and then struggle with, you know, when people hear you know, new people meet me I say, Well, I'm an American, and a little part of me dies every time I say that. I don't know, because I don't love United States. But because that I'm not proud of it. But because I know I'm their picture of what an American is, is not what I am because I had to learn to become an American, you know. And so it's right. When we say refugee, we immediately associate things with it. And we we can, we can picture their whole lives behind and before them, you know. But that's just a part of who they are. And they themselves often like we all do have accepted that as that is my only identity. But it's not all of who we are. And it doesn't mean that that's the permanent who we are. My husband won't always be a refugee, he won't always have that title associated with him, God willing, he won't always have that title associated with him. But it is a part of who he is. And it's a part of how he sees the world. And so it's a great thing. As long as we don't allow that to say that who, that's the price that you are that the value that you are, you are a refugee, so there's not so much that you can offer the world. And again, going back to music, and what I'm seeing, what I see is that music allows that to step away from that identity for a minute, or for whatever long, because, because it touches on Oh, wait, there's more to me than fighting for whatever I need, or what happened to me in the past. But I love that I love, I love we need to be careful with the words that we put on paper. And don't, don't get locked into. This is my understanding of what that word means. And so that comes with a whole bunch of assumptions. those assumptions might be wrong. If someone says, well, Renae is an American. So Renae knows all of these, you know, TV shows from the 80s and blah, blah, blah, because she grew up as an American, well I don't actually. So yeah, that's a silly example. But
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 31:56
Renae Timbie 31:57
but our titles are not our identity. And but it can be a part of our story. in a great way.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 32:04
Hendricks writes that, quote, musicians work in a field that lives breathes and dances in emotional states. aesthetic experience is parallel in many ways to that of empathy, where we either perceive what it must be like to be someone else, or in some cases, actually feel someone else's feelings as if they are our own. As I listened back to this segment, I listened to my language about refugee, and how easy it is for me to move to the all consuming danger of a single story, that labels and stereotypes, I challenge myself, to walk beside, to humanize, to collaborate. And I know that I must continue my investment in dignity affirming language, intentions, and relationships. With that, we turn to Timbie's, subversive collaboration.
Karin Hendricks 33:09
Timbie's collaborative, student-driven approach to learning choral repertoire is intentionally subversive. She has claimed that her approach aims to shift the authority of knowledge from the teacher to the learners, it challenges the long established hierarchy of teacher to student, her focus with collaborative learning, which one of her more traditional choral director colleagues called terrifying in the way that it usurps the authority of the baton. She simply calls compassion.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 33:44
So talk about collaboration, Dr. Hendricks cites you as really trying to think outside of some of the hierarchical models of music education that we have, and really a deep sense of search within you for models of music that, that have a shared voice and have a sense of collaboration in them. Can you talk about how you've come to that?
Renae Timbie 34:05
Yeah, and I think most most specifically, I mean, that's I wrote a dissertation on that. But getting there, I think, again, comes from all of these things that we've been talking about. Again, I, my, I don't know if it's because of how I grew up or, but my filter for music is music connects us to people, which means it connects us to culture. So as I was, as a graduate student was teaching choirs and even music appreciation classes, I was longing as a teacher to have more from the students to have more than we're not just going to sing these notes and refine our vowels and make sure we've got the best breathing techniques possible. You know, all those things are very important. We work very hard for that. But for me, that leaves music empty. I don't like performances, where I go as an audience member and i was like okay that's pretty, you know oh they you know their their interpretation was again that's great, but i want to be moved you know i want to be moved by music and as a singer i want to be moved by music as a conductor i want to be moved i want to and and as a conductor as a teacher i want music to connect me to the students and i want to be connected to the audience and i want the audience to be connected to this music so i was you know so it might just be my teaching style in general as i was teaching as a graduate student
Renae Timbie 35:40
i was trying to find ways where i can pull out more voice and opinion from the students that i can connect the students to the process of what we're doing in a way that i wanted to maybe was selfish in the way that i wanted to see music and i wanted them to digest music and perform music and so i had come across with Karin i'd come across collaborative learning in just education classes. But, actually this is this is the way that i want i want to engage with students especially at the university level i want i want to hear their voice but how do you do that in a large choir how do you how do you engage how do you engage the individual in a large choir we're really it's a dictatorship where the conductor's the dictator and you do what we say and please don't say anything else you know and it's it's challenging because we're dealing with time constraints and you have a performance that's coming or several performances that are coming so how do i allow the students to be a part of that. Collaborative learning really became a concept that i wanted to somehow introduce into a higher education setting so that means using small groups i like that i like using small groups for so many reasons especially what i like to do like to do is four or five in a group because it allows voices to be heard but we're not taking 80 voices at one time i like it because it engages the students with one another and it engages their minds a little bit more into what is it that we're doing, what is music, what is the specific music that we're doing? And especially you know this is this is probably the hardest but one of my desires was to say how can we make music become part of that critical thinking that that we want in higher education that i want you know i don't you know i've taught many many many music appreciation classes you know many freshmen many and i want more than just who was beethoven you know tell me when he died you know i want it especially in a performance class to, to have some critical thinking not just come in and see a bye. So in collaborative learning using small groups allows for some brains to turn on so where for me using collaboration what what what it comes to for me is i want to hear how the students are processing and how they see this music that we're performing but also to say okay beyond what how we see it what maybe was it supposed to be now we can't get we can't know those answers all the time and maybe there was no there's no rhyme and reason but i i want to say okay so if music if i believe truly, Renae if i believe that music is a reflection of people and culture and allows us to connect to people well that's one of the most beautiful important connections is to connect to people. So how do i get students to see that in the music that we're singing? we have them you know at least once a week in a performance, in a rehearsal so how do i how do i get them to see it so it's a messy process that i liked and it's never it's never for me and i've tried different things here with different groups as well to varying success and
Renae Timbie 39:19
and but i but i'm okay for me i'm okay with that i think artists should be messy i think they should be allowed to be messy so for for collaboration i want to hear how the student is processing the music and then ask them to think what context is this music supposed to be what context is this music born out of what context in what and how do you sit how can you see that how can you how can you talk about this music more than oh it's pretty and i was moved by it which is great but how do we see someone else's culture someone else's worldview through music whether it's the people in the room that we're collaborating with, or the culture that this was born out of. And we again, we can't always know those, but I like it. I like collaborating with students with outside artists with whatever I would whatever I can. Because, again, it allows us to question what is it that this music is communicating? What does it say about the value system of whoever created this music? And what does it say about my value system? Do I agree with this? Or I disagree with this? What is? What is Joe Bob, next to me Think about it? Oh, wait, you have this different point of view about it. Because you came from a different culture, you have a different value system. I was, I was thinking about this recently. I'm here in Greece, but I'm hearing things going on in the United States. And, and there's so much division and there's, and so many times, I just want to say, Can we just listen to each other? Okay, we just remember, we have dignity, like we've been talking about, right? You know, it's okay to have different opinions, it's okay to have different ideas, because we have different value systems. But what I like about doing collaboration, my experience, not always successful, but especially when I was doing it with, in higher education, was that it removes some threat when you're doing it with music. It's saying, Okay, here we have this bigger, we have this bigger goal that we want to perform this piece. And so we're going to examine someone else's worldview, we're gonna examine, okay, how do they communicate beauty? What What is beautiful to them? what's beautiful to you? And so, I mean, there was never a fight. There's never been a fight in any of my choral rehearsals, you know, of you can't believe that. And again, I'm not saying we're talking to the deepest levels of anything, but to say, Okay, what do you believe? What is your value system? What do you find beautiful? How do we communicate that? How do we how do we engage our audience? And if this is the message? How do we communicate that? And so, again, it, it touches on collaborating allows us to see people as people in all the diversity, I think collaborating helps, helps critical thinking. Because we're not just going in memorizing, we have to, we have to engage our brains. If someone's asked, if someone you know, again, I think Karin knows this about me. But if someone's asking you for more, there's more likely chance that they're going to give it to you that you're going to give it to them if you don't expect something different. You know, why would you do anything different when you go into choir rehearsal? So I love I love working really hard on music, and I and so don't get me wrong, I love I love many things about the traditional way that we teach music, because I love working towards excellence. I don't like shabby work, right? But I don't want to miss the the, the, the connection that we have with our students, or with our audiences that I think the audience wants, and I think the students want and I definitely want as a teacher, I don't want to miss that because my main agenda is excellence. My only agenda, maybe even is excellence. I don't think any music teacher Well, I think music teachers want to engage and want to use music to change the world, you know. And so for me, I think I'm not. And many times it's I've fallen flat on my face, but to be willing to be messy, and to try something new. I like doing that. And the more that I'm in different contexts of music making it the easier that becomes. But I do believe that there is a space in academia, where we can challenge and I don't mean that in a bad way, or an aggressive way where we can challenge and and think how do we do it differently. And that actually becomes that more beneficial to students. That it's, it does prepare them for the world that we live in now.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 44:09
Timbie closes her dissertation on collaboration using the metaphor of a bridge. After student research was finished, quote, I finally found the bridges I had sought. During the concert, I realized there was one small bridge built between the students and the cultures they had researched. That bridge was named music. Through the music students encountered another world and a small part of the work was brought to them. But the biggest and most significant bridge, the bridge I was blind to until the concert was the bridge that spanned both music and culture and brought them to its audience. That bridge was named the choir. Inspired by this episode of future podcast series will explore the work of Lebanese Armenian a capella choirs, and their work with Syrian refugee populations. Created in the fall of 2014, the Sonbola choir aims to build hope, inspiration and positive affirmation for Lebanese and Syrian children in a safe environment.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 45:40
I just want to ask this last question out of my curiosity of empathy, just because so much of the news of his has been first focused on COVID in the past year, and I think my, my question is, is there anything that that we should know or that you would like us to know about all these displaced and, and migrating communities that have been largely ignored by the news in the wake of everything being focused on COVID, and some of the challenges that are being faced right now, where you are?
Renae Timbie 46:11
I would say, number one, that this situation has not changed for, for a lot of those who are trying to find refuge, that there are still people that are coming. And but the new thing with COVID, rules are changing constantly, even before COVID rules are changing constantly for refugees in different countries. Here what's being asked of them what they're allowed to do, what's the timing of this, and the process just for you know, I, I don't mean this to sound. I don't mean this to sound that I'm not being empathetic. But coming across is very hard. My husband, he came from Syria to Turkey, on a boat across to an island here in Greece, that journey is very difficult. Some people don't make it, it's it's dehumanizing. There's so much bad about it. And then you get here and you're, you're thrown in with with just tons of people, and you're freezing, and there's so many things, that's hard. But then the process of trying to actually get asylum is really hard. Because there's especially in Greece, there's so many people trying to do it, the process is very slow. You don't ever fully know what you're supposed to do next. So that process of just trying to get asylum and all the steps that are included are is dehumanizing often. And poor Greece has had to take on so much of it because of its location, and that my heart so often goes out to just the Greeks who whose life there, they were trying to come out of an economic crisis, and then there's the refugee crisis. So it's not been easy for anyone right now. But for all of us, our lives have slowed way down, and restrictions and we can't do the things we can. It's the same for the refugee process. So my husband helps, his job is to help he translates for an organization that helps with referrals, helps them understand what's the next step or they need to get doctor's appointment or things like that. And he now since COVID, he comes home, and he says there is so much more anger than there was before COVID. Again, being, going through the process of trying to get asylum is hard. And of course, there's anger but because everything has slowed down for them as well, so they're stuck in limbo. Even more, there's a lot of homelessness, there's a lot of there's, there's like no jobs here, in Greece. This is why so many of them try to go to other countries. So they're stuck in limbo right now. And they're angry because they can't get answers. The asylum service is working, understandably, limited employees. And so in all the offices that are related to that, and so, that's what's happening. That's the kind of the new phase right now, in at least in Athens. For for during this COVID time, that it's still I mean, it's, it's, there's it's still very difficult and it's been exaggerated now. And it's turned that despair is turning even more to anger because of because of COVID so it's uncertain for all of us this time, uncertain for all of us. We don't know what's next. And so for them as well, they don't have homes they don't know what's next, just trying to get that next piece of paper or the next stamp or this answer is taking even longer. So the despair is is very high
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 49:58
As we come to a close, I leave you with another recording of the sambal acquire as I watched the video documentary of this choir I see radiant faces of dignity defying dehumanizing conflict and demonstrating that sounding voice is an act of expressive creative and human aliveness. This video has been posted on the podcast website
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 51:05
Karin Hendricks writes quote compassionate music teachers can transform any space into a place whether it be a state of the art rehearsal room with acoustical panels and practice rooms or a dilapidated trailer without air conditioning. The compassionate music teachers in this book have taught in these and other kinds of settings and have in each through their focus on their students created a place where students felt like they belonged. As we close the series i lift the embodied compassionate practices of five music educators. The practices of dorothy delay Brian Michaud, steve massey, marcus santos and renae timbie can be guideposts as we chart our paths into compassionate practice and being. In this journey i reflect on the beauty in diversity compassion for suzuki was the embodiment of a different musical way of being from the horrors of world war. For dorothy delay it was a practice of question seeking that guided and empowered self growth. compassion for Michaud and Santos are practices of joyful imagination, belonging and creativity. Or i think on wynton marsalis his reflections on steve massey's practices of integrity, love, and depth of belief. Or finally i think of renae timbie and how her journey of home, belonging and identity welcomes the unconditional dignity of those displaced by human conflict. Richly examined by hendrick's scholarship, each embodied practice opens new meanings of compassion illuminating shades of love within a beautiful diversity of teaching practice. Let this unending connection of our compassionate practices, lift imaginations, lean into fear, hold trust where dignity and belonging are unconditional, may we be this to each other we are compassionate practices, make mosaics of our brokenness
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 53:53
Special thanks to renae timbie and karin hendrixcks for their time and thoughtfulness the book compassionate music teaching is available from rowman and littlefield press and special thanks to the Sonbola choir for permission to use their recordings in this podcast. This is the music and peacebuilding podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson at elizabethtown college we host a master of music education with an emphasis in peacebuilding, thinking deeply we reclaim space for connection and care join us at music peacebuilding.com