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  • Writer's pictureKevin Shorner-Johnson

Celebrations of 10,000 Downloads

Ten thousand downloads across roughly 37 episodes. I can't believe how many downloads that represents. Part of me sighs with an exhale, knowing the work it took over three years to get to this point. When I began this podcast, I made a promise to myself that I would not be lured into the rat race of likes, follows, and listens. I would only do podcasting if I found it to be a meaningful act, and a meaningful path of growth for myself. The rewards must be intrinsic.

Listen HERE for the podcast celebrating this moment!

Three-Part Framework

As I started this podcast, I began with the intention of exploring my three-part framework of peacebuilding: Mutuality, Agency, and Imagination (Shorner-Johnson, 2017). I am awed by the degree to which this framework has held true across three years of work. I am also in awe of how each interviewee has opened new perspectives and deepened the language that colors and gives form to peace.

This blog explores new insights and the ways in which mutuality, agency, and imagination have deepened over roughly three years of episodes.


Within mutuality, I have learned that music might be a kind of retutoring in an age of disconnection. Music, and particularly connective music making might be a centering, gravitational pull that holds our attentions to each other. I think of the powerful work of Mary Cohen and the Oakdale Community Choir within a prison context, where insider and outsider singers are brought together to build relations that transcend the walls and boundaries of incarceration.

Mary Cohen directing the Oakdale Community Choir
Mary Cohen directs the Oakdale Community Choir

I have also paid attention to the language of “belonging” and what it might have to say in building cultures of peace. With Sandeep Das, Jeff Long, and Benjamin Koen, I explored a curiosity of how language and story within Hindu and Islamic cultures speaks to the notion of belonging. The word Virah, speaks to the longing that is felt by Radha to be united with the Divine, as personified by Krishna. This longing is all-consuming until Radha is called to recognize the divine in all persons. In a similar way, I treasure the poetry and story within Persian and Sufi traditions that speaks to the complete surrender of self to enter a larger embrace of the we.

Inspired by the poet John O'Donohue, I now understand why there is so much longing in the language of be-longing. In a recent podcast on Korean Samul Nori, I introduce Brewer's (1991) concept of optimal distinctiveness, noting that we have a yearning to belong AND a desire to retain our uniqueness. The balance of individuation with the assimilation of we is the balance of healthy belonging and community.

Filipino Tinikling Dance

And music appears to welcome this dance between the I and the we, opening moments where we shine and moments of the magic of us. I think of Filipino Tinikling dance and how the entrained attention of a circle of musicians and dancers navigates the aligned rhythm with the individual expression of dancers. I think about the groundbreaking research of Elizabeth Parker, who explores the navigation of selfhood and belonging within girl's choirs, where girls might find a sense of authentic voice in the grounding of nurturing community.

It has also been important to look for the dark sides of these elements. The dark side of "belonging" might lie in the "politics of belonging," when the power of group think and in-group belonging becomes a sort of weapon against those in the out-group.

E. Douglas Bomberger

In a previous episode, Douglas Bomberger explored how the politics of 1917 used the United States National Anthem as a sort of weapon that prepared the United States for war and demarcated who did and did not belong. An examination of history reveals that music has as much a role to play in the tightening of boundaries as it does in opening pathways of mutuality.


Agency seems to be the heart and soul of new peace work as many peacebuilders come to grips with the way that development and peace institutions have violated the ethic of "Do No Harm. In destructive systems, distanced peacebuilders make decisions for others and deny those in the affected locality voice. As leaders in the field of peacebuilding, Bridget Moix and Lisa Shirch have much to say about an emphasis on locally-led peacebuilding. Bridget Moix teaches me that there is an interplay of hope, voice, choice, imagination, and ethics as local members are centered in decision-making processes of peace.

Sonia de los Santos
Sonia de los Santos

I treasure the interview that my children and I conducted with Sonia de los Santos. This interview is sacred to me because it is one where I brought my children along to interview Sonia, giving them a sense of agency in a podcast about agency. In Sonia's song Allegria, she explores the unmediated joy when children are offered the agency of play. Our research on "play" tells us that play is magical to voice - it is the place, the location, where children try out ideas, and explore the emergence of their voice through crayons, clay, song, puppetry, and role-playing toys. Within the imagination of play is the ability to make "what could be" out of what is in front of us.

I am also grateful to my interview with Renae Timbie for a remembrance to center "dignity" as a central piece of agency.

Renae Timbie and choir
Renae Timbie

Working with refugees in Greece through the medium of choir, Timbie's interview is a call to center dignity in a world that routinely denies recognition of the dignity of refugees. From Donna Hicks, I remember that dignity cannot be given or taken away, because (as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu indicate) dignity is intrinsic and inherent to every human being. Music may have a role to play in affirming and enlivening dignity in circles where we continuously seek to bring out the fullness of each other.


Finally, imagination. I have noticed themes of liberatory imagination, empathetic imaginations, and imaginations of new forms of relation and connection. Martha Gonzalez, speaks of imagination and music as a liberatory practice.

Fandango Fronterizo

The imagery captured in that podcast, of son jarocho played across the US-Mexico border and within the kitchen of a women's empowerment project is powerful. In these spaces, we might play music to the imaginations that make physical border walls irrelevant and transcend the limited, narrow thinking of gender-based hierarchies. In sounding our better imaginations, we build new realities.

And at the same time, Martha speaks to how imaginations of progress and a "great people" were forces of violence in a historical Mexico that sought the erasure of indigenous peoples. We can use our violent imaginations to imagine a world without diversity, of hyper-efficiency and agreement. Many patriotic and militaristic anthems seem to imagine a tight unity to the destruction of difference.


Peacebuilders and teachers the world over know that empathy is central when we talk about peacebuilding and social-emotional learning. Empathy allows us to feel more deeply, to be moved toward compassion, and take the position of the Other. This podcast series has helped me to understand that empathy is fundamentally about imagination.

In the most popular podcast of this entire series, Sreyashi Day explores care ethics and Indian classical dance. Entering a story within the Mahabharata, we learn of the word anukrosa, where a bird imagines its relationship so fully to a tree and feels into a tree, that it is willing to give up its individuated life to become a compassionate relation.

Sreyashi Dey

Maybe the most unabashedly joyful interview I have conducted is the one with Marcus Santos and Karin Hendricks. I remember that Marcus was so full of energy and joy that he stood for the entire interview, moved quickly to laughter, and continuously moved his body in an unmitigated flow of energy. The depths of his care were clearly evident in his empathetic imaginations and discussions of the children he had reached through drumming.

If empathy is rooted in imagination, I believe that transcendent hope and forgiveness may be likewise rooted in this capacity. In interviewing Tyné Angela Freeman, I remember finishing her book "The Sky is Deeper than the Sea" and being transfixed by the themes of hope, forgiveness, and the interruption of cycles of trauma that are at the heart of her beautiful writing. Her imaginative work shows me that our artistic powers of imagination can face the harms of racism and racialized systems and demand space for hope.

Tyné Angela Freeman

This is not a lightweight hope, but one that is tenacious and uses the powers of imagination to layer and cut across time. The singer and the novel's protagonist see the deep legacy of now and simultanoesly perceive a story of beyond that needs repair and forgiveness. Tyné's podcast has moved me deeply.

Finally, in this time of climate collapse and ecological traumas, I understand that an imagination of connectedness is at the root of repair and deeper care as we more fully take our place within ecological relations. Four podcasts, those of Dan Shevock, Jon Rudy, Theodore Levin, and Benjamin Koen have explored this imagination of interconnectedness.

Theodore Levin's podcast on Tuvan singing dialogued about cultures that listen to soundscapes and sing back to them. In this noble act of singing-listening, I see how artistic acts move us into deeper forms of relation with place. We sing and listen until we can't do anything but move our being into deeper forms of care.

I find similarities with Benjamin Koen's exploration of Central Asian cultures, where entrainment speaks to how we change when we bring ourselves near each other and enter the rhythms and the cycles of nearness. And finally, my time with my good friend Jon Rudy teaches me of the power of imagining into radical interconnectedness and how this imagination offers the hope of new possibilities, responsibilities, and communities.

Benjamin Koen
Benjamin Koen

Finally, Dan Shevock's podcast feels like such a gift because in our pacing and interaction, I sense the genuineness of our relationship and my wonder at Dan's pioneering scholarship. Our discipline of music education seems to move with unquestioned direction toward industrialized music. This is mass-produced music, made with commerical instruments that are performed within the confines of cement walls. Dan's scholarship is a call to move outside these limitations, to encounter soundscapes, and to listen into the call of these spaces. Reconstituting and re-membering ourselves as animals, we might listen our way into the imagination and the mutuality of ecological relation.

Unexpected Journeys

I could write a book on the unexpected journeys of this podcast. However, for the sake of brevity, below is a list of unexpected journeys with a reflection across these:

  • Performativity - that who we are is both constrained and empowered by the performances of who we are;

  • Dialogue - Contrasting Zimbabwean Mtukudzi with Ikeda. A give and take that uses metaphor and often "circles around" directness;

  • Role of play and metaphor - How play is.a basic need that transforms symbols in new ways;

  • Storying and Restorying - The power of restorying when the stories we tell are not up to the task of building larger spaces of belonging;

  • Weight, sound, and time

  • Trauma and transgenerational trauma;

  • Nonviolence and nonharm (ahimsa);

  • The role of stress as a form of harm and/or creative energy, and mindfulness as its restoration;

  • Entrainment, entrained nationalism, and entrained difference;

  • Embodiment and retutoring the body;

  • The wonder and the awe of time and how time constructs our narratives of conflict, anger, and peace.

If there is a theme to these unexpected journeys it might be that in slowing down our minds and our being, we might notice the magic that lies under the surface and in relation. Within notions of dialogue, time, play, storying, and restorying, we might notice the magic in how we make meaning with each other. And in noticing our meaning making, we might also notice the moments when our stories, our directness, and our dichotomies move us away from a gentleness of "bamboo swaying." Within notions of non-harm, stress, and nonviolence, we are asked to move a little slower and a little gentler through this world.

Finally, I marvel at the ways that stress, trauma, and technological distractions restrict us from fully inhabiting our bodies. I see how performativity and entrainment speak to how we might move our bodies in new ways and the ways in which our nearness to each other builds rhythms of relation (entrainment).

Ethics of peace

I entered this act of podcasting during the time of #metoo. This was a hashtag that called attention to the pervasiveness of gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and male-dominated structures. In this time, I wondered about how I might place my own, privileged identity in a way that invested in repair, renewal, and restoration.

I decided to invest less time in solo-authored scholarship and spend more time in mutuality and relationships that make space for other voices to become more important. This is the blessing of the mutuality of a podcast interview.

My gratitude to the first three years of podcasting. In the spirit of how I close many of the podcasts with a John O'Donohue inspired blessing, I write:

May we find new journeys;

Ones that inspire us

With the inner light

Of the great community of hearts, passions, minds.

May we,

Find diversity to be as rich as the infinite colors;

Of prisms;

May our language,

Our songs,

Our soundscapes,

Teach us to hear different, to hear with complexity, and to hear with empathy;

Imagining new forms of connection and care.

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