I believe music can and often does reshape our understanding of each other in powerfully redemptive ways because it transforms traditional ways of being with one another. Music provides for emotionally enhanced experiences which help our mind-body jump across culturally formed circuits of ethnicity, religion, culture, sexual orientation, language and gender. My body learned this many times while listening as a fidgety child to concerts at Shenandoah University in Virginia. Hearing future New York City Met star Michael Forrest’s voice forced to the floor any traditional Caucasian Virginian stereotypes I had of African-Americans. His interpretation of operatic classics pushed through my ear drums and into my soul, making me question what I thought I knew as a southern young man. Singing on stage with Professor Hal Herman and then later with Winchester-native Norman Shankle pushed me beyond my original impressions of those who did not share my religious beliefs as a conservative Southern Baptist. Watching the speedy yet silky smooth fingers of SU pianist Mark Riggleman put aside any thoughts of cultural or personal difference that might have come between him and me or more strikingly him and my mother, a traditionalist Baptist who might have cared about their enormous differences otherwise. It’s not merely that I experienced a musically inspired moment that temporarily transported me outside my traditional narrowly informed stereotypes, only to return to a natural way of experiencing people who were different from me. Rather, the experience of having a world class piano teacher in Dr. Sue Boyd began turning upside down my understanding of experts, pedagogy and gender roles. Many women I knew played roles in Virginia society that didn’t often allow for the kind of leadership that I experienced from her. Listening to the divine sounds of the harpsichord in Goodson Chapel did transport me almost out of body but when returning to the body I was also changed and I began to believe differently about other people. I believe music shaped who I was in relation to those who were very different from me and allowed me to live on a different plane long after the musical experience was over. I can’t say for sure that these myriad musical experiences changed me in ways that wouldn’t have happened in other areas of my life, or that individuals are always able to be changed in these ways. But I do believe that music opens up ways of being, ways of listening, that make the heart more supple and open as its pathways are changed, mended or formed.
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