Music as a Way in and Across

amy wlodarski and her student

Sydney Cross '17 (left), a history major and member of the College Choir, was one of the attendees of Associate Professor of Music Amy Wlodarski's recent talk for the Faith Lecture Series. Photo by Tony Moore.

Associate Professor of Music Amy Wlodarski discusses music’s power to build bridges

by Tony Moore

In a recent Faith Lunch Series, Amy Wlodarski, associate professor of music and conductor of the College Choir, focused on music’s ability to provide access points to interfaith questions of community and connectivity.

“My experience as a researcher is rooted in interfaith conversations,” Wlodarski said, noting that while her expertise is Jewish music, she was raised Roman Catholic. But it’s as a choral conductor that she witnesses firsthand the benefits of using art to explore interfaith dialogues. “I remember one year the choir had members who represented a broad range of faith traditions. They were Christian, Jewish, Muslim—even the president of an atheist student organization was a member,” she told attendees. “The range of their personal reactions to different types of programming—that diversity of voice—really gave me insight and empathy. They changed my way of thinking about choral repertory.”

Common ground

The Faith Lunch Series, sponsored by the Center for Service, Spirituality & Social Justice, features a monthly talk and discussion that explore religion and its intersections with contemporary issues. For Wlodarski, music generally and choral work specifically can bridge perceived gaps between people and become a conduit for learning about one another—and the College Choir’s repertoire this year is a perfect case in point.

This fall, the students gave the world premiere of Mohammed Fairouz’s new choral work, Different Ways to Pray—a composition in Arabic and English intended to bring Islamic spiritual and musical ideas into the established choral repertory. The choir performed the work alongside well-known pieces from the Roman Catholic liturgy and the Jewish service. The result was a performance that considered points of connection among the different texts and traditions.

As choir member Whitney Polich ’19 reflected on the fall concert, she found value in singing’s ability to create empathetic connections between individuals.

“Music has the inexplicable ability to take a singer into a realm beyond the self to express messages of social justice, power and unity,” she said. Polich, who is also part of the first-year learning community Music and Social Justice, believes that music is particularly effective because it “communicates what simple rhetoric cannot.”

One voice

This sentiment echoes Dickinson’s commitment to collective artistic expression as a powerful tool for awareness and change, as seen at a recent campus candlelight vigil, held to remember victims of recent violence around the world. During the gathering, two first-year students, members of Polich’s learning community, began singing “Lean on Me.”

“The duet then grew to the crowd joining them in this emotional release,” said Sarah Benamati ’18, that learning community’s coordinator. “It was inspiring to see them share what they learned [about music and social justice] in the classroom with other members of the Dickinson campus."

“It’s musical moments like this that can galvanize us,” Wlodarski added. “I know that the ideal world may never happen, but … students need to imagine and embody it by giving the stage over to other perspectives. Otherwise those ideals don’t stand a chance.”

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Published December 17, 2015