The Role of Music in Contemporary Cultural Diplomacy: Part I

By Kathryn, November 19, 2012 12:50 pm

The following is an excerpt from my graduate dissertation, completed for the Master of Philosophy Degree from Cambridge University, in 2012.

Part One: A Multidisciplinary Approach

Music and the Sciences

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to name a society without an embedded musical heritage. As Daniel Levitin, former record producer and now neuroscientist, describes it, “Music is unusual among all human activities for both its ubiquity and its antiquity. No known human culture now or anytime in the recorded past lacked music.”[1] New discoveries about how the brain connects so strongly with music continue to abound; this helps explain the increasing momentum behind interdisciplinary studies such as those Levitin has pioneered in the fields of music and neuroscience. The ramifications for such a multidisciplinary approach to music’s relationship with the brain are manifold and will provide fertile ground for advancements in understanding the uniquely human obsession with music.


Multidisciplinary approaches to music are beneficial not only in the realm of so-called ‘hard’ science, but also in the social sciences, and particularly sociology and anthropology. How distinct societies engage with music sheds light on their most fundamental communal practices; knowledge of a community’s music and people’s relationship with music often leads to an enhanced understanding of the cultural values that community reveres. One immediate way to recognize this is in linguistics: in many communities outside the Western world, the word for “music” includes what we in the West would define as “dance”; the terms are not distinct from one another and thus reflect the importance of physical motion as associated with musical practice.[2] Knowledge of musical traditions, when combined with a broader cultural perspective, awards greater awareness and appreciation of the nuances that shape a place, its people, and even its politics.


Music and Politics

The relationship between music and politics has been subject to little scholarly exploration, despite its wide applicability to thought and process. Music, one of the most fundamental aspects of every culture, has the ability to represent a nation’s cultural values and political ideologies. Music’s diplomatic potential is illustrated in its ability to reach beyond the common medium of political meetings and forums, in which discussions are scripted and certain outcomes expected. In such politically prescribed forums, as Ian Wellens would say, one is merely preaching to the already converted segment of the intellectual sphere.[3] Music, on the other hand, provides a way for diverse political bodies to engage simultaneously in an activity that provokes multifaceted responses; music effectively creates a new channel through which to communicate and absorb cultural and political ideas.


Few would argue that national anthems and protest songs represent explicitly political music. Instrumental music can also express political ideas, as in Dmitri Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony No. 7, which was written in the context of the city’s siege by the German Wehrmacht and reflects political tensions intra-musically.[4] Performing Richard Wagner’s instrumental music in Israel is political in its societal impact, given Wagner’s well-documented anti-Semitism. Wagner’s music was also used propagandistically in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi campaigns, a highly politicized byproduct of his music. When Daniel Barenboim, leader of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, conducted Wagner’s music in a concert in Israel in July 2001, it is not surprising that the reaction was largely negative and the gesture seen as a threatening political move.[5] Music mixes with politics in interesting ways, but such intersections have often been overlooked in scholarly analysis. This study therefore proceeds on largely uncharted territory, in hopes of providing grounding for music’s viability as a cultural diplomatic tool in contemporary international relations.


Is music a viable instrument in cultural politics? While a glance at the international stage today may suggest not, the twentieth century offers ample evidence to the contrary. In fact, music has played, and can continue to play, a distinct and efficacious role in international politics through methods of cultural diplomacy. Since the end of the Cold War, cultural diplomatic programming has declined markedly, with musical activities simultaneously all but vanishing from the sphere. Yet it was during the Cold War that musical diplomacy saw its ‘golden age,’ led by the United States in its campaigns to soothe tensions with the Soviet Union and promote American ideals in Europe and elsewhere.[6] Arguably the pre-eminent bilateral relationship in contemporary international politics is that between the U.S. and China. Is music a feasible candidate for creating common ground upon which to build a more positive relationship? Can musical diplomacy be reinvigorated to address today’s need for enhanced cross-cultural understanding? This study addresses these questions and provides historical grounding for the use of music as a diplomatic tool, showing that music’s applicability is not only possible but may be uniquely valuable in twenty-first century cultural diplomacy.

[1] Daniel Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music (London: Atlantic Books, 2006), 5-6.

[2] Ibid., 6.

[3] Ian Wellens, Music on the Frontline: Nicolas Nabokov’s Struggle Against Communism and Middlebrow Culture (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002).

[4] Roland Bleiker, “Of Things We Hear but Cannot See: Musical Explorations of International Politics,” in Resounding International Relations ed. M.I. Franklin (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 182. This political engagement in music came at a high price for Shostakovich, as the Soviet government lashed out with a public decree of the profanity of the symphony. Shostakovich responded by writing a more conventional symphony, earning the government’s acclaim.

[5] One example of the wide discussion on Wagner’s anti-Semitism and this concert can be found on the BBC’s website: The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is devoted to soothing international tensions through music, and brings together musicians from Israel and Palestine, among other places, to perform primarily Western classical repertoire throughout the Middle East (see

[6] Penny M. Von Eschen, Satchmo Blows up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004).


Conversation as Contemplation

By Kathryn, April 14, 2012 7:30 pm

I’m entering my final term at the University of Cambridge. Time flies, as they say. In many ways, I feel I’m only just beginning to realize the significance – intellectually, academically, professionally, personally – of this year. Of course, I should have expected nothing less, given the nearly identical reflection I expounded upon about my Keegan year on this very blog. Realizing the importance of a decision, an experience, a moment in your life necessarily requires the time to analyze and contemplate it in some depth and seriousness. The people I’ve become friends over the years have never been those to whom life is merely a series of passing moments, without reflection and contemplation. I’m very grateful for that reality.

This year, I’ve met people I will long consider friends, figures of thought beyond my own, globes of experience I’ll never fully comprehend. The conversations I’ve had range from whether regulating internet privacy is appropriate to the debatably pornographic content of the Muppets television series. From the crisis of a theory to the crisis of non-thought. From secret societies, hidden foodie gems, and hot night spots, to remnants of an ancient socio-academic tradition found rarely and in places just like this.

For a long time, I’ll reminisce about conversations and moments. I’ll think back to some of those hidden gems, hear echoes of laughter from friends I may not see again for a long time. I’ll wonder, surreally, whether I was ever really a student here in the first place. Was it just a dream? I’ll think.

Which is why it’s so important to view conversations as moments not only of social engagement, but of personal contemplation too. For those who really listen when they’re not talking, worlds of contemplation are made possible. Tonight I sat with two friends until we were the last ones in a scenic restaurant in town. One of them has a shy trigger-finger when it comes to signing up for a Twitter account and thinks that blogs can be a great way for the intellectually curious to shed light on the world, if only their own. The other wants to work with John Lewis Gaddis and is entrenched in researching George F. Kennan. As for me, I thought about the bizarre connection made during an introductory conversation with a student researching music in Palestine who realized I was the one who had written the blog post on the program he designed for the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Bach and Beyond concert in 2010. I thought about how I wouldn’t have known who George F. Kennan was six months ago but do now because of this course. I thought about how these conversations will shape my views not only about the possibilities in front of me beyond this year, but about the experiences of my past and of who I am today.

Coming to realize that conversations are jeweled moments of opportunity to contemplate life makes me think differently about social interaction and how humans grow. It makes me want to seize more wholeheartedly every opportunity to talk to my friends. It shows me both selfishly and selflessly that people carry entire universes in their minds. And at any given point, you’ll only see a fraction of those universes, even your own. But that fraction is more than enough to grow from. So take it, and run with it.

Writer’s Block

By Kathryn, July 25, 2011 8:57 pm

It’s one of those things that has plagued me since Day One of this particular blog, and correspondingly since Day One of my conscious life, I suppose. Verbal communication comes not as a natural display of thoughts to me, but more often as a cumbersome hurdle. Musical communication, on the other hand, is much more natural – after all, no one can blame me if they don’t understand exactly what I’m trying to say in my improvisations, because I have the comfortable shield of musical abstract expressionism behind me. So, even with my own improvisations on the piano, I always have at least the appearance of control of thought. And often, I think it’s a more pure form of thought – scattered, yes, but that’s precisely how my brain is, anyway.

Back to the point. I’ve set myself up with a challenge: write this blog post from start to finish without major editing, and without stopping for hours to contemplate life in the middle and whether the post is even worth publishing in the end. Just go with it. After all, one of my favorite quotes, courtesy of Brian Andreas, goes something like that:

If you hold on to the handle, she said, it’s easier to maintain the illusion of control. But it’s more fun if you just let the wind carry you.

I’ve begun to think that writer’s block is not only a symptom of my anxieties about my effectiveness at verbal expression, but also of my naive and egotistical assumption that millions of people may stumble across my words at their most imperfect moment and forever label me as a babbling idiot. Then I remember some of the wisest words I’ve been told: it’s really not all about me.

More than that, it’s not all about control. It’s not about controlling every word that escapes your mouth or hand. That’s exactly what cripples me: the very control I seek over the output of my thoughts prevents the output of my thoughts. It’s a perplexing situation that, as many of you would have noticed for the duration of this blog, has hindered my ability to communicate to you some of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had.

So I’m hereby banishing writer’s block – perhaps it’s silly to think I can go at it cold turkey, to abolish it without further adieu (yes, that was an intentional substitution). But if I don’t set high goals, I’ll never try to reach them at all.


Let me tell you a story about something that I learned in Mumbai, India. I was walking along the street when I arrived in Borivali, a town on the outskirts of the main city, and needed to make a copy of the key to the apartment I was staying in. I was guided by my wonderfully gracious host, Anuraag, who led me to a thin young man stationed on the side of the road. This man would have been rather unassuming, were it not for the large, antiqued cart jingling with thousands of keys behind which he sat. We proceeded to watch as he whittled a duplicate key from Anuraag’s original with nothing but his hands and a couple primitive-looking tools. From the technologically-advanced world in which I didn’t even realize I was fully accustomed came the shock of seeing how people make do without the crutches of machines that stabilize us – us Americans, Western Europeans, et cetera – in our daily lives.

I didn’t fully understand it then, but I do now. There is nothing hindering me but the thought of hindrance. No machine existed in Borivali to copy keys more efficiently than this thin man with his aged tools, and so he operated as effectively as he has for, presumably, many years.

Writer’s block is something I know because it’s a term I learned and therefore applied to myself. Hypochondriacs would have little to fear if they didn’t know what the medical dictionary contained.

Ignorance may really be bliss, after all. Not that I would trade my intelligence for it, though – my brain is far too delightfully complex for me to ever dream of abandoning.


By Kathryn, July 13, 2011 8:27 pm

The question “What is music?” has interested me since, well, I began begging for piano lessons at age five. Twenty years later, I find myself without a consistent answer to this question.

The definition of music, to me, depends on its context. Sometimes, playing the piano is the clearest expression of my soul – in those moods, the music I improvise on the keys acts as a communicator to whomever I so choose to speak with … even if it’s just myself. Other times, when preparing for a jury or composing four-part chorales for counterpoint class, the piano has served as a tool for theoretical analysis, and the music therefore as an intellectual adventure.

Many people use music as a background track while they’re working, or relaxing. I’ve never been able to do this successfully. First of all, this is because most of the work I’ve done in my life directly involves music and therefore often requires a soundtrack requiring focus and attention, whether in my head or on paper. As a probable direct result of this first point, I find even in moments of non-musical endeavors, when most people can selectively tune out popular music as a pleasant drone accompanying various activities, I’m stuck analyzing the chord progressions or compositional style and critiquing the performer on his or her interpretation or stylistic decisions, rendering me incapable of ever hearing music as background, as secondary to the forefront of my focus.

I find this to be one of my life’s greatest blessings. Sure, I’m sometimes disheartened by what I wholly consider to be talent-lacking artistic creations (dare I say undeserving of the categorization of “artistic”?) blaring through radios across the world. But I also see the fallacy of my own elitism in purporting to have a superior perspective over such attempts at music. At least I can admit this, right? I do, after all, have twenty years of emotional, academic, practical experience studying what must be one of the most difficult-to-comprehend features of human life on this planet. Music, its origin and its concomitant intersections with realms ranging from quantum physics to religious sociology, has got to be one of the most complex and intricate creations we can claim. And I readily admit I’m nowhere close to understanding it in all its complexity. Musical history has produced brilliant scholars, and it’s a field that I hope will remain eternally. If anyone ever supposed they understood music in its greatest abyss of unknowns, there would be no joy in that. No, I far prefer the reality that music is one of those things we’ll never fully understand, only scratch the surface of, in whatever capacity brings us the most gratification during our brief tenure here.

Which brings me closer to the point of this blog post. If music in itself is so fuzzily explained, what happens when we compound it with further designations? Does the blossoming study of ethnomusicology shed clearer light on music? Does studying musicology ease the burden, at least in our minds, of trying to understand the whole world that is music?

You would think that with each additional prefix or suffix glued to the study of music, music itself becomes more difficult to explain. But I don’t think that’s true. These designations are, on one hand, attempts to create specialization and categorization of a field that otherwise would require the entire foundation of the planet’s academic knowledge. On the other hand, they are direct examples of how we as humans have learned to increase knowledge by multiplication. The more we know, the better, right? (That, my friends, will be a blog post in itself, someday…)

On an admittedly nerdy side note, I’m also quite pleased seeing that the balance of “music” when flanked by its two most-oft-added terms makes for three consecutive five-word beauties:

Ethno: a combining form meaning “race” or “culture” or “people”

Music: art, joy, sound waves, emotional expression. Still working on this one…

Ology: a branch of science or knowledge

Again, back to the point.

Music is a great role model for many things, one of them being that the more we learn about each of its intricacies and collisions with other fields, the better we will be equipped to understand the world we live in. Music is history, music is cultural anthropology, music is sociology, music is physics. I’m not advocating that everyone re-matriculate into college to get degrees in musicology, and yes, I know that I’m quite biased in favor of the study of music. Proud to be. More importantly, though, I am intimately aware of how much better I understand the people I’ve met in Mumbai, India; Lusaka, Zambia; and Beijing, China, because I am a musician. Because when verbal language barriers, cultural disparities, and physical appearances blockade others from having a meaningful conversation, I have been able to have one. Music is a link to human experience, the human condition, past, present, and future. If you understand the music of your own country, you’re ahead of the game. If you understand the music of someone else’s, you are a cultural ambassador. I’d like to be both.

So, what is music? My cop-out answer would be to say “it’s everything.” But it’s even more than that. It’s a way to uncover secrets of the world that can’t be discovered through the other branches of study, it’s a way to make more intricate our understanding of ourselves and the world. It’s something some of us just want to listen to, others want to perform, and still more just want to study and write about… and any combination of those three. In all cases, there’s a commonality: music is something we use, something humans before us created to be used and enjoyed and humans ahead of us will never cease to use and enjoy.

But music has more uses than we sometimes realize. More than a background track for the working woman, a workout mix for the soccer team, a study in sixteenth-century counterpoint for the budding music scholar. Finding the uses we overlook, and highlighting the value of what must seem to some like ludicrously lofty dreams… there are less rocky paths, but they’re not for me. Music is not static. Music is a tool for progress. That is the quest that began for me twenty years ago, and will hopefully last many sets of twenty years more, if I am so lucky.

Where I Am Now

By Kathryn, May 6, 2011 11:32 am

I used to be quite bothered when I came to my own site and realized how long it had been since I’d written anything. But, instead of dwelling on the preposterous notion that I can summarize what’s happened in the past year in any degree of eloquence, I’ll start with an update on what I’ve been doing for the past six months since settling in to San Francisco. Other details will fall into place as I revisit this site to update those who can remember the lengthy web address here, or happen to stumble upon it while searching for music, the arts, collaboration, international travels, et cetera.

I found out about a company whose mission is essentially to democratize the creation of music worldwide. No, I’m not the one who founded the company – funny, though, that the mission is so similar to my own ideas of integrating music into the lives of creative people around the world and finding a channel through which to express it all, right? The company is called UJAM. I convinced the leadership of the company, which is based in Bremen, Germany, that it would be necessary to have someone in the US taking care of business. Thus, the San Francisco office was founded and is run by yours truly. I work with an incredible team of engineers – albeit, across the ocean from me – and I can’t imagine having found a more ideal professional position coming out of a year of travels and research on the diplomatic potential for music and the arts.

Not only is the high level goal of the company something I align very closely with, the actual product – a cloud-based platform for music creation that algorithmically syncs your input with logical chords and incredible-quality background styles – is something I’ve become completely hooked on. I sing for hours into the computer and watch as it produces chords and styles that I get to manipulate and share with friends. Sometimes, I have to remind myself that my job is not only to play with UJAM all day, but to monitor its reception by our growing user base and brainstorm new business development initiatives while performing analytics and creating user surveys.

Yes, I love my job. And I know that’s rare at my age, in my position. Just look at how the odds were stacked: recent graduate, knock #1 (after all, it is widely recognized that new graduates, in their first jobs, will find themselves unsatisfied and thus begin the conventional path of job-hopping until they find something enjoyable and sustainable). Recent graduate with a music degree? Knocks #2, 3, and 4. Everybody talks about how tough it is to find a job as a musician. Well, I wouldn’t trade that degree for the world. Not only has music been my passion since I was four years old; I’ve also never been the type to listen to the people who say that it’s tough to find a job as a musician. I just think many musicians, when they begin the search for a job, suddenly lose sight of their own greatest talent: that they have to be more creative than other people in finding one. Especially if the orchestra seats are filled, the conducting positions taken, the professorships unavailable. Musicians may stop there and think – so, what else is there? Quite simply, a lot. There are about a million things musicians can do that we don’t give ourselves credit for, and thus never try. As I’ve realized the plethora of opportunities in front of me because of my training as a musician, I’ve embarked upon a quest to enlighten other musicians that the tunnel isn’t so small, and the opportunities not so few. I’m not sure how many of them believe me, yet. But that won’t stop me.

So, here I am in San Francisco, loving what I do, and often reminiscing on the path that brought me here. I never could have predicted it, and yet it’s worked out just right. I have this feeling about things in life: that the right thing works out. “Luck,” as my mom has always told me, “is just preparation meeting opportunity.” Of course, there’s beauty in chaos, and chaos itself is undeniable. But somehow, I just feel like if you’re prepared in life, true to something innate about yourself, you’re not going to go wrong. No matter how much chaos comes your way.

The End is Not

By Kathryn, June 7, 2010 7:23 am

The ‘end’ of my fellowship came and went more quickly than I can comprehend. Just three weeks ago, I was arriving in Zambia, where I stayed with an incredible family in Lusaka. My lack of extensive travel in Africa had led to a notion of quite exaggerated exoticism pertaining to most African countries. When I arrived in Lusaka, I noticed the superficial non-differences first. I found that I didn’t stick out much, as there are many ‘muzungus’ (white people) living in the area. In communicating, I found that everyone spoke English and I had no trouble conversing with anyone. Then, I found myself surprised at the ease in forming relationships: I met people who made me feel as if we’d only lived around the corner from each other for years. The trip surprised me in musical ways, too. I sat down with musicians I barely knew and jammed, in what I affectionately refer to as the “ZamJam” session. The Sakala Brothers, well-known throughout Zambia and from their performances in Europe, wrote a song for me, which we worked on over the course of three days while in Lusaka. Evelyn, a guitarist, vocalist, masseuse, jewelry-maker, and my host in Lusaka, shepherded me around the city and introduced me to The Sakala Brothers. My six days in Lusaka were groundbreaking, in that preconceptions were shattered, music was made, and friendships cemented. Then, I was on a plane to London, to bookend my fellowship by concluding it from where I started. Only there for three days, I felt a strong sense of reflection and contentment, being so much farther removed from the experiences of the beginning of the fellowship than mere months would seem to allow.

I’m not the only Keegan Traveling Fellow, as you know. Not only this past year’s second fellow, but every fellow prior to the two of us, has learned something in ways no one could have convinced us before leaving. I second the realization that I did not accomplish everything I set out to accomplish this year. Instead, I accomplished something much greater: life. It wasn’t the beginning of my life or the end of my life, though at times I felt both of those emotions. I’ve learned that, even upon returning to the US, where I am now comfortably secure knowing that I will not be turning around tomorrow to travel to Africa, Asia, or Europe, I am beginning to feel the next phase of this fellowship: this is far from over. The traveling may be finished, at least for a while, but the learning, in many ways, has just begun.

Shortly, I will begin a series of blog entries which I hope will give you an idea of the kind of learning that will affect me from here forward. More than that, the entries to come will shed light onto the action I plan to take moving forward, which will illuminate one of the most impactful lessons I have learned this year, and one that I am better learning how to put into practice: You can talk until the end of the day, but what’s left is action.

New Tab Above

By Kathryn, May 17, 2010 2:27 pm

See the new tab titled “Inspiration” for the beginning of a collection of meaningful writings and works I’ve received from others. I’ll venture to say that the first entry is sure to satisfy-it is incredible.

Programming Brilliance

I told you this was coming, when on my last day in Sydney I mentioned coolly that I had attended one of the most innovative concert programs I can remember. Now, I’ll explain myself.

While in Sydney, I went to a performance at the Sydney Opera House by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, directed by Richard Tognetti. The program, “Bach and Beyond,” intrigued me with its very title. Richard Tognetti’s introduction informed the audience that the program would not stick to the rigid chronological order of the composers, nor even of the printed program itself. Tognetti set the stage by stating that J.S. Bach rarely traveled physically, but through musical forms he has remained an unsurpassed traveler. So, how far beyond Bach will you go, ACO? I wondered. I assumed it would be like any other reputable orchestra’s concert: a suitable interpretation of old masterworks in tasteful, if a bit blase at times, style.

But the concert blew me away. It began with Stravinsky’s “Elegy and Polka” — except the chamber orchestra reversed the order, playing the Polka first, followed by the Elegy. An innovative move, and a nice way to start the program. Then came Bach’s Missa Brevis in G minor (BWV 235). Within the Missa Brevis, after the Kyrie, we heard Arvo Part’s “Summa.” Then, between the alto’s and tenor’s arias later in the Missa Brevis, we heard Schoenberg’s “Litany” from String Quartet No. 2. By intertwining Part, whose musical language draws heavily on that of Bach’s, and early Schoenberg, which is far more tranquil and accessible than the music of his later period, with Bach, the audience was effectively eased into a concert of contemporary music without the typical angst surrounding such a concert. The blend of classical and contemporary, and the innovation in programming this concert, was astonishing and refreshing. The second half represented both the Motet (“Lobet den Herrn”) BWV 230 and the Cantata (“Wo gehest du hin?”) BWV 166 by Bach, with a piece by living British composer Diana Burrel (“Das Meer; das so gross und weit ist, da wimmelt’s ohne Zahl, grosse und kleine Tiere”) sandwiched in between. Again, the audience was cushioned in comfort with the music of Bach while being presented with the more challenging music of Burrell, but this time without any fancier tricks.

Perhaps the receptiveness to this concert was due in part to the culture of artistic innovation in Sydney. Perhaps many in the audience didn’t fully recognize what happened. Not everyone reads the program, anyway, right? Regardless, however, the imagination to create such a program and the audacity to confront the rigid structures that have bolstered classical music’s elitist status is something to be recognized and appreciated. Maybe this will set a new tone for classical music programming in the twenty-first century, as orchestras and audiences realize that music doesn’t have to be confined and dated, because music can transcend time.  Hopefully more often from now moving forward, more of us–musicians and music lovers alike–will be bold enough to let that happen.

What I’ve Learned in One Year

By Kathryn, May 14, 2010 8:47 pm

Today marked the Commencement Activities for the Vanderbilt University Class of 2010. Which means it has been exactly one year since I graduated from college. It’s hard to believe how quickly a year passes, and at the same time, how much can happen in so short a time. The past year has, to use a phrase that is both cliched and self-evident, changed my life. I wrote a piece several years ago for an incoming class of first-year students at Vanderbilt, called “Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore…The First Day of Class.” The piece was meant to evoke the anxieties of the first day of class, the excitement and the simultaneous angst. I was reminded while writing the piece of how I felt entering college, leaving my home in North Carolina, and embarking on a journey whose outcome I could not yet see, but had been vividly aware of for the duration of my conscious existence. I knew myself as a communicator, whose most comfortable medium was music.  What I did not know was what I would be driven to do with that knowledge during my four years at Vanderbilt. I didn’t know how far I would be pushed, challenged, and encouraged to make something out of what I had within me. To question and clarify the core of my being, to make my individuality an active declaration instead of just a statement, a value instead of just a trait. And I wasn’t fully able to see all of what Vanderbilt gave me a chance to do, until I left.

I saw the Keegan Fellowship as a chance to explore the world and pursue my dreams, an investment from people who supported me to make something happen on my own. But it has always been much more than that, and I’m beginning to understand the deeper purpose of this opportunity. It has been a challenge to discover what dreams are made of and how to fortify their innate fragility with nothing but your mind. What the purpose of making an identity for yourself is, and whether it’s a path more rarely followed than most of us realize. What the purpose of life is, when you’ve seen its very basic elements confronted, whether wasted or cherished, celebrated or taken for granted, by the world right in front of you.

I was thrown out of Kansas, out of comfort, out of certainty, when I left Vanderbilt. Willingly, excitedly, with passion and fervor and a comfortable security in my abilities. And I found very quickly that life outside the structure of a community of automatic support would require tools that I wasn’t immediately sure I possessed. And I’d like to think that the people who have made possible what I’ve experienced over the past year knew that would happen. That they saw in me an openness to be affected by the world that some may call naivete, but which they saw as the very avenue through which I would come to learn some of the most valuable lessons this life can offer.

So, on the one year mark of my graduation from a place that I came to love as intimately as a second home, I want to thank the people who made what I am doing possible. Because I’m not stuck in a job I resent, nor am I entrenched in a graduate program that isn’t perfect for me. Thank you to the people who have seen me through one of the greatest challenges of my life, and will stand by me to see the adventures that abound because of it. Thank you to the institution that has supported me in countless ways, and to the role models who have shown me the heights I will seek to reach. I have been given, and I have thankfully taken, the chance to do what the deepest passions of my heart dictate. A chance to see if I can turn the communication I so often practice through music into more than just practice. Into life, and being. To find, create, or discover a language that will pave a new path of diplomacy between worlds riddled by confusion and misunderstanding. But most importantly, to see if, when everything around me challenges who I think I am, I can still find me. That’s the task Vanderbilt has bestowed upon me, and has, along with many others, given me the tools to conquer.

Farewell, Australia!

By Kathryn, May 5, 2010 5:05 am

It’s my last day in Sydney. In fact, I’m at the airport as I write this. After what I thought would be a mere two weeks in the land down under–or what I’ve come to know as the land whose motto is “No worries” and where people say “How are you going?” instead of “How are you doing?” which I find quite fun and charming–I’ve now spent a month exploring Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns, and Katoomba. Admittedly, the vast majority of my time has been spent in the cosmopolitan, forward-looking, artistically rich, architecturally splendid, simultaneously relaxed and bustling city that is Sydney. I learned recently that Sydney has been added to the list of major fashion hot spots, now being one of the stops for some of the world’s premier fashion designers and their shows. Beyond that, I’ve witnessed first-hand some of the most masterful programming in a symphonic concert I may ever experience. And I’m going to leave you with that bait until I have time to sit down and write out that entry. It’s coming soon.

In Cairns, I tested my wits and traveled to the Great Barrier Reef. Not for snorkeling, either. As a certified SCUBA diver, I simply could not pass up the chance to dive on one of the world’s wonders. And wonderful it was. I remember looking to my side and seeing the reef skyrocket to the surface of the ocean, passing under the dive boat amidst a school of fish, and thinking “Is this really happening?” It was marvelous. I got a taste for the artsy, quirky culture in Melbourne, and as I’ve already written, experienced an all-too-relaxing retreat in Katoomba, the heart of the Blue Mountains.

There is so much more to write, and write I will. But I wanted to be sure that, before I take off, I concluded my stay in Australia with a respectful tip of the hat, and proper wave goodbye. More coming soon, my friends. No worries!

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