“There’s music in the sighing of a reed, There’s music in the gushing of a rill.
There’s music in all things, if men had ears, Their earth is but an echo of spheres.”
– Lord Byron
It is time… We just have two hours.
The message glared at me from the screen. The window was small but it had to be done. A drop trickled behind my ear. Quite a lot was at stake.
I picked what I needed and ran past the walnut smileys, dodged the puzzled Brit and the unsuspecting Japanese, floated on a waft of Middle-Eastern incense and swept across silent yet vibrant hallways bearing testimony to what had to be done, as I finally opened the door. Staring into those deep eyes, I pulled it out, brought it closer to the lips … and then I sang into the mic.
We started our weekly practice in the music room.
‘Whoa! That was an anticlimax. But well, I understand. Same place, similar stuff, the adventures are bound to end.’ Aha! There my friend – ‘Welcome to International House – where adventures never end.’ Just when you thought that there was nothing new to experience or no more amazing tales to tell, a whole year of a musical awakening to the world outside and the essence within, comes humming through me. I see that wonder. Come on say it. ‘I don’t believe you!’ Fine. Let’s join the caravan of melody to a land far far away – right outside my room.
Day one in Berkeley and someone knocked on my door, ‘Hey, I love that music you are playing.’ That was my French neighbor. I met my first new face of the year. Six months later there was a post, ‘I’m new at I-House…who’d like to jam sometime.’ That was my 300th, 400th …I don’t even rememberth new face of the year. We went on to put together an international resident band of sorts, where a Belgian and a Spanish lead guitarist, a German bass guitarist, Dutch and Irish drummers, a Mexican pianist and an Indian singer, made a multicultural crowd go crazy and joyfully jingle to an American song about Young Men.
‘Nice. I am beginning to enjoy.’ I see. We are striking a chord here. The unsung anecdotes of music connecting me to cultures are numerous. Once, I grooved with a Kenyan, an Italian and an Australian around a bonfire to the tune of rustling leaves, chirping crickets and the silence of the Milky Way looking down upon us at our first retreat. Then on the bus back, I hummed with my American friend singing karaoke along with my new friends from 15 other countries. Even when none of us knew any of the songs, the music connected our emotions.
Starting my year with no idea of where I was going in life, my tryst with music gave me the courage and guidance to a true self-discovery. ‘Really?’ Yes, trying out new songs and exploring musical cultures stood as a metaphor to try new fields and do what I truly enjoy. Within months, I found my love for research that I had been seeking for long. Even the blaring music of an out of control weekend party or the grilling sounds of a new laundry construction can inspire and push you towards meaningful conversations with the administration and fruitful outcomes for your fellow residents.
‘That is deep. I am excited. Tell me more.’ I might be sensing a bit of sarcasm there. Then let me tell you, music pervades almost anything and everything you experience under this dome of cultural heritage. It could be the beautiful smiling Italian lady at the front desk, who sings her welcomes and goodbyes as you cross her every time. Maybe, it’s the Executive Director who comes waving and greets you on his flying walk-by, as if right out of the Sound of Music.
Even better, you might wake up to the nice tune of a custodian in the morning, who lights up your day with a Mexican song, as you take your sleepy walk to the shower or the fresh one back. Looking for a break? Just walk out and you will end up grooving either with a coffee mug to the fanfare and tunes from a different country every Wednesday night or with your cutlery at a cultural dinner.
You might be thinking, ‘Are you saying music drives every cultural interaction here?’ Well, in the words of Victor Hugo, music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. But, I am saying more. Music is also driven by those interactions, connecting residents to achieve the beautiful. Where else would a discussion on global politics at dinner culminate in a Literature PhD, an A.I. researcher and a Systems engineer, none of whom trust their music skills, jamming together and creating a musical piece that inspires a Business major to ace her test the next day?
I live at a place where music concerts bring together people to make record contributions for victims of natural calamities. ‘Wow this is magical!’ Magical doesn’t even begin to describe it. You know you are at I-House, when you lack eloquence at your own engineering jargon but listening to a Physicist’s playlist, can feel the bladdery delight of winning Scrabble against a dumbstruck English PhD. Or every now and then you might end up watching an I-House film that takes you to an entirely different country through its wonderful blend of music, art and dialogues.
Every small sound that you encounter, at this place I call home, sings you closer to yourself. If you believe and listen to it, it opens you up not just to the cultures of people you meet but also your true reckoning within. Do you now believe the awakening I was talking about? Your eyes are loudly speaking, ‘Sing me a song now!’ You know what? Say it to the next stranger you meet at I-House.
If the world is my music, I-House is my stage. Living here has been a vibrant rhythmic ride. First, my dreams changed, then my spirit transformed and now I have had a melodious awakening. I still remember when twenty three Intercultural Leadership Initiative residents, each from a different culture, encouraged me to sing my national anthem and stood up in attention for the pride and honor of my country. I have never felt more Indian, I have never been more global.
Every tune through the walls, Opens up my soul,
To a vibrant heritage, diverse and happening!!
I explore every vibe, every emotion feels whole,
Comes deep from within, a melodious awakening!!!
– Vishwanath Bulusu