I had an interesting question posed to me this week by one of my students. As we begin a new semester, I work to establish a comfortable learning environment for my students, establish protocols, and give an overview of the courses I teach. During the opening days of class, I mentioned to my students that one cannot learn music apart from learning culture. As one studies the music of a people, one learns the culture, for they are interwoven. I made the further promise that I would do my best to share the culture of my people and my music, and invite my students to share theirs. One of the brightest of my students posed a question that caught me off guard: “Mr. Doherty, but your culture is only 200 years old. What is it that we in China can learn from such a young cultural tradition?”
Now mind you, she was not being rude. She really wants to know about Western Culture, specifically American culture. She has made the decision to pass on the Chinese national exam, and forego study here. Instead, she will take the SAT and attend university in the United States. It made me pause and reflect on what we have in American Culture to teach the world. Is our contribution to global society measured in only in pop culture, blue jeans, and drones? China has taught me much in the past month. I have learned a lot about Chinese society, how the people live, work and relate to one another. It is vastly different than the vibe in the United States.
I have learned that being a part of the society, the community and the collective is more than just an idea. Like the USA, China may not be perfect. They do, however have an ordered society that works for the 1.3 billion citizens of this vast land. Do not mistake me on this, I am proud to be an American citizen, that is without question. We have done many things in service to our citizens and the world. At the same time, I see many aspects of Chinese life we would do well to emulate in America. Their traditions and ideas have served them well for more than 5,000 years: and that is important for us to remember.
I reminded my students that during WWII, China and the US were allies. The enormous celebration and holiday that we observed here was a testimony to that alliance. In the ensuing years, a competition evolved as China emerged as a true world power that has not served either country well. We each have much to offer, and the world is made better by our mutual cooperation.
I have for many years felt we needed a greater depth to our global communication. I shared with another of my classes last week that in my view, what we are doing everyday in Wuxi is a template for life in the 21st Century. Separated by differing ideologies in government, economics, business and culture we have found common ground with these students in our mutual desire to better ourselves through cooperative learning. As we reach inside our respective cultures and those of our allies, we find better solutions to problems facing the world at-large. My classes may look like rooms for music instruction, but I view them differently. I see the arts taking a leading role in how we relate to one another. As Pythagorus mused millennia ago:
Music is Mathematics
Arithmetic= Number in itself
Geometry= Number in space
Music/Harmonies= Number in time
Astronomy= Number in space & time
His philosophy has shaped the thoughts of countless men and women through the ages. As we contemplate these things called numbers, and apply them to everyday life, music is there to help us move through time. In music we find a place to meet and safely challenge one another to be better, as well as develop a cauldron for the fomenting of new ideas. Yes, this has been an amazing week. There are many items I would like to share since my last post, but I’ve been really busy getting settled into my new role. In the days ahead, I hope to find the time to share some of the other details of my life here in China, including my new red bicycle!
As always, thank you for walking with me on this journey. If you have questions, submit them through the comment box on this page. Until next time,