Music has been a part of my life since I was in elementary school, sitting on my mom’s lap learning to read music notes on the piano at the same time I was learning to read letters in school. When I moved to Morocco to study Arabic through the NSLI-Y scholarship, I brought my cello in hopes that I would be able to find a way to continue playing music with others and that I might use music as a way to engage with my new community. [Last December] I was offered the incredible opportunity to join the Philharmonic Orchestra of Morocco for their December concert series. Though my music vocabulary was limited, and my Arabic still elementary, I quickly made friends with the other musicians. Just like in America there was an unspoken bond between stand partners that didn’t need a common language, and friendships were formed quickly. Entering this familiar setting in a new country was an excellent opportunity to explore cultural differences. One of the most obvious differences was in the arrangement of the orchestra; the cellos sat where the second violins sit in an American orchestra.
On Friday and Saturday I took a tour bus with the rest of the musicians from Rabat to Casablanca for our concerts. The orchestra is about half Moroccans, some students and some professionals, and half professional French musicians who flew in for the concert week. On Friday afternoon we had a concert for students from French schools around the city. It was an opportunity for them to learn about classical music and a little bit about the history of the symphony we were playing. Instead of playing the entire symphony straight through, a 45 minute ordeal that would put the kids to sleep with boredom, the director engaged the students with questions and interesting facts. He explained what each part of the music represented before we played those excerpts. After the concert I was able to talk to the flute player who set up the field trips with the schools about the music education system in Morocco. Similar to America, there isn’t much funding for music in public schools so all of the students at our concert came from private French schools. Before the concert, representatives from the orchestra visited the schools and gave the students a little background knowledge about classical music so they knew what to expect at the concert. Going into the evening concert I expected a straight run through of the symphony. Instead the director lead us through a concert similar to that which we had given for the children. He helped the audience understand what they were listening to and gave funny anecdotes about the composer’s life so that when we finally did play the symphony through they were engaged and interested. This guided exploration of the symphony allowed even someone who had never heard classical music before to learn something and to enjoy what they heard.
Playing with the orchestra ignited a joy that I had all but forgotten, the joy of sharing music with a large group, of creating together a massive sound that washes over the auditorium like a wave in the ocean, that tears at emotions, soars on the wings of violins and falls back to earth with the heavy, steady bass. I entered an orchestra in an entirely new language and culture and played music from hundreds of years ago with complete strangers from age 16 to age 80 and walked away with tired arms, blistered fingers, a room full of new friends and a heart full of happiness. Music is a language that brings people together. It crosses centuries, oceans, generations, cultures and languages and allows people from completely different backgrounds to come together to create something beautiful.
Killian is a current student on the 2016-2017 Academic Year program in Morocco.