‘We train people who will work with people’s lives’
In a free-wheeling conversation, Martin Jean talks about the Institute of Sacred Music and how this form of music has the power to heal. By Team Viva
Known for his broad reportorial interests, Martin Jean, director of the Institute of Sacred Music, Yale University, has performed widely throughout the United States and Europe. Jean believes that through sacred music we can bring out the best in us and it is one form that can help make the world a conflict-free zone. Jean was also awarded first place at the international Grand Prix de Chartres in 1986, and in 1992 at the National Young Artists’ Competition in Organ performance. Excerpts from the interview:
According to you, how sacred music brings faith, and nurtures the community as it connects with people’s lives in the world. Is this the whole reason to be of the Institute of Sacred Music, too?
The purpose of the institute is to train not only scholars. We train people who will work with people’s lives. Worship that they lead and create has music as an important component. However, sacred music is not a different faith but it is only a process of bringing out the best. From the various musical traditions of the East and the West, we create a different language. When a seasoned conductor like David Hill is facilitating the process of music composition with at least 100 instruments of different genres, we are also creating a new language to connect with a community. Music creates messages for communities at large and we are trying our best to achieve that professionally.
In these times of turmoil when there is so disturbance all around the world, what role does music play in bridging the cultural, social and political gaps between nations and bring harmony?
Conflict resolution is a key feature of all music and in order to become a conflict-free zone, we all need to appreciate diversity. We have played in the countries which were fighting wars and despite that people gathered for listening to us. Incidents like such made us believe that music has the power of healing. Our music is playing that crucial role to bridge several gaps created by human beings.
Tell us about the sacred music program at Yale.
The sacred music programme at Yale is 40 years old. We train musicians, singers and conductors. We also bring together eminent scholars and practitioners. We are bringing out embedded faiths. Through this we are trying to point out to peace and harmony as important components for making the world a conflict-free zone. We saw this programme as a way to reach out beyond our own disciplinary borders. There is also an opportunity to create a community of scholars around sacred music and the arts. They will be part of a weekly program of sharing works, critiquing each other’s works, teaching students and being a voice at the table. A way to deepen and expand our own commitment to these areas of inquiry.
Being chosen as a fellow at Yale Institute of Sacred Music is a prize, and a competition. Tell us a little of the Institute’s need for fellows, and how they contribute to the Yale Institute of Sacred Music?
The role of fellowship is that we are trying to bring scholars from different parts of the world to come together on a common platform and exercise their creativity. We send out an international call for fellows. We learn from them far more than they learn from us. In the process, we create unique compositions with global relevance. I think what our students are getting from it is respect for the enormous diversity of sacred music in the world. We are learning about more cultures and different community groups of people. By bringing people here, students are becoming more diversely grounded. We are working hard for reaching out beyond race divides, class divides, gender divides.
What is the role that historical traditions play in modern times?
Every civilisation has a historical past. These historical pasts are laying burried in either archives or museums. The art and cultural heritage is extremely rich all across the globe. Each tradition talks of peace and harmony. We need to make people aware of these traditions. Disputes happen because most people are not informed. Through music, we are trying to make this awareness grow. We expect extremely positive results that would go long way to make the world a much better place to live in.
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