Musicians Are Xenophiles, and That’s Good!
Hey, has anybody called you a xenophile lately? And did you know it was a compliment? Granted, we don’t often hear that word, so let’s check out its meaning in the dictionary: Xenophile means “one attracted to foreign things (such as music, styles or people).” Unfortunately, you’re probably more familiar with the opposite word, xenophobia: “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.”
Musicians are pretty much xenophiles by nature. We tend to be curious about and interested in all kinds of sounds. And, given a chance, most of us enjoy a chance to try out new kinds of music on our instruments. Sure, we have preferences, and we’re more skilled in one style or another, but, bottom line, most musicians enjoy hearing new sounds, and the challenge of playing most types of music. And this is a big plus in our lives, not just in our music.
Musical xenophiles have a head start toward success and happiness.
In the culturally diverse world we live in today, it’s a great advantage to understand and relate to cultures and people different from ourselves, and music is one of the most powerful mediums for this kind of communication. When musicians encounter a new style of music with different cultural roots, their initial fascination with the sounds can help them make lasting and meaningful connections with other people as well.
Musicians can become “bridge figures,” straddling the borders between cultures, keeping one foot in each world and essentially cross-pollinating ideas from one culture into another. This in turn leads to more tolerance and understanding of other cultures and people, perhaps even “adopting” aspects of a culture and sharing them with the world.
Cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation?
While the topic of appropriation is frequently being discussed right now, and deservedly so, paying respect to and learning to play and appreciate music from other parts of the globe may in fact be seen “not as cultural appropriation but as cultural appreciation.” (Appiah, 2014 NY Times).
This is something I’ve experienced personally. As a musician who’s played classical, funk, jazz, swing, world beats, and blues, I’ve discovered that all these musical modes of expression have brought me positive connections with people, and more than one lifelong friendship. There are so many ways to meet with mutual respect and share the excitement and joy of music together.
For our students, becoming aware of different cultures before they head off to life beyond high school can set the stage for easier and deeper connection with the many different kinds of people they’ll meet as their lives unfold. Not all connections with all people will be magical, but our students will know through experience how to help “bridge” gaps and make stronger human connections. And that’s a head start on happiness and success whether you’re a student, teacher, parent, or administrator.
Fresh musical sounds are literally all around us.
According to a College Music Society report titled Transforming Music Study from its Foundations: A Manifesto for Progressive Change in the Undergraduate Preparation of Music Majors, (Campbell et al, 2014)
“An extraordinary opportunity awaits individuals and institutions that are committed to transforming music study from its creativity-deficient, ethnocentric, hegemonic orientation toward rendering it as a force for creativity, diversity, integration, and transformation in a musical world, and a society, in urgent need of such change.”
What does it take to enter the world of musical xenophiles? Well, according to the above manifesto, we may first have to take a look at any shyness we might have about exploring unfamiliar musical genres. We may be reluctant because we have not have been trained in new genres from foreign lands (or even our own). We may have little to no playing experiences in those genres.
But honestly, when we’re teaching developing players, these concerns don’t need to slow us down. Even a little outreach can bring our students surprise, enjoyment, and the fresh energy of a new point of view.
YouTube and iTunes are good places to browse music of different genres. If you’re a parent, administrator, parent, or policy maker, your child’s music teacher might appreciate some gentle encouragement and support, to let them know that it’s okay for your students to develop appreciative ears and versatile skills.
For music teachers wanting to bring diverse world genres to your young musicians, especially for jazz bands, try a visit to https://playthegroove.com/songs. Sharing the current jazz and world jams in our library gives you a virtual playground where your students can listen, play, and connect with all kinds of diverse music — specially curated and arranged so that they can enjoy learning and playing it at their level.
And…welcome to the world of musical xenophiles everywhere! It’s a very cool place to be.
- Zuckerman, E. (2014). The Internet is not enough: Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” Malcolm Gladwell and the importance of real connections. Retrieved from https://www.salon.com
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2014). I’m an Art Therapist. Am I Guilty of Cultural Appropriation? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/17/magazine/im-an-art-therapist-am-i-guilty-of-cultural-appropriation.html
- Sarath, E., Myers, D., & Campbell, P. (2016). Redefining music studies in an age of change. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315649160