What is the relationship between environmental leadership studies and singing or playing an instrument? The response to this question, and that posed in the title of this blog, is ultimately intuitive, although there have been many studies that explicate the connection between music and the natural world. Ecology is the study of organisms and the systems that support and connect them. One ancient and profound connector between human and human is the making of music. Even without a shared language we can understand one another through music.
The desire to make music invokes a complex set of motivations and impulses – some, or perhaps even most of them subconscious. Part of the process is the technical element of applying learned skills, but perhaps equally significant are the various dialogues and conversations between the producer/musician and his or her fellow music makers…
It is true that EEI education has always embraced Multiple Intelligences – even before this language was a part of educational philosophy. Experiential learning attempts to engage the whole person – body, mind, emotions, spirit. Musical intelligence, one of the eight original identified by Howard Gardner, acknowledges persons who first respond to and recognize sounds, tones, rhythms, and patterns in the world and understand the connection between sound and feeling. The varied learning styles which are supported on the bus provide the opportunity for students who may have struggled in traditional school subjects, approaches, and behavioral norms to shine. Since people with strong musical intelligence can sometimes have trouble sitting still, traditional teaching and classroom learning can be obstacles to engagement, instead of an aid to it. Through the understanding of EEI faculty and more fluid experiential learning approaches, these students are able to build self-esteem and community, finding new outlets for emotional expression and ways of absorbing and sharing knowledge. Yet the embracing of varied intelligences is really just one reason why music and song are integral to EEI education.
Music is, of course, also a community builder as well as taking us deeper into ourselves. Bus groups develop their own unique lexicon of songs throughout the semester. Some groups come together and sing before meals, some sing on long bus rides, many gather in small groups to sing or play instruments during free time. Some individuals find the confidence to pick up an instrument for the first time and have learned the basics of playing it by the end of the semester, with support from other students, faculty, and the library. We know of so many who have integrated playing music into their lives off the bus, long after they have moved on from EEI.
EEI communities not only make their own music but also engage with the music common to the people we meet with. Music is one way to access the culture of certain regions and we come to see how culture and place are intimately connected. We explore what role(s) music plays in people’s lives, whether it is a grounding for important traditions such as traditional Cajun accordion maker, Marc Savoy, from Eunice, Louisiana articulates in this video ; or a call to action as with the music of protest singer and songwriter Pete Seeger, who was a beloved supporter of the bus for over 30 years; or political satire such as Dana Lyons’ Cows with Guns.
We can learn so much by developing our observational and listening skills – about humans, other than humans, and the breath of the planet itself. Music and being in the natural world share a commonality: They can both lift us beyond ourselves and bring us into deeper relationship with who we really are – with the bonds we share with other beings and the rhythms of the planet itself.