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Published: August 15th 2009
Less than 24 hours before I leave. It’s occurred to me that I really need to describe where I am in my mind as I prepare for this Nepal trip. I’m terribly excited, and I view this trip/project/grant as a starting point for many things. I can’t even say specifically what. This is my first job, my first time completely supporting myself financially, my first activity since graduating from college, my first time to stay in one dwelling for 10 complete months, my first time in Nepal, and my first truly independent project. What I do over the next year will guide and affect what happens for the following unknowable amount of time. I know that a lot can happen in 10 months, and my attitude is that a lot better
happen in 10 months.
I’ve read what I could about Kathmandu, the history of the region, Eastern Philosophy, Nepali culture, and Nepali language, but I know that when I arrive and start living my present knowledge will be negligible at best. I spent January to May of this year—5 months—in Austin, TX, and I was able to find local musicians, play at local jam sessions, play on the street, jam with drum circles, Iranian musicians, a Klezmer band, a flamenco group, a classical guitar player, a Salsa/Merengue/Caribbean group, go to local art shows and potlucks and communes, take some Salsa dance classes, and generally get into the creative artist scene during that time. I want to do that and more in Kathmandu, and I’ll have the time for it. A lot of the things that happen when meeting and working with people are based on chance, and I can only hope and feel confident that it will go my way.
As I contemplate that my job will be to explore the music of a faraway place for 10 months, I realize that it is the opportunity of dreams, and that I can’t allow myself to squander even one precious second of my time in-country. This puts a lot of pressure on me at the outset, and it can be fatiguing to dwell on. I can’t look to the past or the future or even attempt to ‘figure out’ what this trip will be like; I’ll be in Kathmandu during a unique time in history—my experiences will be unprecedented and un-imitated in the future. That understanding casts a little bit of doubt on the utility of any kind of empirical anthropology, but I’ll document and analyze and generalize anyway. The stated focus of my project is music education, so I’ll be finding music teachers and music students and interviewing them, learning their attitudes and knowledge about music, genres, motivation, authenticity, availability, resources, cost, opportunities, etc. When I arrive in Kathmandu I’ll compile and post a list of specific interview questions. I will also audio record all of my official interviews. Secondarily, I’ll try to get into the music scene and establish myself as a player. I’m very interested in speaking with working musicians about their past education and how they support themselves (if they support themselves) by their musical skill. As a music education researcher it’s important that I put myself in the role of a student, so I plan on taking music lessons and learning what a Nepali music teacher can teach me. To the musicians in Kathmandu I want to be a local. I want to be able to greet them on the streets, in Nepali, like old friends.
What I try to cultivate is the ‘pinch-me-I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening’ kind of nervous excitement and confidence that treasure is on the way, but I’ve had ‘Nepal’ in my head for so long that the idea seems tired, though I’m still nearly as stranger to the land as I was when I conceived the idea in January 2008. The things that have helped me the most have been novels and adventure narratives—personal stories—about the region that describe in some detail the protagonist’s experience with that part of the world. I find myself enhancing my imagination with books like ‘Kim’ by Kipling, ‘Caravans’ by Michener, and ‘Into Thin Air’ by Krakauer, knowing full well that my experience will probably not resemble theirs in the slightest. I can work up an excitement thinking that I’m going to the same place where Kim hustled his living and played the intelligence game with his enormous Babu. Similarly I’m chilled with the thought that I’m going to the mysterious land of Everest that didn’t open its borders to the rest of the world until 1949. My best and most attractive imaginings are the ones that focus on a multitude of sharp, brightly colored things, like markets and temples and colorful musicians, and not the ones that focus on the gray of pollution and dust. I know there will be a mix, but until I arrive I will focus on diverse colorful images. The people themselves remain the most enchanting enigma at the moment—I absolutely cannot anticipate how I will be received, though I can only be confident that it will be well.
Kathmandu has a long and rich narrative history—one that I hardly even begin to understand. The land has been inhabited for thousands of years, and was home to the Buddha himself. It has never been a British colony, and now it’s suffering in the effort to conform its own government to the currently successful governments in the rest of the world. It’s plagued with pollution, poverty, corruption, human inequality, and a lack of the hygienic space that westerners consider bare essential to basic survival, and at the same time it’s embracing some of the demonized habits that come with development, like over-eating, watching too much TV, strikes, and a gradual substitution of traditional identity markers for contemporary western ones (especially in clothes and music). What I’m more interested in, though, are the positive developments—the improvements in healthcare and communication, and the strengthening of traditional identity markers that differentiate Nepalis from Indians or Brits. Music can potentially be a big part of this, and music education will guide the way of the future; not for better or for worse, but for diverse or for mainstream.
Personally, I’ve been ready to go on this trip for a very long time. I desperately need something to break the monotony of living at home without a job or local friends (they all moved away). I feel like I’ve been going sideways—knowing that I have an awesome trip/job coming up, but also knowing exactly how much longer I have to wait before it happens. I’m looking forward to another magic time.
Magic times are long periods (5 months or more) of exploration and unpredictability when the things that I look forward to are dependably close at hand, frequent, and always happen in ways that far exceed expectations. Friends can always be solidly counted upon for unpredictable excellence during a magic time, and cause-and-effect sequences become delightfully hard to trace. Freshman year of college was a magic time—all I wanted to do was hang out with the guys in the dorm and do crazy, creative things. I absolutely knew I would have a good time, and I could look forward to it everyday. It was a time of exploration—finding out what we liked, hated, believed, wanted, etc. Another magic time was high school marching band. We were a group with a mission. We got along, joked around, had fun in our off time, but we had contests to win, so we all had a fantastic inner energy. Wine and music nights at the Clay Pot restaurant were a magic time. I had no idea whom I would meet each night, but I knew they would be friendly, open, and full of engrossing stories and attractive mind-stretching ideas. Times of frequent jam sessions in Waco and Austin were fantastic magic times—I learned more about my instrument, my inner potential, new ways of expressing myself and interacting with other musicians, and the supreme satisfaction that follows a successful cooperative jam- preferably with people who started the night as complete strangers and ended the night as blood brothers. I’ve gotten away from magic time a little bit over the summer, but I’m hopeful that my next magic time will begin when I set foot in Kathmandu. Soon.
All of this is firing around in my brain, irrespective of both time and logic, nearly continually, and I don’t anticipate a change until I board the plane. Until Then.
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