In high school, I listened to classical music during my long study sessions with my AP history textbook, while I made sure to memorize every date and detail of every major historical event that mattered (to white men). It was no surprise that my AP history textbook’s Civil Rights section was limited to a page or two and suggested that racial equality exists today because of Martin Luther King. Because I went to a mostly white high school and was taught by white teachers, I didn’t think racism existed. Since my high school was the only one in town, I went to school with the rich kids and the poor kids, a few black kids and a handful of Latinos. In college, I continued listening to classical music while learning that history is socially constructed and told in ways that fall in line with a group’s ideology. Racism and classism are alive and well, and it wasn’t until I stepped onto my college campus that I realized the subtle realities of this fact.
My appreciation of classical music remained limited to my itunes until the winter of 2014, when, as a teacher in an at-risk neighborhood, I realized that I needed another outlet to de-stress. I signed up for the Boston Conservatory’s email newsletter, and began getting invitations to the students’ free classical concerts. One Saturday night, I hopped on the 42 bus that stopped in front of my Roxbury apartment, hopped off at Dudley Station, then took the 1 bus (that stops at Harvard) until the Symphony stop. I trudged through the snow in my knee-high, black fleece boots and arrived at the concert. I didn’t know what to expect, but I realized how special it is to just be able to sit and enjoy music. I would be so used to listening to music while running, cooking, or lesson planning, but sitting in a live classical concert is different. At first, my mind seemed confused. Why wasn’t I doing something while listening to the music? Young people are so used to having short attention spans, especially with the instant gratification that technology brings us. Being able to sit and enjoy music is something that was done out of necessity back in the day when people didn’t have televisions or the Internet.
I listened to piece after piece of the relaxing string music, and then came my favorite piece. The conductor introduced the next piece as William Grant Still’s “Enanga II”. Still was one of the most prominent African-American composers of the 20th century. I’d never heard of him before. When he finished his introduction, a young, slim asian woman in a colorful floral dress sat down next to her harp and began plucking at the strings. No joke: it’s as if she were an angel in heaven. I’m listening to this song right now, and it reminds me of all of those winter days I spent on the ice-caked buses and the long walks I’d take in the immense Forest Hills cemetery in Jamaica Plain.
Before coming to Nicaragua, a friend warned me that I wouldn’t find the classical concerts I would enjoy so much. Just like with so many things my friends told me I wouldn’t find here, classical music was no exception. I had been to the municipal theater before because my host sister’s boyfriend was performing in a Christmas dance show, and really enjoyed it. This time, I would be going with some friends to the theater for a classical concert with music set to famous Nicaraguan poetry. I told one of my friends that I used to go to classical concerts alone in Boston, to which she said “that’s very German of you, going to concerts alone”. I just did it because I never thought to ask my friends. We weren’t exactly the most classical music-going bunch.
The orchestra was made up of Managuan musicians, a choir, and an opera singer. They sang along to the poems, including some by the most famous poet, Rubén Darío. I couldn't really understand the words of the poems through the music, but it was a beautiful experience nonetheless. Meanwhile, slides, featuring beach scenes with an oversized moon and pictures of the old dead Nicaraguan poets lit up the stage above the stage. One poet looked like Cantinflas, a Mexican comedian and actor famous for his thin bigotes (mustache). My favorite slide was a painting done by the Ecuadorian painter, Guayasamin, because it reminded me of my time in Ecuador in the summer of 2011. I remember being captivated by his raw, political no-frills artwork at his museum in Quito. It was a great evening because I could just sit and soak in the sounds and artwork. This was the type of experience I thought I’d be giving up by coming here. As my good friend Kamilah once told me, “don’t seek, and you will find”. Tonight was one of those nights where I found something precious that I hadn’t bothered to look for.