When Edelweiss and Indian Music Met!

As a Leadership Strengths Coach, I meet clients from all over the world. My job is exhilarating and rewarding in more ways than I can possibly imagine. I thrive on the opportunity to make deep and lasting relationships with the amazing people I meet. However, beyond the long hours in virtual meetings lies something that I love even more. It’s what I do when I’m not working. It’s what I think, sleep, and meditate upon and it’s called Music. I found my absolute, indivisible Truth in the world of Music. I found it in the Tanpura and an ocean called Indian Classical Music.  No, I’m not a professional musician. But music is the Anchor and Tutor in my life’s journey.

Image Courtesy: Flickr CC

Lec-Dem on Indian Music

In October 2016, I was invited to deliver a lec-dem on Indian Music to a group of teenage students from India and Switzerland.  It was terrifying and humbling, all at once. My commitment was to create interest and awareness about a musical genre that has flourished and withstood the test of time for 600+ years. To say it was daunting would be an understatement!

My audience consisted of students, teachers, and administrative staff from Sri Kumaran Public School and 18, Swiss Exchange Students from Kantonsschule Wohlen, Switzerland. To meet Generation Z in an environment of fun and learning was far too exciting to pass up!

600+ Years in 60 Minutes?

Accepting my childhood friend’s invitation was the easiest part. When I sat down to craft the presentation and structure my talk, I felt overwhelmed. Musical Masters have devoted entire lifetimes to the study and spiritual practice of classical music. As a complete rookie, what could I possibly share that would be of value to my audience? Where do I even start?

My work was cut out. I worked hard to structure my talk to extract whatever little I could from the rich history of a 600-year legacy. My Guru (teacher) Pt. Dr. Nagaraj Rao Havaldar reviewed the key points and summary and gave me the go-ahead sign.

What I Learned

From the beautiful campus to the wonderful children and teachers I met that day from both schools, here’s what I observed and learned:

Music truly transcends barriers – I chose the image of a glorious sunset by the beach for this blog post. You may wonder how this relates to music. In this image, the elements transcend geographical boundaries to become a single, glorious tapestry of colors. This is exactly how music transcends all barriers: real and artificial. Not surprisingly, I experienced this at the session too. People approached me with requests to collaborate and were curious about musicians, musical instruments, and the legacy of this genre. They were serious and playful, young and old, Indian and Swiss. Music simply became a medium for a rich dialogue.

Hungry, Curious, Global – This was my one of my first, formal interactions with Gen-Z. And what I saw in them was an insatiable hunger to learn, deep curiosity to explore, and openness to see common patterns in people that were different from them.

Music as an Anchor – What is the one thing a child or a young adult can hang on to amidst a world that is constantly in flux?  A safe environment that empowers them to do what they love. When they engage with music, as one of the fine arts, it can truly serve as a life-long anchor. Here’s why:

First, it is a great leveler. It builds character. They probably won’t need military boot camp. The discipline and practice of learning a musical instrument or singing is enough to strengthen the mental and emotional resilience required to thrive in life’s journey. Second, it makes them more sensitive and compassionate. I talk more about this in a previous blog post. Music helps them drop the armor and recognize courage in a way they never have before. And if they go on to become superstars or great performers, that is an absolute (and incidental) bonus.

Image Courtesy: Flickr CC

Edelweiss and Indian Music Together?

No I don’t mean a fusion of the two! This part of the story is an account of my brave and imperfect attempt to offer a musical “thank you” to my gracious audience. I did this  by singing Edelweiss, the song (and Swiss National Flower) that forever epitomized the spirit of The Sound of Music.  It was the closest I got to communicating in a language they honored and understood. Thousands of miles away from home, I hope the song reminded them of “belonging”. And how music had created the bridge to remind us that we are far more similar than we think. 

*Featured Image Courtesy: Unsplash

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in January 2017 on LinkedIn and has since been updated.

Anitha Aswath is an HR Consultant and Strengths Coach of Leader Success in the Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area at Cisco. She has the unique privilege of meeting Cisco clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of their teams. 


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