There are most likely lots of “inspirational” tee shirts and what not that proclaim a smile, laughter, or (maybe in a less “inspirational” sense) math is the universal language. While I certainly don’t disagree with the fact that these three things have no rigid differences in specific cultures, I’m going to have to be stubborn here. If the UN was for some reason choosing an official universal language, I would have to put my foot down and declare the obvious candidate: music. Sure, that might seem a little bias, seeing as I usually write about music. But in my opinion, nothing is more universal than the effects of music and rhythm. The response to infectious beats and melodies is ingrained in all of us. And here’s the thing: I have proof.
A few weeks ago, I left the country for an amazing trip to Peru. My friend that I’ve known since kindergarten and I had signed up for a community service trip with a high school organization, and we were packed up and ready for long days, lots of Spanish, and an overwhelming amount of potatoes. While there, we and the 14 other students stayed about three hours south of Lima in a small village called Catapalla, part of the Lunahuaná Valley. We spent our time restoring a building of the village’s school, river rafting, zip lining, eating (a lot), and hiking. In the mornings, we would walk over to the school and spend around three hours with the young kids, teaching them English, math, games, and even yoga. Though this sounds pretty care-free, it could get quite stressful—try getting a class of 12 eight-year-old kids to settle down in a barely comfortable language with no official teacher in sight. On the first day of teaching, we walked into the classroom empty-handed, ready to improvise. We attempted to teach lessons right off the bat but found that we needed to water these down heavily with games. My friend and I had talked the night before about doing some sort of dance/music lesson, but everything we tried to come up with got too complicated to translate. I was a little nervous, but we jumped into it anyway.
I had brought my iPod and hooked it up to some speakers just to get things going. We decided to match certain movements like jumping or walking like an Egyptian with certain colors. When we called out the color, everyone had to do that movement. I put on some upbeat music (I’m pretty sure it was this song), and we got going, not sure how it was going to turn out. The beat started, and my friend called out, “Amarillo!”
Soon enough, all the previously skeptical-looking students were alive and jumping around the room. Everyone had grabbed the hand of someone else, and there weren’t any kids without a smile on their face. It didn’t really matter if the kids were doing the correct movement, because they were moving with the music and were playing with us newcomers like longtime friends. At the time, it seemed like any normal group of young, dancing kids. But when I think about it, it was pretty amazing. It was late in the lesson, and my friend and I were tired from explaining lessons in yoga and English, and we honestly didn’t explain this dancing game that greatly. The kids probably got the general gist of it, but it was the music and the effects of the dancing the brought everyone together, not the words we spoke to them. That was the game that worked the best with the class all day.
|Some of the overly-adorable kids helping us paint part of the school.|
Speaking technically, music is a universal language. Except for some note name differences due to motifs in Germany, there aren’t any major notation differences for particular countries that I know of. Hand the same sheet of music to a Belgian bassoonist, a Brazilian bassoonist, and a Malaysian bassoonist, and they would all be able to play it. But the concept of music’s universality is more evident in examples like this classroom one—even to kids who didn’t study music (I asked most of them if they played music, and they all said no), dancing and being infected with the rhythms was like second nature. It was easier and less stressful than the previously-played “duck, duck, goose,” (also known as “pato, pato, ganso”), which is pretty stress-free. This experience reminded me that even though I was in a different hemisphere, a different culture, and speaking a different language, we had the same minds as these kids. We all looked stupid shouting out colors and jumping around, and we all loved it.