Saturday, October 27, 2012

Let Music Surround You

On a chilly Thursday night, fourteen Macalester kids, two guitars, a mandolin, a recorder, a ukelele, and a pair of bongoes piled onto a bus. We call ourselves Medicinal Melodies. We are a student-run organization, that goes out in the Twin Cities community to perform about three times a semester. That night, we were headed for Hope Lodge, American Cancer Society's free overnight housing for chemo patients. In the facility's lobby, we stashed our backpacks and I took out my guitar. As we warmed up our hands and our voices, I realized that end of October had brought more than winter's first chill. The midterm period was in full tilt. Most of these musicians had papers to crank out, presentations to prepare, recitals to rehearse for. What made them take time out for this performance?

I'm always impressed when students dedicate free time to community service, even at a point in the semester when free time can be scarce. We rehearse--and usually perform--on weekends. Hauling out of bed for a 10 AM gig at a nursing home or an AIDS housing complex is not everyone's ideal Saturday morning, yet I've always been greeted by smiles when I board the bus. I've been fortunate enough to co-lead this group for the last year and a half, and I've watched it grow in numbers and strength. Medicinal Melodies is not the most formal music group on campus. Anyone can join without an audition, and sometimes members come and go. Our majors range from anthropology to chemistry to economics. But we launch into three-part harmony at noon every Saturday, purely because we want to.

So, more than a drive to serve the community had brought so many of us to Hope Lodge that night. When we meet for rehearsal or go out into the Twin Cities, we forget the day-to-day stresses of schoolwork. We don't dispense music, we share the happiness it has brought us. One woman at Hope Lodge asked if "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was in our repertoire. We'd never rehearsed it, and I didn't know the guitar chords, but we wanted her to enjoy a song she loved. So I put my guitar aside. We picked a key and started to sing. We laughed through our struggles to remember all the words, but by the end there were several different harmony lines being improvised. We were excited about the music we'd created, and the woman who'd requested it had a more personal experience with the music.

Medicinal Melodies has also helped other musical communities, both on and off campus, involve themselves in service. Macalester's acappella groups (I sing in the all-female one, the Sirens) will teach songs and vocal warm-ups with Medicinal Melodies's workshop for kids this November. The jazz combo I play in for one credit per semester will perform at a benefit concert for Hope Lodge next weekend. We taught Hope Lodge residents to sing a simple round called "Let Music Surround You." We scattered ourselves around the room and sang with our audience, not to them. That way, no one was shy about chiming in. After the concert we talked with the residents, who were eager to hear about how our group started. One lady told me that she had sung soprano in a gospel choir, and years ago had a role in "The Magic Flute." "Music," she said. "It's a big deal."

And that's why I recommend that students surround themselves with music at Macalester. Jam with friends, try out for acapella, or go see a concert (Thanks to the Twin Cities, there's something to see every weekend, but a lot of musical performances happen on campus, too) Or, come visit a Medicinal Melodies rehearsal on a Saturday afternoon. Music reminds us that in the end, our pursuits to be active, helpful members of society are about people. In our classrooms, we discover wonderful strategies for improving the world, but they will get us nowhere without compassion.

Andrea Wilhelmi, '14