Thursday, May 29, 2014


Musically speaking, elision refers to simultaneous harmonic conclusion and commencement; plainly, the last note of one phrase is also the beginning of the next. The idea of elision has been intriguing me for the past few weeks because the concept of an ending that unwittingly signals a new beginning has such relevance for me (and nearly every other college senior in her graduation week). As I prepare to end my college career and launch into a year of travel and musical immersion around the world, such tropes as "turning the page to enter the next chapter of my life" certainly seem apt. It's in the word, of course—commencement. 

 But as my college advisor, Professor Martin Brody, pointed out to me one afternoon, elision refers not the overlap itself, but rather to what disappears in the process of transforming one phrase's ending into the start of the next. There's a parallel linguistic phenomenon—in fusing two words together (as in "tell'm I say hi") some sounds (in this case, the "th-" of "them") disappear to create a contracted unit. Before you know it, the first word has elapsed and seamlessly transitioned into the next. It seems a natural, albeit unconscious, continuation, one recognizes in retrospect. There lies my interest—in reflecting on this bridge formed by omission, what will remain, and thus prove itself essential? 

Yet now I have the unique opportunity to do just that—spend a year completely dedicated to music-making, and in particular devoted to learning how to make music from cultures other than my own. I have won a Watson Fellowship, which funds forty graduating seniors from liberal arts colleges around the U.S. to pursue a non-academic project—the stipulations being that they cannot go anywhere they have been before, and cannot return to the U.S. for the year. My project is to travel to five countries (Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic, Hungary Indonesia, and Xinjiang [China]) to immerse myself in three musical cultures (cimbalom bands, gamelan, and muqam). Specifically, I’ll be seeking out master teachers with whom I can study these styles, as well as musicians and composers who balance and synthesize their own musical cultures with “Western” classical music culture to observe, speak, and collaborate with. With this project, I aim to unite my interests in music, international relations, and communication. In fact, my Watson project is in many ways a natural continuation of my honors thesis project, for which I collaborated with the Harvard Gamelan Ensemble to give a series of performances of American composer Lou Harrison’s Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Javanese Gamelan, and write about shifting approaches to musical multiculturalism throughout Western music history. 

 I have kept blogs every time I have been abroad for a significant portion of time. This tradition started with The Tokyo Blog, in which I chronicled my sophomore year of high school. I spent that year attending an all-girls' Japanese high school and living with host families. Initially, the blog was just a way for me to inform family and friends of what I was up to; as I dealt with culture shock and learning Japanese language from scratch, my blog allowed my faux pas and mishaps to provide opportunity for reflection as well as entertainment value. Since that year in Japan, I have kept two other blogs (The Beijing Blog and The Guangzhou Blog) in which I recorded my experiences the last two summers working in China (in 2012, at ABC News’ Beijing Bureau, and last summer, for the State Department at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou). 

 With this blog, On Global Harmony, I intend to relay this next, yearlong, worldwide adventure as a Watson Fellow. Before I launch my Watson project, I will be spending ten weeks this summer in Hong Kong working as a reporting intern for The Wall Street Journal. It is an incredible opportunity—yes, I’ll be working for one of the world’s most respected international news organizations, but beyond that I am thrilled to have the chance to hone my skills as a journalist and writer before undertaking my solo travel year. 

 But for right now, there’s lots to do—graduation in two days, acquiring an instrument passport for my violin (!), researching visa policies for five countries—and I’m already looking forward to recording and sharing that process, as well as the path to where I am, here. 

[Until then, I’m going to address the very real challenge at hand—moving out of my dorm.]