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Photo by Kendall Marianacci, Nepal Semester.

The Power of Music

Ever since I was a kid, playing music has been a part of my life. It started out as the obligatory piano lessons. One day each week, squeezed between school and soccer practice, my dad would drive me to the small music school. At that time, it seemed like just another way to fill my time. I would go home after lessons and not think about them until next week, save the times my parents would try and convince me to practice my newly acquired skills. Eventually piano lessons went by the wayside, but music continued to be part of the harmony that is my life.


In fifth grade, I decided to join my school’s band. It was just as much an excuse to spend more time with my friends as it was a chance to continue playing music. I started playing the flute, as I was the first in our small group to make something more than air come out of the instrument. It seemed random that the instrument became mine, but soon it became natural. I continued playing the flute into middle and high school.


From there, my relationship with music began to evolve. It seemed less like just another check mark on a long list of activities and more like an active choice. I started taking lessons, this time on my own accord, and each week I would leave that small second floor room whistling Handel or Copland, excited to go home and work on my newest piece. While the rest of my friends slowly quit band as our director and program changed, I continued despite the differences, unable to let go of that special part of my day where the only thing I had to worry about was whether or not I was in the right key. Music was my therapy.


Over the summer, music went by the wayside. I didn’t touch my flute, instead favoring activities like hiking with my friends and swimming at the lake. So, when I got to Patan, I was hardly even thinking as music as a choice for my independent study project (ISP). Instead, I wanted to do something that seemed more tangible, something I could bring home to show my family and friends. I decided upon jewelry making, but as luck would have it, so did half of my group. As there weren’t enough jewelry mentors, some of us had to compromise and I ended up playing the sarangi, a traditional Nepali fiddle, as my ISP.


And while it hadn’t been my first choice, after just one day of picking up the instrument I knew it was the perfect project for me. Each day in Patan, I would look forward to the one hour where music would be my only focus. It once again became a way for me to ignore the chaos that surrounded me. I couldn’t wait to learn the next note, pattern, and eventually a song. Even though my lessons mainly just consisted of playing scale patterns over and over, I often felt like I could sit on my little stool in the courtyard with Max (the courtyard’s resident dog) at my feet and the sarangi in my lap for hours on end. For me, this is the power of music. It gives me something to throw myself into, something to love. I’m not creating something to bring home as a souvenir, but instead I’m able to make a million fleeting works of art, one in each squeaky, off tune note I play. While I by no means became a virtuoso on the sarangi over the past few weeks, I was able to find a release and was able to reinforce my love for playing an instrument.


I think that this is really the purpose of ISPs. Yes, we each were able to learn a new and different skill, but more than that we were exposed to different parts of Nepali culture and got to experience why those are still important to people. For me, I saw why my mentor, Kiran, is working so hard to keep the sarangi alive. It’s a beautiful instrument and has been a part of Nepali culture for hundreds of years. But, many people see the sarangi as just a dusty old instrument, something that has no place in the modern world of  music. I disagree. After learning to play the sarangi, it’s easy to see that the sarangi is a unique part of Nepali culture that deserves to be maintained.


Learning the sarangi was definitely an integral part of my time here in Patan and I’m so happy that I ended up with music as my ISP.