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Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.


As my days come to an end in Urubamba, I must reflect upon my excursion into the Andean musical world. Music, as a medium of communication has one natural advantage over others: it is a language that every person could comprehend since their day of birth. There are varying levels of interpretation; however, the essential messages always remain the same. The Sacred Valley is no exception. Music has persisted in the culture for hundreds of years, potentially exercising an indispensable role in the Moche, Nazca, and Incan civilizations.

With the help of coordination from our instructor Frank, I am fortunate enough to come in contact with three of the Andean instruments—Quena (flute), Zampoña (Pipe Flute), and Charango (Andean Ukulele). They were originally made of animal skins and bones but have evolved into their nowadays wood and bamboo forms. In the indigenous communities, these instruments were often messengers of emotions—the sad and melancholy Huyaño tunes, the jocular and energetic Saya hymns, and the sacred sounds of ceremonial worship. Each simple and melodic, yet conveying messages until today without much alterations.

With previous background in woodwind music, I picked up the flute and pipe flute with relative ease under the instructions of Ivarth, being able to mimic these euphonious tunes at the most basic level. Immersed in a wave of feelings and impressions, I attempted to comprehend their occasions and nuances. The message was clear: some hopefully sorrow, some with unreserved joy and appreciation, and some with ambivalence in expression… The ingenious and genuine music of the ancestors here have been passed on through the collective knowledge of generations. It is hard not to relate it to other forms of music in East Asia, Middle East, and Africa that have evolved spontaneously. The striking resemblances and differences amaze me. It is only to my regret that my level of interpretation cannot do the music its justice. As I venture on, I will carry this instrument of emotions and immerse into this world of ancient art.