Salzburg was by far my favorite trip, as I got a chance to indulge my love of the brain and music cognition. Every year, the Salzburg Global Seminar chooses a topic and invites thinkers and specialists in the field to give a talk and host academically informed conversations. This year, the topic was Instrumental Value: The Transformative Power of Music. One of the journalists involved with organizing the Seminar was Brent Reidy, a Dartmouth ’05 who studied with Steve and invited us to observe the first series of presentations. This year, the Seminar was held at the Salzburg castle famous for being the filming location of The Sound of Music, and we got a chance to lean over the gate where Maria and the seven children fell out of the canoe, drink tea on the balcony where Uncle Max complains about the pink lemonade (“It’s too…pink.”), and admire the spectacular view of the Alps across the river.
The talks themselves were much like the TEDxDartmouth presentations from last term – about 15 minutes about each person’s specialty. One of the more interesting talks was by John Sloboda of Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London, about individual agency and the importance of active participation versus passive receiving of musical information. One of the more controversial talks was by Vera Brandes, a music therapist who claimed that her originally composed works could cure a host of ailments – but offered no substantiation to support her claims.
One of the features of the Salzburg Global Seminar is its opportunity for small group conversation, to happen after the second round of presentations after lunch. During this time, our FSP group met with Brent Reidy for a “life post-Dartmouth” reflection session – it’s always interesting to see where alums end up after Dartmouth and what led them there. While we were at lunch, though, I happened to meet one of the moderators of the Music and the Brain small group, and when she heard about my major combination, she invited me to join their discussion. I was absolutely thrilled to be invited, and I only wish I could have stayed for the whole conversation (our bus left to return to the youth hostel before it was over). The group was a mix of sociology professors, music educators, audience members, postdocs, and psychologists. I was the youngest in the room by at least ten years, but when I eventually plucked up the courage to throw my voice into the mix, they were very encouraging and interested in my stories and experiences as well. We dug into Vera’s talk a little, and there was a fair amount of contention (as even in the smaller group she had nothing substantial to say), but there was much more talk about audiences interacting with music, and how best to facilitate that interaction. Interestingly, there wasn’t much conversation about public music education and how music affects development, and just before I had to leave I opened that topic of conversation, citing my own experiences in the public school system and in studying music privately.
I love academic conferences – I love the conversations and debates, I love the obvious passion that each person exudes, the stories of where they have come from. In a way, that’s one of the reasons I love this FSP so much. All thirteen of us love music in some form or another, and we can talk about our musical similarities and differences ad nauseum. One night early on in the trip, we all ended up cooking dinner together and enjoying it out on the boys’ terrace, watching the sun set, swapping stories as the stars came out, and eventually breaking out the guitars and singing our favorites for a few hours, laughing at the ridiculous harmonies we came up with. I’ve gotten the impression from friends on other FSPs and LSAs that the group is not nearly as cohesive as ours is (selfcall, sorry); a shared language (and not necessarily a love of that language) doesn’t bring people together in the same way as a shared love of music – and all of us love music. For Amy, it’s the Alpine Symphony; for Paul, it’s Mahler 8; for Drew, it’s John Mayer; for Remy, Jack Johnson; for Richard, piano sonatas; opera for Danielle; Liszt’s Faust and Dvorak 7 for me – but we all understand where everyone else is coming from. We all light up the same way.